It’s normal to question whether or not how we are feeling is normal. Often, these questions are like check-ins – can we just how we are feeling? Should we be worried that we are overreacting?
A situation where this is especially common is when someone is going through a divorce. Even when the marriage wasn’t making them happy, the aftermath was a result of a lot of emotions bubbling up to the surface. This is completely normal and can almost be expected when dealing with a divorce. But, is it normal to have a grief response? Actually, yes it is.
Divorce is, no matter the circumstances, a very significant loss. Grief is how humans handle and process that loss. Sometimes, when left untreated, grief can even turn into depression.
What are you mourning?
When we grieve, we’re mourning the loss of the future we anticipated. With a lost loved one, it’s all the milestones and memories we wanted to share with them. Grief after divorce works the same. In many cases, our identities are wrapped up in our marriages. We share friendships, hobbies, church communities, and connections with each other’s families. After a divorce, those connections are all thrown into a state of uncertainty.
We don’t know what’s coming next. That’s scary. Our brains work overtime to process that. In many ways, grief is about processing what’s been lost so that we can start focusing on what comes next.
Stages of Grief
Because the process of grieving after a divorce is much like the process of grieving after the loss of a loved one, you can expect the stages of that process to be similar. Some models of grief say there are seven stages, while others list five.
Here’s a brief rundown of the stages of grief, and what you can expect:
Initially, you might struggle with the idea that your marriage is over. You may want to continue hanging onto old traditions. This could look like trying to schedule family time around the holidays or wanting to schedule a family vacation together. In some cases, situations like that can work, in other cases, it’s an outgrowth of denial.
It’s perfectly natural to feel angry. You might be angry at yourself, your spouse or friends you felt chose sides during the divorce. Anger is a common response to situations that feel unfair. While anger is good at identifying problems, it’s rarely good at fixing them.
As the dust starts to settle, you might start looking back and thinking about all the things either you or your ex could have done differently. It’s not uncommon for divorced couples to briefly flirt with the idea of getting back together before realizing that their differences were irreconcilable.
The fourth stage of grief, depression makes its appearance once reality starts to settle in. At this stage of grief, you may find yourself focusing very sharply on all those things you’ve lost. Milestones, celebrations, and goals. During this period of time, these feelings are normal. Let yourself experience them so you can move on.
Finally, acceptance. It might still hurt, but it is what it is. You can’t change the past, but you can build for the future. The final stage of grief signals your readiness to move on and start the healing process.
Coping with Grief After Divorce
Let yourself move through the grieving process naturally. Don’t force it, and don’t run from it. Reconnect with yourself. Engage in some of the hobbies you may have neglected during your marriage. This is a time of renewal, exploration, and self-discovery.
It’s tremendously helpful to talk about your feelings and let them out. As a therapist, I can teach you tools and techniques you can use to process your feelings so you can move on. You don’t have to go through this alone. Reach out today if you’d like someone to help you on your journey with either divorce counseling or grief counseling.