Emotional Stages of Divorce: The Key To Finding Balance

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Let’s talk about the emotions in a divorce. Without question, divorce is a highly emotional process. If emotions spiral out of control, then the divorce process will spiral out of control as well. The net result is bad resolutions, destroyed relationships, and burned money.

The goal is not to remove emotions from the divorce process entirely. We are not Vulcans. We are humans.

But the goal is to understand the emotional process that is divorce and work to recognize our emotions — so that we can work through them in a healthy manner and, ultimately, come to the table and intelligently and thoughtfully resolve the issues of the case.

Divorce And The Grieving Process

It has been said that next to the death of a loved one, divorce is the most traumatic experience that a human being faces. This makes sense, because you are grieving the loss of your marriage.

We know there are five stages to the grieving process: denial, anger, depression, sorrow — and finally, understanding and acceptance.

Ideally, you’ll want to have been through the grieving process and in the understanding and acceptance stage before you sit down to negotiate and resolve your case.

Here’s an interesting thing about divorce: 85% of divorces are unilateral. That means in 85% of divorces, only one party has asked for the divorce. The other party in 85% of divorce cases is either shocked, blindsided, or just not ready to admit that the marriage is over.

This puts both spouses in different stages emotionally.

The spouse who has come to accept that the marriage is over, and he or she wants a divorce, has already gone through the grieving process. Usually, that spouse has already been through denial, bargaining, and depression. Interestingly, that spouse will still often feel guilt asking for the divorce.

For the other spouse, however, a divorce can come out of left field — especially if that spouse is in the first stage of grief (denial); he or she believes that the divorce isn’t really going to happen.

And we’ve seen many times that the spouse who has been blindsided has to ramp up the grieving process and try to move on quickly. And that’s just not practical. And frankly, it’s not fair.

But it’s these emotional stages that can make having an intelligent discussion to try to resolve the case at the very beginning very difficult. Often, one spouse is just not there yet.

Emotional Readiness For Negotiation

When you’re negotiating a divorce, you’re negotiating all the issues that are so important to you and your family.

Think about it:

  • The custody of your children and where they’re going to spend their nights.
  • How decisions are going to be made regarding your children.
  • The financial debts and assets that you take with you when the divorce is final.
  • How much money you’ll have available on a monthly basis to pay your bills.

You want to have your head in the best possible place before you sit down and really make these decisions. That means you need to get yourself emotionally ready for divorce.

Now, here’s the good news. The divorce process by itself is slow. Yes, it’s true that the parties can speed things up and move as quickly as they want to if they’re so inclined.

But a lot of the time, the best maneuver can be to slow down and let the divorce process move at its own speed to allow one of the parties the time to become emotionally ready for divorce.

In a traditional divorce process, there can be a period of months where the parties work through financial issues, gather documents, and the like.

And this period can be also beneficial when one of the parties still needs time to grieve and to work through emotional issues.

With that said, we found that there are a couple of things that our clients can do that help them get emotionally ready.

A big one is leaning on friends and family. This is your support network. Recognize that in a lot of marriages, your primary support person is the person you’re losing now — so it becomes that much more important to lean on friends and family.

Be careful though! Make it clear to your friends and family that you really want them to be emotionally supportive, but not necessarily give their opinion on every little issue with your divorce.

We all have those family members who are very opinionated. And while we love them, if they don’t know what they’re talking about, they can actually do more harm than good.

You want your family to be there for you and support you — not talking your ear off telling you what you should do and when.

Getting Additional Support

Consider looking to divorce professionals and advisors who handle these things for a living to help you out.

We also are big fans of additional classes, such as yoga, exercise classes, and the like. These classes can help give you stability and structure and also give you something to look forward to as you learn something new.

The mind-body connection has been well documented. Since we’re not psychologists, we don’t need to spend too much time on that here. However, we’ve seen time and time again when our clients are going through the grieving process that adding exercise and getting moving has positive benefits.

Finally, seeking the help of a mental health expert or counselor (if you need to) doesn’t make you weak. In fact, that makes you smart.

We have a list on our website of Tampa Bay area mental health counselors and experts who we know do great work. Ultimately, the right mental health expert can make all the difference in the world.

Depression And Anxiety Can Occur

Two very difficult emotions that are common in divorce are depression and anxiety.

You may be suffering from depression if you:

  •  Don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.
  • Don’t want to do the activities that you normally do.
  • Start to feel disconnected from your family.
  • Don’t do the exercise that you used to. Otherwise, feel the pain that you’re not used to.

Again, we are not experts in depression. But we’re always on the lookout for possible signs that our clients may be suffering from depression or anxiety. And if so, we absolutely encourage you to see a mental health professional to hopefully help you get through this horrible stage and back to being yourself.

Other Roadblocks To Getting Emotionally Ready For Divorce

There are two primary roadblocks: financial and concern over how what you do will affect your case.

If there is a financial concern, be sure to keep an eye out for mental health professionals who take your insurance.

Your husband or wife is not allowed to cut you off of your health insurance during a pending divorce. If that happens, seek legal advice immediately. It is a dirty trick that is played too much. But all Florida courts have made it clear such activity is not acceptable.

If your financial issue is that your spouse is cutting off your access to money, again, see a divorce attorney or other divorce professional. There are remedies in the divorce process that can help free up cash flow, especially for important things like mental health treatment and other tools that will help you get through your divorce and emotions.

If your concern is that seeing a mental health counselor can be detrimental to your divorce case, think twice. The reality is that Florida and most jurisdictions have very strong confidentiality rules in place to protect people who need mental assistance while they’re going through the divorce process.

With that said, there are some minor exceptions to the rule. So, it is wise to bring up any concerns that you have in a one-on-one meeting with a divorce attorney or other divorce professional.