Divorce and Grief

Reviewed Feb 29, 2016

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Summary

  • Allow a time and place to think, feel, yell, and cry.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself or harbor feelings of shame or guilt.
     

No matter how accepting our culture becomes of divorce, splitting up is never without pain. This pain can be acute when one member of the couple was more invested in the marriage than the other. Many people mistakenly conclude that because divorce is common, it is not really that painful. So, when feelings of shock, betrayal, sadness, guilt, and anger appear due to a divorce or relationship breakup, they may be too much. At the same time, our society offers few avenues to grieve this huge loss.

Why is divorce so painful? In part, the pain is linked to the expectations of marriage (commitment, fidelity, and exclusivity) being very high. In other words, when two people commit to marriage they are agreeing to make their relationship special and above all other relationships. This calls for a great deal of trust and shared sacrifice. The wounds may run very deep when that trust is betrayed. Without proper care, these wounds can be devastating.

Stages of grief

Research shows that when people divorce, whatever the reasons, they go through some predictable stages of grief: 

Shock and disbelief

“This cannot be happening to me. It’s like I’m watching someone else’s life.”

Our natural defense system works like cruise control to keep the emotions from overwhelming us. This emotional cruise control allows us to function in a fog of denial. In fact, many say that they cannot even call to mind certain details of when the divorce became reality. This emotional numbing serves to keep us going as if nothing has happened.

Anguish

There is a reason for the “heartbreak” after the end of a relationship. As the denial fades and reality sets in people often report physical pain. Nausea, throwing up, cramps, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, and a sense that you will never be whole again are common. On the emotional side, many feel guilt, shame, anger, and even rage. They may mull over past talks with their ex, as if replaying them over and over would somehow change how they feel.
 
Despair, depression, and loneliness

After the high drama of divorce wanes, there is the stark realization of being alone. Depression and a form of depression called adjustment reaction are common in this stage. Some stay stuck here in their resentment and become angry and bitter. Others move on through the support of friends, family, and/or their faith community.

Dos and don’ts

Here are some dos and don’ts for handling the grief process.

Do

  • Allow a time and place to think, feel, yell, and cry.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself or harbor feelings of shame or guilt. If you need to get something off your chest, do it now.
  • Spend time with trusted others who will listen and let you fall apart.
  • Acknowledge and accept both good and bad aspects of your marriage.
  • Seek professional help if your sadness becomes too much or does not ease up.

Don’t

  • Don’t numb your feelings with drugs or alcohol.
  • Don’t cut yourself off from people.
  • Don’t keep yourself too busy and overworked.
  • Don’t avoid friends and family who can help.
  • Don’t lessen or discount your feelings.
  • Don’t jump into another relationship.

Dealing with guilt when you initiated the divorce

Divorce is painful, even for the partner who wanted to leave the marriage. Nobody gets married expecting it to end, so it’s normal to feel a sense of loss for the future you had envisioned. It’s also normal to feel guilt. If you have a child, you may blame yourself for breaking up the family.

While guilt shows that you care about others, it can be a problem when it’s so strong that it touches your health and well-being. Try to put the situation into perspective. Remind yourself that staying in a bad marriage isn’t good for anyone: not you, your spouse, or your child.

Everyone deserves to be happy and to live free of conflict. While it may take some time for everyone to heal from the pain of a breakup, in the long run it will free your ex-spouse and you to forge a new, fulfilling life. As long as you treat one another with respect, your child will be better off than if you stayed in an unhappy marriage.    

Getting back into life

Time can help to heal when we recognize that we have to grieve. Telling yourself that the pain won’t last forever and embracing the beauty and meaning of each day gives hope.

In this stage, people can start to fairly gauge what went wrong in their marriage and take ownership of their role in the split, no matter how small. The “letting go of the pain” continues but the tears don’t last as long.

Moving on can also mean separating the good times from the bad. It is not unhealthy to recall and embrace fond memories. Divorce does not have to ruin what was good about a relationship, particularly when a child is involved. Remember that your ex will always be your child’s mom or dad.

Grieving the loss of a relationship is never easy. If you need help in coping with a loss, call the toll-free number on this site.

By Drew Edwards, EdD
Source: Crosby, John. F., et al. (1983) “The Grief Resolution Process in Divorce.” "Journal of Divorce," 7(1):3-18; Williams, Christi, Dunne-Bryant, Alexandra. (2006) “Divorce and Adult Psychological Well-being: Clarifying the Role of Gender and Child Age.” "Journal of Marriage and Family," 68(5):1178-1196.

