Recognising the Realities of Grief and Loss in Divorce and Separation

February 10, 2020

“Imagine spreading everything you care about on a blanket and then tossing the whole thing up in the air. The process of divorce is about loading that blanket, throwing it up, watching it all spin, and worrying what stuff will break when it lands,” – Amy Poehler

Grieving the end of a relationship is difficult.  We often see newly separated clients who are struggling to come to terms with a relationship breakdown and grieving the loss of the lives they had built with their Ex.  You may not realise it at the time, but as you deal with the loss of your relationship, you may go through the 5 stages of grief – Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining and Acceptance. 

You’ve likely heard of these before in reference to a loss of someone who has passed away. But, what we don’t often consider is that the end of a relationship, separating from a partner or beginning the next chapter of your life is also an emotional loss. Not only are you grieving the relationship, you are also grieving the goals, dreams and vision you had for the future you had together and intended to create.  Those with children may also be grieving the loss of the family unit.  Those without children may be grieving the lost opportunity to have had children.  There are so many different endings that might be circling around your head and coming to terms with these is a process.  You may find yourself going through one or all of the 5 stages of grief following a separation. 

  1. Shock and Denial

Denial is a common defence mechanism to try and block out what is happening, to avoid feeling the pain of the situation, and to protect us from the shock of loss.  When your reality has changed so significantly, our brain can have trouble keeping up.  It may be easier to deny something is happening then face the situation and deal with the emotions.  Although this may seem effective to begin with, it is only a temporary fix.

  1. Anger

When you can’t deny the reality any longer, your body starts to feel the pain of the situation.  It is difficult, it is painful, and it is emotional.  Your brain, trying to protect you for a little longer, may redirect this pain and emotional as anger, which could be directed to family and friends, to strangers, to your Ex, or even to yourself.  You may also feel guilt at the anger you are directing to your friends and family when you are dealing with your emotions, which may make you even angrier.  This stage is difficult and you might feel as though you are out of control.  Try to find a support system around you that can help you acknowledge your feelings and work through them. 

  1. Bargaining and dialogue

As your anger subsides, it might be replaced with vulnerability, powerlessness, and a feeling of uncertainty of what your life will look like moving forward.  In an effort to regain control, you may start thinking about what you could have done differently in your relationship. You may feel guilty, as you start to think if you had just done that one thing differently… you wouldn’t be in this position now.  But it’s impossible to know how things ‘could have’ been.  It is dangerous to dwell on these ideas as they won’t allow us to recognise where things went wrong, that no one is to blame, and to move forward.

  1. Depression and detachment

During this stage, more than ever we need support from those around us. As you start to acknowledge and let in more of your feelings about the ending of your relationship, you may feel sadness around the loss. It’s okay to feel this way, but remember that you aren’t alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help when you need it. We often feel in this stage of grieving that we are a burden, but support from those around us will help to lift us back up as we pick up the pieces and rebuild. If you aren’t comfortable talking to family and friends, divorce support groups exist to meet people going through similar experiences and share your feelings in a safe space.

  1. Acceptance

Coping with separation and divorce is a deeply personal and individual experience. While those around you can be there for support while you rebuild, no one else can truly understand the emotions you are going through during this time. Although the pain of the loss is difficult, letting yourself feel will allow you to eventually accept the reasons why separation/divorce was the right decision, and help you feel assured in your decision. 

You may pass through this cycle and sometimes you may revisit stages, but eventually, you will get through it.  It is okay to feel grief.  It is a natural part of the process, and it will take as long as you need to take.  There is no magic formula or timeframe.  Acceptance is not an end-destination on your journey, but rather a stepping stone to moving forward, feeling clarity, rebuilding your new normal and becoming the ‘you’ that you want to be.

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This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or any other professional advice.

Feeling unsure where to start?

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Feeling unsure where to start?

Let us guide you through what’s involved in untangling your relationship and give you the tools to set yourself up to move forward.

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