How the Five Stages of Grief Present Themselves in Divorce

Anger, denial, isolation, bargaining, and then acceptance. These are the five stages of grief.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross first introduced the concept of grief stages in her book, On Death and Dying. While she only applied them to death, the notion of stages of grief applies to anything we grieve, whether that’s the death of a loved one, losing a job, or the loss of our marriage to divorce.

While everyone’s grieving process is unique, these stages present a framework that occurs in most instances of grief. Knowing the feelings you will likely experience can help you understand them. It can also aid you in moving more quickly to that final state of acceptance and living a fulfilled life as a single person.

Here we will look at each of the five stages and the emotional and mental challenges you may experience in each phase.

The First Stage: Denial

You didn’t enter into your marriage expecting it would end. When it does, you may initially fail to comprehend the situation. It’s common to believe that this may be a phase or that the tension will soon blow over. This is especially true for the person who didn’t ask for the divorce. Even if you acknowledge the relationship has significant problems, you may believe that a request for divorce is a knee-jerk reaction on the part of your partner and that they will change their mind.

Denial may take the form of hope. You may find ways to encourage your hope that your marriage is not over.

Denying the end of your marriage is a common coping mechanism. You may want to pretend everything is fine, hesitating to tell your friends and family and even continuing to make plans for yourself and your partner together.

While it is okay to hold out hope, try to remain realistic about the chances of reconciliation. This would be a good time to consult a divorce attorney so you are prepared for what is to come.

The Second Stage: Anger

As the numbness of the denial wears off, you will likely experience some anger. Things that might otherwise be minor frustrations may cause intense fury or exasperation. While you may direct some of your anger at the world in general, most of it will likely target your former partner.

Even if you recognize good traits in your ex-spouse, and even in cases where no specific crisis or betrayal has led to the divorce, your anger may lead you to think the worst about them. You may be unable to acknowledge any redeeming qualities in them. That’s the anger at work, and it’s perfectly normal and healthy to feel that for a time.

You might also be angry at yourself for not seeing this coming or for not doing something that you think might have changed the outcome. Some people experience anger toward outside factors they feel contributed to the dissolution of their relationship, like a boss or work situation that created stress or a family member that was the source of arguments.

Anger can be healthy. It keeps you energized and moving forward as you begin to process the monumental changes in your life. If you start taking your anger out on others or being cruel to yourself, you may want to seek help in working through the anger. Be especially mindful of how your anger affects your children, and work with a counselor if there are problematic patterns.

The Third Stage: Bargaining

If you find yourself exploring ways you might salvage the relationship, you’ve reached the bargaining stage. You may attempt to negotiate with your partner, offering various solutions and making desperate suggestions to move you toward reconciliation. This is the stage where you make your final efforts to prevent the divorce from becoming real. You may believe that if you say the right thing or come up with the right offer, your spouse will reconsider or your relationship will heal.

Even if you are still fighting for your marriage, it is critical that you are still preparing yourself for the possibility of divorce. That means preparing your finances and working with a divorce lawyer.

Occasionally, your efforts to reconcile may work for at least a short time. Typically, however, they do not, and when your suggestions are rejected, you may experience additional pain and sadness. That leads you to the next stage in your grief.

The Fourth Stage: Depression

By this stage, you can no longer tell yourself that you are not getting a divorce. The reality is apparent, which can be painful, disappointing, or scary. Your life is being rearranged, perhaps against your will, which can be disorienting and further contribute to depression. Knowing that the life you planned is no longer a possibility can make you feel vulnerable and confused.

Loneliness is another frequent component of the sadness brought by divorce. You’ve been part of a couple, and now you are single. That can feel isolating.

All these feelings hurt, sometimes even physically. Remind yourself that this is temporary. Allow your feelings of sadness, and don’t try to rush this stage. Cry as often as you need to and seek the support of friends and family.

If your sadness turns into a depression that makes it difficult to function in your everyday life, consider speaking with a professional to help you process the upheaval in your life.

Once you’ve moved through the depression stage, you can reach the final stage of your grief, which feels much more hopeful.

The Fifth Stage: Acceptance

Acceptance means you’ve acknowledged that the marriage is over. You will start to be able to imagine a new, happy future, even if it is different than the future you thought you’d have. You may even begin to celebrate some of the changes that will come with your divorce, like no longer having to pick up dirty socks from the floor or having more free time to spend with friends.

In this stage, the worst of the clouds have passed. You can begin to see the silver linings and look forward to sunny days ahead. The acceptance stage is the end of your grief and the beginning of the next phase in your life.

It is natural to grieve the end of your marriage, whether you are the one who requested the divorce or the partner whose spouse ended things. Knowing these stages can help you understand what you are experiencing and provide a sense of hope for the path ahead. Allow yourself to grieve, process, and heal. Eventually, you will come out of your grief and embrace your new circumstances.


Divorce is an emotional rollercoaster, mirroring the stages of grief. Denial shields from reality, followed by anger and bargaining to save the relationship. Depression brings sadness and vulnerability. Seeking support is crucial. Acceptance paves the way forward, embracing single life and new opportunities. Understanding these stages is vital for navigating divorce’s challenges and finding healing.


5 Stages of Grief Affecting Divorce Infographic


How the Five Stages of Grief Present Themselves in Divorce

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