Stages of Divorce

There several stages of divorce recovery that you are likely to experience. You may not experience all of these or even experience them in the order given. Understanding the possible stages of divorce and recognizing that what you are experiencing is okay and is normal, given the circumstances you are dealing with, can be comforting. There is no set time frame for each stage. Some people may move through the grieving process faster and recover faster than others. That is okay. The stages of divorce are: shock, denial, bargaining, anger, sorrow, acceptance, and moving on.

Shock

If you are not the one initiating the separation or divorce, you may begin the stages of divorce in a state of shock. Oh sure, things weren’t perfect. Maybe you have had some disagreements now and then but over? How can it be over?

You may begin in a state of shock even if you initiated the separation or divorce. Perhaps you just found out your spouse has been having an affair. Maybe you just found out your spouse has a gambling problem and has lost everything you have ever owned and refuses to get help.

Shock is that feeling that this kind of thing only happens to other people. How could it be happening to you? But you are a Christian, how could divorce happen to you? You never planned on getting divorced. You certainly were not hoping your marriage would fail.

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Denial


Disbelief can easily turn into the denial. Not only can this not be happening to you, you refuse to accept that it is. You may catch yourself saying or thinking things like – “Oh it is just a passing phase, she will come around.” “Once he realizes how much he really loves me, he will be back.”

Denial is one of the stages of divorce that postpones the divorce healing process. As long as you remain in denial, you never confront the reality of the situation. In order for your divorce recovery to begin, you must accept the things you cannot change and work on the things you can.

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Bargaining

The self talk of denial may bring you to one of the stages of divorce that may not be experienced by everyone, bargaining. With bargaining, you may try convincing yourself and your estranged spouse that you are willing to do absolutely anything to get them back. You might hear yourself saying things like: “If I show her I can give her the kind of fun she is looking for, she will come back.” “If I just work really hard at pleasing him and do everything he asks, he will then realize he loves me and he will come back.”

Let me be clear about the difference between making compromises so a relationship works and bargaining to win someone back. Compromising in a relationship is healthy as long as it is give and take. Each partner makes compromises for the betterment of the whole. However, trying to manipulate your spouse and win them back with your new found desire to satisfy their every whim is not healthy and is not apt to produce lasting results.

The bargaining stage of divorce also includes begging and pleading. Approaching the relationship from a position of desperation is not going to bring you the desired results. What it does do, is impress upon your spouse that instead of being a partner in the marriage, you are completely dependent on them for your happiness. That is a heavy burden for anyone to carry. There are things you can do to save your marriage that do not involve becoming someone you are not or begging your spouse to love you.

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Anger

One of the stages of divorce that has the potential to bring harm to others is anger. Anger often results when bargaining is unsuccessful or when you move past denial and begin to see what is really happening. You will be angry at your spouse, at yourself and maybe even at God. I am not talking about a momentary fit of rage here. I am talking about a sense of anger that overcomes you and you may find yourself lashing out at every little thing and at anyone who crosses your path. Things that normally would not bother you may set you off during this stage of divorce recovery. I remember having no patience at all with my children during this time and found myself yelling at them about even the smallest of things. It was not pretty, but thank God, it did pass.

Anger is a normal reaction when you feel rejected. Anger surfaces in divorce because your self-worth, needs and/or convictions are being threatened. You may be angry because you depended too much on your spouse who has now abandoned you, you feel like someone is trying to control you or make decisions for you, you are holding on to unrealistic expectations, you are afraid or you are holding on to pride.

The Bible says not to sin in your anger (Ephesians 4:26). What that means is, don’t exact revenge or plot malicious retribution. While you might feel like throwing all your spouses belongings out in the street or hitting them with a frying pan, you really shouldn’t do that.

The Bible also says in that same verse (Ephesians 4:26) not to let the sun go down when you are angry. Does that mean you cannot sleep until you are no longer angry? I am sure you would agree that it is difficult to get a restful sleep when you are in an angry state. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one or been rejected knows a good night’s sleep, for a time, may seem like a distant memory. If you find your mind churning with angry thoughts, pray , draw your attention back to God who loves you and to whom vengeance belongs (Romans 12:19-21).

God knows you are hurting. He loves you and has a plan for your life (Jeremiah 29:11). It is in Him that your worth is defined. Even though the pain of rejection may make you feel worthless, no child of God is a loser. As a child of God, you are a joint heir with Christ to the Kingdom of Heaven (Romans 8:17).

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Sorrow

One of the stages of divorce that, if not faced head on, can open the door to depression is sorrow. It is important to cry if you feel like it and let your emotions out. Bottling up your feelings when you are grieving is not good for you. Shakespeare wrote: "To weep is to make less the depth of grief." Crying releases emotional tension and refreshes your spirit.

If you find your are experiencing a deep sorrow or depression that will not go away, you are entertaining thoughts of suicide, you are repeatedly engaging in self-destructive behavior or you no longer care about yourself or your future, seek professional Christian Counseling right away.

Sorrow can have the opposite effect on your sleeping patterns that anger does, at least it did for me. I had a hard time getting out of bed during my time of sorrow. Others, however, may have difficulty sleeping. Either way, sorrow is real and to be expected. It is that expression of sadness, grief and loss as you mourn what you have lost.

Sorrow, like anger, affects you physically as well as mentally. Mentally, you may feel hopeless, pessimistic and helpless. You may have difficulty concentrating. Physically, it can affect your sleeping patterns, eating habits and your overall energy level leaving you feeling drained and tired.

While it is normal and appropriate to feel sorrow at the loss of your marriage, to move past it, you must move to the stages of divorce that begin to look ahead - acceptance and moving on.

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Acceptance

Of all the stages of divorce, acceptance is the one where the tide begins to turn. To accept your loss, you must identify what you have lost and put it into perspective. You have lost your spouse, your companion. You also may have lost dreams and hopes for the future, face to face time with your children, financial support, friends and possibly some extended family relationships. Your spouse is no longer your spouse and you will need to begin thinking of yourself as a single person. By single, I don’t mean you should get out there and start dating. You will need to consider yourself single as it pertains to things like shopping, cooking and scheduling your activities.

You will need to let go of the dreams and plans you had for your marriage and the life you expected. You need to let go of the idea that you can change your spouse or how they react to you. You cannot control how they act or feel.

As you work through the last two stages of divorce, you may find it helpful to pray the Serenity Prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr. Excerts of this prayer have been used for many years in addiction recovery groups.

the Serenity Prayer

by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen.


Once you have given to the Lord those things you have no control over and He grants you the wisdom and courage to change the things you can, you will begin look forward to life again. You will be ready to move on.

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Moving On

The final stage, no matter how many of the stages of divorce you experienced and what order you experienced them, is moving on. It is here that you begin looking ahead more to what is to come and less to what could have been. Hope springs anew in your heart and mind. You have survived divorce and you can see how the hand of God has been protecting, comforting and assisting you along the way. You are filled with a new sense of excited expectation about what God will do in your life now. All things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26).

Remember, you will not move through these stages of divorce recovery in a day or even a week. Divorce healing takes time. Resolve to take the time you need to work through the healing process. There are some Steps to Healing you can begin implementing right now to help you rebuild your life.

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