Divorce represents a relationship that has died, and that the strong emotions people experience, and are governed by, during divorce are basically emotions of grief.
Grief has been examined by psychologists and assigned a progression of stages. Those stages are as follows:
- Shock: A divorce? You’ve decided to divorce me? This isn’t possible!
- Denial: How can this be happening? He can’t be serious; he’s got to come to his senses.
- Anger: How dare you do this! You think you want to divorce? Well, you’re going to pay. I couldn’t care less what it costs; I will never let you see your kids again.
- Bargaining: Please, I can change. I promise I will. Can’t we try to work things out until the kids are through with school?
- Depression: What’s the use? Do whatever you’re going to. Take it all; take the children. I don’t care.
- Acceptance: Well, it’s truly over, and I need to make a new life.
Family attorneys are aware that grief is normal and predictable throughout human life, and individuals are both capable of and designed to accept it. However, while the grieving process may be hindered, it cannot be rushed. For instance, the anger stage of the grief process that one or both parties go through during a divorce can easily be delayed by approaching the divorce in an adversarial manner. Similarly, telling a grieving spouse to simply “get over it” will not advance the grief stage. Time is the only way to cure grief.
Even though there are clearly defined categories of grief, the actual grieving process is not so cut and dry. Grieving individuals go back and forth between grief stages and the progress they make can only generally be categorized. For instance, someone in the acceptance stage may revert back to the anger stage if told that he or she will not have visitation time at Christmas with the children. A new progression through the anger stage will need to occur before the acceptance stage is reached again.
Finally, sometimes the grieving process gets stuck in idle. Some people find they are not able to leave one stage of grief and may need to see a professional to get the process moving again.