Summary

  • Allow a time and place to think, feel, yell, and cry.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself or harbor feelings of shame or guilt.
     

No matter how accepting our culture becomes of divorce, splitting up is never without pain. This pain can be acute when one member of the couple was more invested in the marriage than the other. Many people mistakenly conclude that because divorce is common, it is not really that painful. So, when feelings of shock, betrayal, sadness, guilt, and anger appear due to a divorce or relationship breakup, they may be too much. At the same time, our society offers few avenues to grieve this huge loss.

Why is divorce so painful? In part, the pain is linked to the expectations of marriage (commitment, fidelity, and exclusivity) being very high. In other words, when two people commit to marriage they are agreeing to make their relationship special and above all other relationships. This calls for a great deal of trust and shared sacrifice. The wounds may run very deep when that trust is betrayed. Without proper care, these wounds can be devastating.

Stages of grief

Research shows that when people divorce, whatever the reasons, they go through some predictable stages of grief: 

Shock and disbelief

“This cannot be happening to me. It’s like I’m watching someone else’s life.”

Our natural defense system works like cruise control to keep the emotions from overwhelming us. This emotional cruise control allows us to function in a fog of denial. In fact, many say that they cannot even call to mind certain details of when the divorce became reality. This emotional numbing serves to keep us going as if nothing has happened.

Anguish

There is a reason for the “heartbreak” after the end of a relationship. As the denial fades and reality sets in people often report physical pain. Nausea, throwing up, cramps, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, and a sense that you will never be whole again are common. On the emotional side, many feel guilt, shame, anger, and even rage. They may mull over past talks with their ex, as if replaying them over and over would somehow change how they feel.
 
Despair, depression, and loneliness

After the high drama of divorce wanes, there is the stark realization of being alone. Depression and a form of depression called adjustment reaction are common in this stage. Some stay stuck here in their resentment and become angry and bitter. Others move on through the support of friends, family, and/or their faith community.

Dos and don’ts

Here are some dos and don’ts for handling the grief process.

Do

  • Allow a time and place to think, feel, yell, and cry.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself or harbor feelings of shame or guilt. If you need to get something off your chest, do it now.
  • Spend time with trusted others who will listen and let you fall apart.
  • Acknowledge and accept both good and bad aspects of your marriage.
  • Seek professional help if your sadness becomes too much or does not ease up.

Don’t

  • Don’t numb your feelings with drugs or alcohol.
  • Don’t cut yourself off from people.
  • Don’t keep yourself too busy and overworked.
  • Don’t avoid friends and family who can help.
  • Don’t lessen or discount your feelings.
  • Don’t jump into another relationship.

Dealing with guilt when you initiated the divorce

Divorce is painful, even for the partner who wanted to leave the marriage. Nobody gets married expecting it to end, so it’s normal to feel a sense of loss for the future you had envisioned. It’s also normal to feel guilt. If you have a child, you may blame yourself for breaking up the family.

While guilt shows that you care about others, it can be a problem when it’s so strong that it touches your health and well-being. Try to put the situation into perspective. Remind yourself that staying in a bad marriage isn’t good for anyone: not you, your spouse, or your child.

Everyone deserves to be happy and to live free of conflict. While it may take some time for everyone to heal from the pain of a breakup, in the long run it will free your ex-spouse and you to forge a new, fulfilling life. As long as you treat one another with respect, your child will be better off than if you stayed in an unhappy marriage.    

Getting back into life

Time can help to heal when we recognize that we have to grieve. Telling yourself that the pain won’t last forever and embracing the beauty and meaning of each day gives hope.

In this stage, people can start to fairly gauge what went wrong in their marriage and take ownership of their role in the split, no matter how small. The “letting go of the pain” continues but the tears don’t last as long.

Moving on can also mean separating the good times from the bad. It is not unhealthy to recall and embrace fond memories. Divorce does not have to ruin what was good about a relationship, particularly when a child is involved. Remember that your ex will always be your child’s mom or dad.

Grieving the loss of a relationship is never easy. If you need help in coping with a loss, call the toll-free number on this site.

By Drew Edwards, EdD
Source: Crosby, John. F., et al. (1983) “The Grief Resolution Process in Divorce.” "Journal of Divorce," 7(1):3-18; Williams, Christi, Dunne-Bryant, Alexandra. (2006) “Divorce and Adult Psychological Well-being: Clarifying the Role of Gender and Child Age.” "Journal of Marriage and Family," 68(5):1178-1196.

