5 Stages Of Grief During Divorce That Are More Than Just Sadness

The complexity of emotions after divorce hit hard.

Stages of emotions during divorce bowie15, Syda Productions, pixelshot | Canva

We always hear about the five stages of grief a person goes through when a loved one dies. Yet, when you go through a divorce, it's like a death of love. You also go through the five stages of grief after a divorce.

Even if you're the one who initiated the divorce, you will still grieve. This is because you are not only mourning the loss of your marriage, but you are also grieving the loss of your hopes and dreams — the belief of what you thought your life was going to look like. And divorce grief is more than just sadness. Divorce sadness is real, too, of course.


Each person will go through the stages of grief differently, and there is no set length of time. The ultimate goal is to get to the fifth stage: acceptance.

Some experts agree that it takes one year for every ten years of marriage to get over it. That's quite a long time; a lot can happen in a year. However, it may take more or less time depending on several factors. These include who initiated the divorce, how happy you were in the marriage, and your confidence and well-being.

During the grieving process, you will often feel the particular emotional effects of divorce.

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Here are the 5 stages of grief in divorce that are more than just sadness:

1. Denial: You can't accept it's over.

Believe it or not, the denial stage often begins during the marriage. It may be hard to believe or accept your marriage is over. You hold on to a sliver of hope things can be different — that things will change. You think the two of you will be able to spark the magic that once occurred in your relationship.

Denial is normal. It's a way to help you grasp what's happening without overwhelming emotions. It's a way for you to hide from the facts to deal with the pain.

Other forms of denial include not believing they want out of the marriage, not believing they are in love with another, or finding it difficult to believe this is happening to them.

After all, you never thought you would find yourself in this situation.


2. Anger: Everything about your ex makes you angry.

During and after your divorce, you may experience anger directed in various ways depending on the situation that ultimately led to the divorce.

For example, you may be angry at your ex for cheating. You could be angry at their boss for making them work long hours. You could be angry about their using alcohol or drugs or not caring enough to make things work. You may be angry at yourself for not seeing the writing on the wall, for putting up with them for as long as you did, or for not showing them the love and respect they craved.

Anger also occurs because of the way they treat the kids. You are angry that they don't call the kids, visit them, or seem to care about them. You're angry that they don't pay child support on time or they left you in a financial mess. Whatever the reason, you're going to feel it.

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3. Bargaining: You think "If only..." often.

Bargaining is so much more than trying to figure out ways to win them back. The bargaining stage is when you think, "If only..." "I could have..." "I should have..." and "What if?"

Essentially, you are attempting to change the past or the current reality through your thoughts.

In a way, bargaining is trying to rationalize what happened. You think, "If only I had seen it coming," "If only I had tried harder," or, "If only I had forced them to go to counseling." You are trying to fix what has already happened.

Bargaining can also be revenge toward your ex and possibly their new lover. You hope that your ex will get what is coming. You may think, "I want them to be as miserable as I am," or "I wish they would just get run over by a bus."


This is also normal.

4. Depression: You want to bury yourself under the covers for months.

Odds are you, you're going to go through depression, not eating, exercising, or sleeping properly.

The nights are filled with restless sleep. You dream of what might have been and have nightmares where you wind up alone on the streets.

During the depression stage, you may feel a deep sadness over the end of your marriage. You may be hurt that your vows did not mean as much to your spouse as they did to you. You may cry over the fact that they were not the person you thought they were. You shed tons of tears for your children.

While in a depressed state, you may play the victim by labeling your ex as a narcissist, sociopath, or compulsive liar to get through the pain.


You may become depressed that you lost your home and have to move in with family or friends, or you must find a new job to support yourself. The mere thought that you are totally on your own may scare the heck out of you. Overwhelming fear might revert you to any of the other stages of grief.

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5. Acceptance: Finally, you are ready to build a new life.

Acceptance comes when you fully accept that your marriage and your hopes and dreams for the future together are over. At this point, you are ready to build a new life for yourself. Acceptance is letting go of the past.


After accepting the divorce, you still might deal with anger, blame, or guilt. However, your emotions get less intense as time goes on. For the most part, you feel indifference for who your ex is and what they are doing. You have separated your personal life from theirs. If you have children together, you must learn to co-parent without rehashing old hurts.

You are like the foundation of a house. It can withstand fire as well as the most severe of storms. You built your marriage on top of this foundation. The marriage crumbled, the walls came falling, and you grieved. When you sweep away the debris, you are left with a beautiful, strong foundation to build your new life on.

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Cindy Holbrook is a divorce coach, personal development coach, and speaker.