On the first working Monday of the year, family lawyers and attorneys across the globe brace themselves for a crazy day. More people will be asking to file for divorce or retain their services on that day than any other day of the year.
Unfortunately, with one in two marriages in the United States failing (up to one in three in other countries), there will be a lot of couples marking that Monday as one of the worst days of their life.
If you’re one of these couples, the necessary and natural process of dealing with a fundamental change like this is to grieve. Grieving sucks. Grieving hurts. But like chugging a large glass of straight vodka, the longer you put it off, or the longer you take to get through it, the worse it will be. Here are the five stages of grieving you will go through after a separation or divorce.
Five Stages of Grieving
Denial is a primal psychological defense mechanism to cope with radical change, and it expresses itself in many forms:
a) DENYING INVOLVEMENT – ‘I had nothing to do with the breakdown of our marriage.’
b) DENYING FAULT – ‘They just didn’t love me the way I needed to be loved. It was inevitable I would turn to someone else to feel valued and needed.’
b) DENYING IT’S HAPPENING – ‘We’re just having some time apart to sort through a few things. We’ll be back together in no time’ OR ‘I’m super busy at work right now, I will deal with this later.’
c) DENYING YOU’RE NOT OK – ‘I’m fine. This is a great thing to be happening. I’ll be much happier without them … the grass will be totally greener.’
It’s OK to feel this way, as it gives your mind time to adjust to your new situation, just don’t stay there for too long. What is too long? Call it at one month!
Once the denial cloud lifts, you will feel anger. This is our mind's defense mechanism to feeling shame, sadness and vulnerability. So what better way to cope than making your ex suffer more than you! You might be surprised at your rage, like Hela in Thor: Ragnorak, where you will feel like stopping at nothing to take down the person who betrayed you. Verbal rage can come in different forms too. Slinging expletives is the obvious way, but the most destructive form is when you say things that undermine your ex as a person, as a parent, or as a friend.
• "If only you knew what your friends are saying behind your back"
• "Well if you weren’t as cold as a fish in bed, I might have stayed"
• "The kids cried all night knowing they have to go to your place today. Do you really want to do that to them every week?"
The greatest sacrilege you can commit is putting your kids in the middle of your rage, and the higher you climb on the anger ladder as an ‘A-class’ bitch or bastard, the further you'll fall. Before you climb past the third rung, reach out to a professional for help before you do or say something you will really regret, or download the Divvito messenger app to help take the sting out of messaging.
Bargaining is the stage where you come to the full realization of your situation and will negotiate anything to make the pain go away. You might ask your ex for forgiveness and plead to get back together. You might feel the need to make amends for the hurt you’ve caused and allow your ex to take more in the financial settlement or in shared custody. You might also make promises you know you can’t commit to. Find someone you trust to be your sounding board so they can ensure you don’t regret the decisions you make while in this stage of grief.
Depression is when you hit rock bottom – feeling like you never want to leave your bed for days. It’s where you burst into tears when your boss asks “how was your weekend?”. It’s when you stop taking calls from friends as the thought of going out for a drink and being surrounded by everybody else having fun makes you want to vomit. It’s when your kids might not know how to cope with your sadness. That is totally ok. This stage is necessary for your psyche to come to terms with the reality of the situation, the uneasiness of how your world has changed and anxiety in what the future holds. It might take a month, it might take two, but you will get through it by drawing on the strength and love of others, and then you’re on the home stretch. If it doesn’t pass, seek immediate professional assistance!
The day you feel that everything will be OK is the day you’ve reached acceptance. It’s the day that you know it’s not worth taking the bait from your ex who is still in the earlier stages of grief. That's not to say you won’t feel a vast array of emotions, but you won’t let it take your focus away from the good things in your life – your children, you family, your friends, your health, and, most importantly, your pursuit of fulfilment.
The five stages of grieving can take several months to two years. Any longer and it becomes unhealthy and destructive to your wellbeing and everybody you love, so seek professional assistance.
How to make the grieving process bearable and as short as possible
Dealing with the grieving process is like facing a large glass of tequila. You just need to add lemon (legal advice), some salt (professional social support) and throw a party (surround yourself with your most supportive friends and family). Only rule: kick out the party-crashers!
Seriously, to manage the grieving process:
1. Reach out to find collaborative legal advice and understand how to fairly separate so it’s in the best interests of your whole family.
2. Talk to a professional who can help you navigate your emotional upheaval, whether that be a psychologist, psychiatrist, counsellor or priest.
3. Lean on positively-minded friends and family and stay away from those who want to negatively fuel the first four stages of your grieving.
The positive side to separation or divorce (if there has to be one) is that you learn a lot about yourself and how strong you can be when faced with adversity. Whatever your situation, stay safe, stay positive, be respectful and most of all be kind to yourself.
For more information from grief professionals, head to https://grief.com/the-five-stages-of-grief/
Five Stages of Grieving after Separation or Divorce was written by Wendy Oxenham, CEO of Divvito, helping make co-parenting communication easier.