Swiss psychologist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, spent much of her career working with terminally ill people.
After observing how they reacted to the prospect of their own deaths, she came up with the concept of the Five Stages of Grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, finally, acceptance.
Divorce grief can feel a lot like that.
The Five Stages of Divorce Grief:
Denial: This is not happening.
This stage is marked by shock, confusion, fear, and avoidance. It’s the “Did he just say he’s leaving? He couldn’t have. But he has a suitcase in his hand,” phase of divorce. It’s the “I’m leaving you” over the sounds of boarding calls. Frankly, the news is too much for your brain to process, so you don’t process it for a while.
Denial is not a bad thing. It’s a mechanism meant to protect us so our brains do not take in more than we can handle, and it’s a key part of grief.
Anger: I am furious he did this.
At some point, reality hits. You need to divide the money and maybe there is not as much as you thought. Your divorced friend has informed you that you’ll probably have to split the holidays when your kids come home from college. You suspect you are getting gossiped about at Whole Foods.
This stage is white-hot Betty Broderick tossing his crap out the window onto the front lawn rage. That’s anger talking and that’s okay. Your feeling of anger is normal and healthy to express.
Just don’t act on it.
Bargaining: Please, make it stop.
At some point, you realize your ex is not going to be punished by some judge for what happened. You learn that he had some habits that you might now have to deal with. You learn that your children will want to visit both of your homes on the holidays. And that’s when you just might want to wake up and have this all be a ridiculous nightmare and have your life back again.
You’ll bargain with the universe to turn back the clock, and this time, you won’t look at his phone or open the mail or call his office. But you can’t put the shaving cream back in the can. This is actually happening.
Depression: I just can’t deal.
You don’t have to be clinically depressed for divorce to suck like a Dyson. You are going to have to provide financial disclosure. You are going to have to make decisions about properties. You are going to have to plan how to tell your kids and family. Even if you outsource the bulk of the work to a divorce concierge or assistant, the process is still painful.
Nobody can feel the grief for you no matter how wealthy or famous you are. It’s normal to feel sad and have no energy as reality hits. This is depression, and it’s normal given the circumstances.
If this state does not lift after a few weeks, impacts your inability to function, or you have any feelings of self-harm, please talk to your therapist or family doctor. I promise you won’t feel this way forever, but you may need to get some help.
Acceptance: It is what it is.
And then, one day, you start to see slivers of light. You don’t feel mad or sad all the time. You’ve accepted your new reality. You may not feel like turning cartwheels, but you feel hopeful for the future.
Acceptance marks a turning point as you are now starting to focus forward.