Reading about divorce in the news makes it seem like it is all about custody and money, but anyone who has gone through a divorce will tell you that it is much more than just a legal battle. While the legal stages of divorce and the mounds of paperwork required are time and money vacuums, divorce sucks out psychological and emotional energy too.
The psychological and emotional stages of divorce may arise at any time during the paperwork process. The juxtaposition of the legal process with these emotional and psychological stages may cause you or your soon-to-be ex to make rash decisions. “Noo, not rash decisions during a divorce!” you may say. But yes, it happens, and it happens often. Preparing yourself for the emotional and psychological stresses you or your former partner are likely to experience during a divorce can help guide the decision-making process.
The following is a partial list of the emotional and psychological stages of divorce a person is likely to encounter:
- It’s All a Bad Dream
In other words, the first stage is all about denial. As with most emotionally traumatic events, a person’s first instinct of the little voice inside is to say, “This isn’t happening. It’s all a bad dream.”
Denial is the brain’s defense against psychological and emotional pain, and this stage basically functions like a slow approach to a dangerous situation. If a lion was salivating in the distance with his eye on you, would you run toward him, or away? You would probably quietly get back into your tour car. Divorce can seem that way too.
People in denial may see the problem from a distance, but still want to feel far enough away from it to not have to face it yet. Some people allow denial to morph into anger, while others simply can’t see the problem at all.
- It’s All His/Her Fault
While it takes two to stop tangoing, it is common for a person going through a divorce to blame the other party almost entirely at some point. He/she may continuously laundry list the other person’s shortcomings, building up a defense against him/her.
I know, I know. It’s hard to believe that people going through a divorce will start pointing fingers… not. But this type of anger can be healthy and useful on a practical level if you pay attention to it. Allowing yourself to feel anger helps alleviate future problems from suppressed emotion, and can help protect you if your former beloved is out for blood. Anger can create an emotional wall that may come in handy during the legal proceedings, helping you protect your belongings and money from the person who used to hold your heart. On the flipside, you risk wallowing in this stage, becoming so angry that you’ll be unreasonable during the settlement process, which could have adverse effects on the outcome for both of you.
Blame is accompanied by a different form of denial: refusal to believe one’s own fault in the breakdown of the marriage. In every relationship, both parties do some wrong, whether it is to themselves or to the other person
- The Black Veil
Right around the time a person in the process of divorce stops seeing red, their almost-ex does something they remember they loved. He turns his head a certain way; she tosses her hair. He mentions a romantic trip; she mentions their first date. When a couple has children, this stage may include discussions or thoughts about the baby’s firsts or excitement during the pregnancy. This is when the parties to the divorce wonder if they are doing the right thing because they remember all of the good things they had.
This is when you mourn the loss of the relationship. These feelings, coupled with the looming loneliness in the future, may bring about a yet a third type of denial. “Well, anything is better than this,” you might find yourself saying. “We can make it work.”
Sometimes, this stage comes before the denial stage, leading to a longing for the other person and an inability to see his or her faults. If this happens, it may make it extremely difficult for the person to accept that the relationship is truly over.
If they ever plan to move on, a person in the process of divorce will have to eventually accept that their life is changing dramatically. Some people struggle with this stage for years because they never fully passed through one of the previous stages. For people who are able to accept their fate, this is the stage in which they finally let go. For some, this is a combination of letting go of both love and anger at the same time, while others only let go of one.
Every divorce experience is different, but sometimes knowing others are going through similar changes can help people cope. The most important thing to remember is that it is a long and ever-changing process, and it is okay to feel alienated, alone, and angry. It’s not a feel-good kind of thing, and you’re kidding yourself if you think you won’t be very different afterward. The key is to remember the goal: to heal and move on.
Selling the ring might be a perfect way to symbolically start the moving on process. What was once a symbol of love is now simply a valuable object with far too much emotional weight to be sitting around the house. Getting rid of it can help you feel empowered and enable you as you start letting go.