Grieving and Divorce: The normal ways couples process the end of a marriage

concept of divorce, broken photo frame marriageAccording to the Holmes and Rahe Life Events Scale divorce is second only to death as the most stressful life event a person can experience. Yet each person experiences the loss of their marriage differently. The length of the marriage, the strength of feelings one partner has toward the other, the presence of children, which partner initiated the divorce, how much time has passed since the idea of divorce was raised—all and more influence the emotional impact of divorce when it occurs.

Although grief is expressed differently, for different things and at different times, the stages of grief tend to remain the same. Kubler-Ross (1969) holds that grief occurs as a cycle which includes five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Not all people experience all five stages, nor is the model linear. Someone might bargain to save the marriage, become angry that their partner is not willing to return to counseling, and then become sad and despondent. At other times, a person may have come to a place of acceptance that divorce is inevitable, only to learn their partner is leaving them for someone new, thrusting them into a fresh stage of anger. People can also become stuck in the grieving process. This can be particularly deleterious to families because parental mental health directly impacts children’s adjustment in divorce (Taylor & Andrews, 2009, Parental Depression in the Context of Divorce and the Impact on Children. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 50(7), 472-480).

When one partner is not acting as upset as the other when divorcing, it does not mean they are not grieving or have not already grieved. Anticipatory grief can happen in advance of a loss, when someone knows that the marriage is not working and may come to an end. Often, after the divorce, new grieving takes place.

If you, or your partner, are grieving, consider getting some help. Working with a counselor who specializes in grief is an excellent way to get the support you need. Joining a support group such as Neutral Ground or Parents Without Partners puts you in touch with others who have experienced what you are going through. Finding a trusted friend or someone from your faith community who can listen without judgement and offer you support, can provide a safe place to process your feelings.

Many find the mediation process helpful because it allows couples to work at a pace that meets their needs, while de-escalating harmful conflict. Contact The Mediation Center today for more information at: [email protected]

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