Summary

  • Allow a time and place to think, feel, yell, and cry.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself or harbor feelings of shame or guilt.
     

No matter how accepting our culture becomes of divorce, splitting up is never without pain. This pain can be acute when one member of the couple was more invested in the marriage than the other. Many people mistakenly conclude that because divorce is common, it is not really that painful. So, when feelings of shock, betrayal, sadness, guilt, and anger appear due to a divorce or relationship breakup, they may be too much. At the same time, our society offers few avenues to grieve this huge loss.

Why is divorce so painful? In part, the pain is linked to the expectations of marriage (commitment, fidelity, and exclusivity) being very high. In other words, when two people commit to marriage they are agreeing to make their relationship special and above all other relationships. This calls for a great deal of trust and shared sacrifice. The wounds may run very deep when that trust is betrayed. Without proper care, these wounds can be devastating.

Stages of grief

Research shows that when people divorce, whatever the reasons, they go through some predictable stages of grief: 

Shock and disbelief

“This cannot be happening to me. It’s like I’m watching someone else’s life.”

Our natural defense system works like cruise control to keep the emotions from overwhelming us. This emotional cruise control allows us to function in a fog of denial. In fact, many say that they cannot even call to mind certain details of when the divorce became reality. This emotional numbing serves to keep us going as if nothing has happened.

Anguish

There is a reason for the “heartbreak” after the end of a relationship. As the denial fades and reality sets in people often report physical pain. Nausea, throwing up, cramps, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, and a sense that you will never be whole again are common. On the emotional side, many feel guilt, shame, anger, and even rage. They may mull over past talks with their ex, as if replaying them over and over would somehow change how they feel.
 
Despair, depression, and loneliness

After the high drama of divorce wanes, there is the stark realization of being alone. Depression and a form of depression called adjustment reaction are common in this stage. Some stay stuck here in their resentment and become angry and bitter. Others move on through the support of friends, family, and/or their faith community.

Dos and don’ts

Here are some dos and don’ts for handling the grief process.

Do

  • Allow a time and place to think, feel, yell, and cry.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself or harbor feelings of shame or guilt. If you need to get something off your chest, do it now.
  • Spend time with trusted others who will listen and let you fall apart.
  • Acknowledge and accept both good and bad aspects of your marriage.
  • Seek professional help if your sadness becomes too much or does not ease up.

Don’t

  • Don’t numb your feelings with drugs or alcohol.
  • Don’t cut yourself off from people.
  • Don’t keep yourself too busy and overworked.
  • Don’t avoid friends and family who can help.
  • Don’t lessen or discount your feelings.
  • Don’t jump into another relationship.

Dealing with guilt when you initiated the divorce

Divorce is painful, even for the partner who wanted to leave the marriage. Nobody gets married expecting it to end, so it’s normal to feel a sense of loss for the future you had envisioned. It’s also normal to feel guilt. If you have a child, you may blame yourself for breaking up the family.

While guilt shows that you care about others, it can be a problem when it’s so strong that it touches your health and well-being. Try to put the situation into perspective. Remind yourself that staying in a bad marriage isn’t good for anyone: not you, your spouse, or your child.

Everyone deserves to be happy and to live free of conflict. While it may take some time for everyone to heal from the pain of a breakup, in the long run it will free your ex-spouse and you to forge a new, fulfilling life. As long as you treat one another with respect, your child will be better off than if you stayed in an unhappy marriage.    

Getting back into life

Time can help to heal when we recognize that we have to grieve. Telling yourself that the pain won’t last forever and embracing the beauty and meaning of each day gives hope.

In this stage, people can start to fairly gauge what went wrong in their marriage and take ownership of their role in the split, no matter how small. The “letting go of the pain” continues but the tears don’t last as long.

Moving on can also mean separating the good times from the bad. It is not unhealthy to recall and embrace fond memories. Divorce does not have to ruin what was good about a relationship, particularly when a child is involved. Remember that your ex will always be your child’s mom or dad.

Grieving the loss of a relationship is never easy. If you need help in coping with a loss, call the toll-free number on this site.

By Drew Edwards, EdD
Source: Crosby, John. F., et al. (1983) “The Grief Resolution Process in Divorce.” "Journal of Divorce," 7(1):3-18; Williams, Christi, Dunne-Bryant, Alexandra. (2006) “Divorce and Adult Psychological Well-being: Clarifying the Role of Gender and Child Age.” "Journal of Marriage and Family," 68(5):1178-1196.

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