Understanding the Psychological Effects of Divorce
Many people who have undergone the divorce process report that it was one of the most challenging experiences they have ever had. Divorce affects everyone differently, but one common thread is that it almost always entails significant changes in their lifestyle and family dynamics. The stages of divorce mirror the well-known stages of grief with the added stress of the related legal proceedings.
What Are the Five Stages of Divorce?
Divorce is more than just ending your marriage; it is also the legal process of reassigning ownership rights over your property and determining custody of your children. It is natural for this process to have a tremendous psychological impact on you, whether you expect it at the outset of the process or not. Preparing yourself psychologically for the divorce process is one of the best things you can do to handle it more successfully.
Stage One: Denial
Even if you and your spouse are entirely aligned in your decision to end your marriage, your decision to divorce marks the end of a major stage of your life. Some people can accept this change more than others. Some experience denial and will fight tooth and nail to prevent the divorce from proceeding. However, all it really takes for a divorce to happen is for one of the spouses to want it, regardless of how the other spouse feels about the situation.
Denial can take many forms and will affect everyone in this situation differently. Some spouses may attempt to behave as though nothing has happened or that their spouse wasn’t serious about wanting a divorce. Others may experience severe psychological trauma when confronted with the notion of divorce and retreat inwardly, allowing other aspects of their lives to suffer.
Stage Two: Anger
When divorce proceedings have formally begun, and the denial stage ends, anger is the next phase. Many people who experience this shift will suddenly realize that the metaphorical gloves are off, and they have reached the point that they must fight for their best interests. Once the numbness of denial has faded, a spouse facing divorce is very likely to feel a surge of anger about the personal issues involved in their divorce. Anger is more likely to arise if the divorce stemmed from the other spouse’s infidelity or lack of faith in the marriage, but there are countless reasons for a spouse facing divorce to experience extreme anger.
It is important to prevent your anger from overcoming your reason as you initiate your divorce proceedings. Some people make the mistake of trying to make their soon-to-be ex-spouses suffer as much as possible through the divorce process, delaying and interfering with the proceedings at every turn. When anger turns to feelings of vengeance, a divorce case can quickly spiral into a gruesome affair.
Stage Three: Bargaining
Once the anger subsides, the bargaining phase typically takes hold. At this point, a spouse in the midst of a divorce in progress may attempt to do everything they can to salvage the relationship. If one spouse initiates the divorce and the other does not want to divorce, the latter may attempt everything they can think of to try and convince the former to stay. They may promise to change the behaviors that led to the other spouse wanting to divorce or plead for them to explain what went wrong.
While this can be one of the most difficult psychological stages of divorce, there is some opportunity for reconciliation at this point for some couples. For example, some couples will initiate proceedings for legal separation before transitioning to a formal divorce. This can provide both spouses with space and time to reevaluate their priorities and needs, and some couples may choose to reconcile after a brief separation. In other cases, the separation period serves as a springboard for the divorce process and allows the spouses to begin adjusting to their new separate lives.
Stage Four: Depression
This stage of divorce typically manifests once the individual realizes that nothing can stop what is coming and the divorce is very clearly on the horizon. This can be very distressing to some divorcing spouses, and some may feel as though they have failed in love and will never find happiness with another partner. The depression stage is typically the longest and most difficult to overcome.
It’s important to note that depression can affect both the spouse who initiated the divorce and the one who is being left by the other spouse. For the spouse who initiated the divorce, the depression phase may entail mourning the thought of what could have been or losing the partner they believed they had. For the other, the depression phase often entails feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and remorse over mistakes they think they made that contributed to the other spouse wanting an end to their marriage.
Stage Five: Acceptance
Eventually, both divorcing spouses will need to come to terms with the fact that their marriage is over. This is a longer process for some than it is for others, and even couples who are entirely convinced their marriages must end will eventually face the reality that their marriages are over. It’s important to remember that once you have reached the acceptance stage, there is no guarantee that you will not cycle back through the previous stages with a different perspective. Acceptance is not a quick process in most cases, and it may take months or even years before an individual has fully accepted the end of their marriage and begins the process of starting fresh with a healthy outlook.
Overcoming the Five Stages of Divorce in a Healthy Way
Divorce will affect everyone differently, but there are few things you can try to make the process easier on yourself:
- Build your own support group of friends and relatives. Isolation is never healthy, and it is especially damaging after divorce, so be sure to connect with the people in your life and not be afraid to ask them for emotional support as you navigate your divorce.
- Refrain from suppressing your emotions. Keeping strong emotions bottled up will slowly erode you from within. While it can be equally damaging to lash out due to your emotional distress, you need to strike a balance between allowing yourself to feel all your feelings while remaining focused on completing the formal divorce process.
- Give yourself time. Dealing with strong negative emotions is never easy, but do not feel compelled to rush through the stages of divorce as quickly as possible. Emotional processing will take time for everyone, so allow yourself to come to terms with your new reality at a comfortable pace.
- Hire an experienced and compassionate divorce attorney. If you are having a difficult time processing the emotional side of your divorce, this will make it more challenging to address the practical concerns this process entails. Hiring a reliable attorney will allow you to focus on yourself with the peace of mind that comes with knowing your divorce case is in capable hands and your divorce attorney has your best interests in mind.
- Don’t let emotions influence practical decisions. As you experience a blend of guilt, anger, despair, and frustration about your divorce, it is important to remain focused on your own best interests from a practical perspective. Some may desire to drag out their divorce proceedings as much as possible to strike back at a spouse they feel has wronged them, but this ultimately harms both parties.
Hopefully, these tips will allow you to navigate the emotional side of your divorce with clarity and confidence and avoid the emotionally driven mistakes many divorcing individuals make. Some allow their anger to spur them toward errors that cost them dearly in their divorce proceedings; others allow depression to let them lose sight of their best interests and agree to one-sided divorce terms without a fight.
Perhaps the best thing you can do to ensure a positive outcome from your divorce case is to hire the right attorney to help you navigate this process. Your attorney can provide the objective point of view of your situation that you may need to counterbalance the emotional weight of the situation. When it is difficult to focus on practical matters because of denial, anger, or despair, your attorney can be the voice of reason who guides you through your divorce case with your best interests in mind at every phase.
At the Khalaf Law Group, we understand the emotional side of divorce and help you prevent it from interfering with the practical side of the process. Our firm has years of experience helping clients navigate complicated divorce proceedings in California and can put this experience to work in your case. If you are having trouble accepting that your marriage is ending and are unsure of what you should do next, contact the Khalaf Law Group today and schedule a consultation with our team. We will help you maintain a more objective view of the situation and preserve your best interests through every phase of your divorce case.