Understanding the Emotional Stages of Divorce

stages of divorce

Coping with divorce is not easy. A couple in love usually enters marriage with the hope they will be together for the rest of their lives. However, relationship issues such as unfulfilled expectations, betrayal, sexual problems, financial problems, or interpersonal conflicts may derail a marriage if they are not thoroughly resolved. In some cases, marriage mates may see divorce as their path to living happily ever after.

But even if it is the best choice for a happier future, divorce may still have devastating effects on one or both marriage mates. Many divorced partners report going through a series of intense emotions before they were able to overcome their grief and find peace. These emotions include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Let’s discuss what each of these emotions involves.         


According to Marriage.com, denial is probably the first of emotional hurdle a person faces when going through a divorce. During this phase, an individual may be unable to accept the reality that his or her relationship may be coming to an end. He or she may be comforted by thoughts that everything will work out in the end and things will go back to how they used to be. At this point it is unlikely that the divorce papers have been signed, especially if the possibility of divorce was raised unexpectedly. Once the initial shock subsides, the dominant emotion often shifts to anger.


A marriage mate who is facing divorce tends to become much more sensitive during the anger phase. He or she may be irritated by many things that were easily ignored before. Communication with his or her partner often becomes strained and conversations are more likely to degrade into screams, shouting, and cursing. In some cases, anger causes marriage mates to come to blows or direct their rage toward other family members and friends. Individuals who are going through this stage are encouraged to practice breathing exercises and relaxation techniques to help keep their emotions under control.


Marriage mates who are in the bargaining phase spend a lot of their time thinking. They think about their past experiences, what they are going through right now, and what they really want in life. Questions such as “Do I really love this person?” and “Is it better to get a fresh start?” are usually on their mind. The person who wants to leave may wonder if he or she is making a terrible mistake, while the person being left may wonder if there is anything he or she can do to keep the relationship intact. In some cases, the divorce is called off and both parties work together to repair their relationship. Many times though, one or both partners make the decision to follow through with the divorce.


Depression is usually the saddest and hardest stage of the divorce process. This is especially true for a partner who may not have seen it coming at all. A marriage mate who is suddenly confronted with divorce may have to consider a number of major life adjustments. These adjustments may include losing the person you love, losing a large percentage of your finances, losing custody of your children, dealing with social stigma, and finding a new place to live.

Many spouses who face divorce feel overwhelmed by the changes it will bring to their life. In addition to feeling sad, some individuals may become clinically depressed as they withdraw from society and try to figure out what exactly went wrong. A few symptoms of major depression include low energy, low mood, reckless behavior, loss of appetite, sleep issues, and a lack of motivation. These symptoms may last for months or even years. People who are diagnosed with major depression may require assistance from a licensed therapist.


Acceptance is generally the final stage of the divorce process. In this phase, both partners are able to accept the reality that their relationship has come to an end. For partners who were struggling with anger and/or depression, reaching acceptance may bring a sense of relief. Acceptance allows partners to reflect fondly on the food times they spent with each other, without losing sight of the need to make a fresh start. Partners who are able to reach acceptance in the divorce process are often able to look to the future with hope.

Taking Things One Step at a Time

It takes at least two people to form a happy marriage. If one or both partners are no longer interested in remaining faithful and making the marriage work, divorce may be unavoidable. Nevertheless, it is possible to rise from the ashes of a failed marriage and build a successful life in the future. For that to happen though, you will need to successfully navigate the emotional roller coaster of divorce, give yourself sufficient time to heal, and be courageous enough to take one step at a time toward a better life.