[IMAGE CREDIT: Thinkstock / Askold Romanov]
(From our LLN series, “Psychology On The Brain.”)
Like any kind of loss, the end of a marriage may trigger a variety of reactions. Many people experience five distinct stages of grief, including denial, anger, depression and acceptance. The individuals that we work with do not always move smoothly from one stage to the other. There is often no beginning, middle or end for each stage and some stages are even visited multiple times.
Denial: Denial is a type of defense mechanism that softens the immediate shock and protects us from the pain of loss. Even if the divorce is your decision, you may have trouble believing and accepting that the relationship is over.
Anger: During this stage of grief, emotions can become increasingly intense. A person often concentrates on the things he hates about his partner, his own regrets or the things he feels guilty about. It is a time of blame, irritation and disgust. Displaced anger is common, and you may find yourself having less patience and becoming easily aggravated with day-to-day tasks or situations.
Bargaining: The bargaining stage in a divorce is when you try to repair the damaged marriage or convince yourself that divorce is the right decision. This stage is often prompted by panic, fear and the desire to regain control. You may try to negotiate with your partner in an effort to correct what went wrong, or you may remind yourself of the reasons the relationship did not work.
Depression: Depression usually sets in as a person understands that the marriage is truly over. Many upsetting decisions and adjustments take place in the aftermath of a divorce, which can lead to deep sadness. Depression is often accompanied by shame, and many people experience a period of isolation while grieving.
Acceptance: In the last stage of grief, you come to accept the divorce as part of your life. You embrace the guidance and support of others and slowly begin to let go of negative emotions.
More often than not, these divorces involve children. While our clients are experiencing the stages of grief, the children are going through it as well. Children experience their own emotional journey as they process, struggle with, and eventually adjust to the new circumstances of their families. For example very young children may not go through a whole range of emotions because they do not have a full awareness of what is happening. Older teenage children might be stuck more in the anger or depression stages as they have more developed cognitive, emotional and relational skills in order to grasp the nuances of the change. Also, in the same family, siblings can experience the divorce differently, it all depends on the child’s personality, experiences and perspectives.
It is important if you have a client that is experiencing issues in processing the loss of the marriage and/or if the children are being affected, it is suggested to seek the services of a mental health counselor or psychologist to assist the family in processing their feelings and to provide them with coping skills to help them move forward.
Danielle Archer, Ed.D., LMHC, holds a B.S. in Behavioral Science from the New York Institute of Technology, an M.S. in Counseling Psychology from Palm Beach Atlantic University, and an Ed.D. in Pastoral Community Counseling from Argosy University. She is a mental health practitioner in Clermont, Florida, where she owns and operates Agape Court & Counseling Services, LLC. [PHOTO CREDIT: Provided]