Coping With the Emotional Stages of Divorce: From Denial to Acceptance (and Why a Lawyer Can Help)

There is more involved in getting a divorce than signing some documents. Very few individuals can simply do the paperwork and walk away. The process of separation and divorce takes an emotional toll on both parties.

The end of a marriage – even an amicable divorce – is usually a challenging time filled with many emotions.

At Brown Family Law, we understand what an emotionally difficult time this is for our clients. Our goal is to help families successfully navigate through these life-changing events.

The Five Emotional Stages of a Divorce

You may be feeling a variety of emotions following your divorce. Many people commonly experience feelings such as anger, stress, and anxiety. Some of these emotions may be difficult for us to understand.

The feelings you are experiencing after a divorce may begin to make more sense if you think of them not just as individual emotions but as part of a larger process: the grieving process.

Some have found that the emotional stages of divorce are comparable to the five stages of grief after the death of a loved one. Let’s talk about these five stages and some practical suggestions on how you can cope during this difficult time.

Stage 1: Denial

Denial is often the initial response to the reality of a divorce. You might find yourself thinking “This isn’t happening” or “We can still work things out.” Denial is one of our body’s defense mechanisms. It is a way of protecting us from pain while we come to terms with a new normal.

Signs of denial may include:

  • Shock: Strong disbelief and emotional turmoil that prevent individuals from accepting the reality of the situation
  • Confusion: Inability to comprehend and make sense of the impending divorce
  • Avoidance: Consciously or unconsciously steering clear from accepting the reality of the divorce
  • Numbness: A protective emotional state in which individuals protect themselves from the reality of the divorce

How to cope

Allow yourself to feel the denial – but set a time limit. This is an important time for seeking support from family, friends, or a therapist. They can help you to gain perspective on the reality of the situation.

You should also consider contacting a family law attorney. A lawyer can clarify the implications of a divorce and set realistic expectations.

Stage 2: Anger

Once denial subsides, anger often surfaces. Anger is a natural response to the sudden reality of your separation. This stage of the grief process often involves frustration, resentment, or even rage. These feelings may be directed towards your spouse, yourself, or the situation.

It is important for you not to allow anger to be the driving force behind decisions in your divorce proceedings. During your separation, you may need to make major decisions about the division of assets, child custody, spousal support, and so on.

Anger can get in the way of productive negotiations, leading to prolonged and costly separation proceedings.

How to cope

It is recommended to find healthy ways to let go of your anger. Some people choose activities like exercising or journaling. Others find it beneficial to speak with a counselor or mental health professional.

Understanding the legal aspect of a divorce can also help you to channel your emotions constructively. This allows you to focus on securing a fair settlement rather than engage in potentially destructive behavior.

Stage 3: Bargaining

As numbness and anger subside, the reality of the situation will begin to set in. You begin to experience the painful feelings that often come with a divorce. Even if your marriage was challenging, it might seem like a better option than going through the divorce process.

At this emotional stage, individuals “bargain” or attempt to avoid the inevitable by negotiating with themselves or their former partner. Some people at this stage try to make their relationship work or win their partners back. They may make promises to change or propose compromises to try to save the marriage.

How to cope

It is important to recognize that bargaining is a natural reaction to loss, but you must stay grounded in reality. Statistics show that only 10-15 percent of couples reconcile after separation.

This may be a good time to reach out to close friends or family members who have successfully navigated a divorce. Ask them for advice and emotional support as you move forward during this stage of the grieving process. Some have found it beneficial to join divorce support groups to openly share their feelings and seek support from others in similar situations.

Stage 4: Depression

As the finality of divorce becomes apparent, many experience depression. Even if you initiated the divorce, it is normal to experience feelings of sadness or loss that your marriage is over.

Individuals may experience a decline in energy or loss of interest in activities that once brought them joy.

Depression can manifest in negative feelings of:

  • Deep sadness
  • Despair
  • Hopelessness
  • Sense of loss
  • Grief

How to cope

While it is normal to feel sad that your marriage is ending, this feeling should gradually go away over time. However, if you find the feelings of sadness overwhelming, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional.

Avoid isolating yourself when you feel depressed or engaging in self-destructive habits like overdrinking. Staying engaged in activities and self-care routines is important during this time.

Stage 5: Acceptance

Acceptance is the final stage of the emotional journey through a divorce. It does not mean that you are suddenly happy about the divorce but that you have come to terms with it. Acceptance is a stage of resolution and peace.

As you accept the end of your marriage, you find a new sense of normalcy. Acceptance allows you to look forward and start planning for a new chapter in your life. You may start envisioning a future as a single person independent of your spouse.

