Understanding the role of grief in divorce

The process of coming to terms with the end of a relationship can be similar to coming to terms with the death of a loved one. The grief that we feel can follow similar patterns and be just as bewildering.

Grief counsellors often use the Kubler-Ross theory to explain how we deal with loss.

Kubler-Ross suggests that there are five stages to grief namely

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression, and
  5. Acceptance

What does grief look like in relation to a divorce?

When we are told that our marriage is over then we can experience a strong sense of denial. Perhaps we deny that the separation is serious. We might try to explain away our partner’s motives or question their state of mind.

Anger can quickly kick in; “After all I’ve done for them” can often be coupled with a defiant “I’ll show them” approach. Anger can turn into violence and aggression all too easily. It is necessary to take care not to act in ways that will get us into trouble.

Bargaining in the grief cycle does not necessarily refer to the negotiations about who is going to get what from the matrimonial assets or spend what time with the children. It is usually more about negotiating one’s self; trying to argue that you can and will change, that things will change and you will make things work, almost anything in an attempt to get a reconciliation.

This will usually be unsuccessful and we start to feel that no matter what we do that the inevitable is going to happen. At this stage we can start to experience depression in the sense of a heavy and reluctant recognition that the separation will not be avoided. This will be more like resignation than acceptance.

If there is good news then it is this; acceptance will usually follow.

If you have had to grieve the loss of a family member, or even a fond pet, then you might have experienced all of the above and come to see that life does indeed move on.

The danger though is that we can feel a need to rush through the grieving process as if it was possible to fast forward through the early stages and arrive at acceptance. Unfortunately you might hear this attitude from well meaning friends and family who want to see you feeling better.

Grief counsellors stress that although the grief stages are often set out in the order listed above that they do not necessarily come in that order. Bear in mind as well that many people will move backwards as well as forwards through their grief stages. Just because you were angry about the separation last month does not necessarily mean that you have ¬¨Done’ anger. It can flare up again as can the other stages.

Do both partners experience grief?

There is no reason to suspect that the person who is leaving does not experience grief just as much. They may have spent the last two years or more working through their own denial (“The marriage is that bad,” or “We’re just going through a sticky patch.”) anger, perhaps experienced as shortness or impatience with the other partner, bargaining where they try to change who they are and depression before accepting that they need to instruct solicitors or get advice about a divorce.

The challenge is that they are reaching their own acceptance of the end of the marriage while the other partner is still unaware that there are any issues or, more likely, stuck in denial that anything is wrong.

This theory, if correct, explains why the person wanting divorce can come across as being hasty and insensitive; it is not that they do not care or do not feel anything but, instead, they have already processed their grief at the end of the relationship.

How to handle grief in a divorce?

Here at Diane Genders specialist family solicitors we often work with counsellors and therapists. We frequently recommend one or more of them to both male and female clients so that they can get the full range of support and advice that they need – it is not just the legal matters that can need attention.

Having an awareness of these kind of issues can help to explain what you are going through and reassure you that the process is normal. None of that will make things any easier but at least you can have the confidence of knowing that you are in good hands and, critically, that you are not abnormal.

Who can I speak to?

You can contact us here at Diane Genders. We are a team of specialist divorce lawyers based in Lincoln. We can answer your questions about divorce and separation and also call upon our team of excellent professional contacts in other fields to help support you with the emotional aspects of divorce as well.

If you have any questions about divorce, are thinking about divorce or know somebody who is, then get in touch on 01522 516500 or email us by CLICKING HERE