David Kessler and Elisabeth Kubler-Ross famously developed a framework for helping people deal with loss called “The Five Stages of Grief” to help people who are mourning make sense of the different emotional states they are experiencing. However the model is also extremely useful for coping with divorce as the range of emotions and states are very similar. Knowing and understanding these states can help you to process what is happening to you when your world has been rocked to the core.
The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It’s important to remember however that this isn’t an exact science. Although this is a common order of stages, you cant do grief ‘wrong’, and you don’t want to add to your problems by thinking you need to be fitting a formula. You might jump around the various stages or go about them in a completely different order. Emotions caused by such a big life change can be very chaotic. The thing to do is to use the list to recognise that what aspect you are experiencing and to know it is a perfectly natural part of losing a significant relationship.
Coping with denial: Your marriage may be the most important relationship in your life, so it's no wonder you may be denying that your separation will last. It can be difficult to direct your energies into other activities when so much of your emotional energy is invested in your marriage. But the happy irony is that your life consists of other relationships and activities (work, school and community projects) that could function as an emotional life preserver as you navigate your separation.
Coping with anger: This emotion may be the most difficult of the five to keep on a low flame, and if you do, it may flare up when you least expect it. At times like these – when you feel consumed with anger toward your spouse or your predicament – you should channel anger into productive, physical activities. Try walking, running, playing sports or even blasting your favourite music and dancing until your anger wanes.
Coping with bargaining: Some hopeful souls convert their private thoughts into an actual proposal: “If I do or change such-and-such, can we get back together?” Fighting for a relationship and being willing to compromise are wonderful qualities, but many couples find that it's too late for such proposals to work. Instead of exercising futile bargaining, use your energy to develop a new and healthy post-breakup relationship, especially if you have children together.
Coping with depression: You wouldn't be human if you didn't feel lonely and depressed over your separation. And there probably won't be one way – and only one way – that will help you successfully counteract these feelings so they don't consume you. Try spending extra time with friends and loved ones. Find 15 minutes each day for exercise, which releases endorphins – the “feel good” chemical – in your brain. Treat yourself to a shopping trip or other indulgence. Or, make an appointment with a therapist. Do what feels good and right for you so you don't withdraw from life. Because, remember, you still have one to live.
Coping with acceptance: You may dislike the prospect of facing life without your partner, but at this stage, you're beginning to accept it. It's the new normal. The risk at this stage is that you'll insist on keeping life patterns unchanged. So take your time. Try to completely alter old habits. Embrace learning how to do some things for yourself, and reach out to others for help. Now is the time to make new connections and try new activities, realising that if they don't work out, it's no big deal. Just move on to the next adventure.