How to cope

Focus on setting goals for yourself, pursuing new interests, and building a future for yourself. This is a time for practicing self-compassion and recognizing your growth. Consider joining a support group for those who are going through similar situations.

How a Family Law Lawyer Can Help You Get Through the 5 Emotional Stages of a Divorce

Divorce is often described as one of the most challenging life events a person can go through. It can be comparable to the death of a loved one.

From the initial shock to eventual acceptance, each of the stages of divorce presents its own set of challenges. Understanding and navigating these complex emotions is essential to moving forward. While friends and family can provide emotional support, having a lawyer by your side throughout the divorce process can be an invaluable asset.

Consider some of the ways a lawyer can help you through the emotional landscape of the divorce process.

Providing clarity and guidance

In the initial stage of denial, you may be struggling to accept that your marriage is ending. A lawyer can help by:

  • Offering objective advice: As a neutral third party, a lawyer can offer a clear and objective perspective on your situation. Lawyers help their clients understand the legal realities and implications of a divorce.
  • Explain the legal process: When you understand the legal steps involved in a divorce, this can make the situation feel more manageable.
  • Providing options: By giving you options, a lawyer can help you think practically about your future. This is an important step to moving past the denial stage of the emotional process.

Managing conflict

Feelings of anger can lead to impulsive decisions and heated disputes that complicate the divorce process. A divorce attorney can act as a buffer between you and your former spouse. This can reduce the chances of direct conflict or heated arguments.

A lawyer can help you focus on negotiating a fair settlement with your spouse rather than letting anger drive your decisions. This can prevent you from making rash choices that are not in your best interests.

By focusing on legal strategies and outcomes, your attorney helps you channel your emotions constructively.

Setting realistic expectations

In the bargaining stage of the grieving process, people may try to make deals to save their relationships or ease the transition. Divorce lawyers can offer a balanced perspective. They can help you avoid making compromises that are not in your best interests, instead guiding you towards reasonable and sustainable solutions.

If there is a possibility of reconciliation, attorneys can guide you through the mediation process effectively. They will ensure that any agreements protect your legal rights and are fair and equitable.

Offering stability and support

Overwhelming feelings of depression can lead to a lack of motivation to deal with legal matters. This emotional low can hinder decision-making and extend the divorce process.

Supportive lawyers offer stability and structure. They can help you navigate the profound changes you are experiencing in your life when you are feeling overwhelmed.

While your lawyer handles the legal aspects of your divorce, you can focus on your emotional recovery. Regular updates on your case and open communication from your lawyer could also alleviate some of the stress and uncertainty contributing to your depression.

Finalizing the divorce

Acceptance involves coming to terms with your divorce, making peace with the situation, and moving forward.

A lawyer can help you:

  • Finalize your divorce: A lawyer ensures all legal matters are resolved. This includes property division, custody arrangements, and financial settlements. 
  • Plan for your future: Your lawyer can help with any future financial planning. This can include updating wills or estate plans to adapt to your new circumstances.
  • Offer resources: Your divorce attorney may be able to connect you with financial advisors, mental health professionals, and support groups to help you rebuild your life.
  • Provide closure: As the legal process concludes, your lawyer can help you to put this chapter of your life behind you. This allows you to focus on the healing process and moving forward.

Let Brown Family Law Help You Through the Emotional Stages of Divorce

The lawyers at our law firm understand that divorce is not just a legal process but an emotional journey. As compassionate and experienced attorneys, we do more than just handle paperwork and court appearances. We strive to offer support through each emotional stage of a divorce.

Our lawyers want to help you achieve a favorable legal outcome while easing the emotional burden of a divorce. With Brown Family Law on your side, you and your family can successfully transition into the next chapter of your life.

Partnering with a divorce lawyer can help you better manage the struggle of a divorce. Let us help you move towards a more hopeful and secure future. Schedule a consultation today. Call us 24/7 at 801-685-9999 to speak to a live representative. 

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I would hands down suggest Brown Family Law. Nathaniel helped me with my divorce, and he was very knowlegeable and knows his stuff. He helped me file a motion, get somethings changed in the original decree, helped me understand the terms they use, helped me understand how child support is calculated along is all the financial aspects associated with divorce case. He also is very responsive to phone calls and emails which was very helpful whenever I had small questions. Thank you Nathaniel!
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Overall from start to finish the best experience to have dealing with a time that is difficult.Andrew Christensen is very professional and out going to make this situation the best it could be and worked hard to make sure the divorce was fair for me.Over all, this firm really cares and treats you as a family or friend and just not a client, down to Marco Brown taking time to see how I was doing and offer to help in any way possible during my divorce while I was there for my first initial meeting.I would highly recommend anyone that has to go through a divorce to really reach out to the Brown Family Law firm and see for your self the experience I was able to receive from a top notch law firm.
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