How to find your finish line for dealing with grief after your divorce.
The signs of grief after divorce really aren’t that different than the signs of grief after death or any other major loss.
And that shouldn’t be surprising. Divorce, death and other forms of loss are all permanent departures from what has become your norm, your rhythm…even your security. The unraveling, the unfamiliarity, the aloneness, the emotional upheaval — it can feel like a 24/7 bad dream in a foreign language.
No matter how you got to this point or who did what, divorce sucks. It hurts. It drains. It confuses. And it can even catch one of the spouses off-guard, with no time to plan an emotional response.
While the signs of grief after divorce are listed in a tidy, logical order, your experience won’t be so tidy. Trust me on this one. The stages of grief have minds of their own and a full tank of gas…and they like to take the scenic route! Knowing this as you navigate your divorce experience can save unnecessary heartache when you start recognizing landmarks you thought you already passed.
Let’s explore seven distinct signs of grief after divorce.
If you are in the early stages of your divorce journey, you may recognize them from previous losses in your life. Keep in mind that it is one thing to “know” the signs and stages of grief; it is quite another to live them.
- DenialLosing your marriage can be shocking and overwhelming, and the mind has outstanding coping mechanisms for easing into acceptance. Denial is one of them.Yes, it’s a defense. Yes, it’s a refusal to face reality. But it is also a psychological protection against emotional overwhelm. It softens the immediate shock and blocks out circumstances, so you don’t have to think about the pain that’s coming.
Call it a temporary escape mechanism…with emphasis on temporary. Failure to face reality not only becomes unattractive but will keep you from moving forward in a healthy way.
- Pain And FearDivorce sucks. It also just plain hurts. Even if “too much pain” is what brought you to this point, the process and finality are undeniably painful.And fear can rear its ugly head in all kinds of self-doubting, paralyzing ways. How am I going to go on? How am I going to afford to live? Will my kids be OK? Will I be alone for the rest of my life?
As one of the signs of grief after divorce, pain can also be a motivator that moves you away from self-pity.
- AngerAnger often shows up after reality has set in. At this point, you’re a long way from acceptance; but the reality of the inevitability has taken hold.And here’s where the emotions have a free-for-all and increase in intensity. Both parties are in blame mode, and all that comes up is the “ugly.” Memories and resentments flood in, and nothing good comes out. He was the worst….She was the meanest….He never….She wouldn’t….
Add irritability, frustration and impatience to the mix, and it’s easy to see why this is a stage in which you don’t want to park for long. But don’t be surprised if it circles back around when you least expect it, often with new material.
- BargainingAs a sign of grief after divorce, bargaining is a last-ditch effort to come to terms with the loss. It is also an attempt to repair the damage done to your life. It is prompted by panic, fear and a desire to regain control of the life that is being ripped out from under you.In the bargaining stage, you will do just about anything to avoid the emotional pain. You will fight to win him/her back. You will remind yourself of all the reasons the relationship “didn’t work” or wasn’t good enough in order to be okay with the decision. You will make unrealistic promises. Bargain with God. Sell out on your self-esteem. Anything…but the pain.
- GuiltGuilt can actually be a form of displaced anger. But as its own sign of grief, it usually sounds like, “It was all my fault.” Rarely is that true. But even if it is, the call to action from this stage is to learn from your mistakes so you can release the weight and move forward.
- DepressionDepression can accompany all the other stages. Think of it as an undertow of sadness that sets in as you realize that the marriage is truly over.Aside from the loss itself, there are plenty of upsetting and difficult decisions that go along with divorce. Custody battles, splitting of assets, moving, loss of money — all can lead to sadness, shame and isolation.
The fact that depression can be a silent partner throughout the divorce journey makes it one of the most insidious signs of grief after divorce. Having a trusted source of support can help ensure it doesn’t keep you from moving forward with your life.
- AcceptanceAt long last, there is light at the end of the tunnel! “Acceptance” may not sound like a sign or stage of grief, but it is integral to the whole journey of grief. Negative emotions may still be present, but you become able to slowly release them.At this stage you have accepted the reality of your divorce. You are not just “facing” it but are living through it and out the other side into a new life. You are able to embrace the guidance and support of others, and are no longer held back by the negativity of the other stages.
Seven signs of grief after divorce. All nice and orderly, with a predictable finish line, right? Well, the truth is you could place them all in a hat and draw one or more out on any given day. You may even get the same one over and over. But let’s hold onto acceptance as the finish line…because there really is a light at the end of the dark tunnel.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people make it through their divorce journey by working through the signs of grief after divorce, so they can create a happy post-divorce life. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. And if you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.