When I was going through my divorce, everyone said “This must be such a sad time for you.” But actually, even more than sadness, what I remember about that time several summers ago was that it felt like a roller coaster of highs and lows. I’m talking about the emotional stages of divorce.
One minute I felt very sad, an hour later, I’d feel scared, a couple days later, I’d feel sort of excited about my future, and then guilty for feeling that way. Another day, I’d feel really really angry, the next I’d just cry from sadness. I was all over the place, up and down, and sideways, and crazy, kind of like a roller coaster.
The Emotional Stages of Divorce
Here are what I think are the emotional stages of divorce. At least, here’s how they felt for me. I have to believe the stages are different and in different order for everyone, since every situation is different. Also, people experience different stages for different periods of time.
This is when I just couldn’t believe it was happening to me. It’s almost surreal. This was also a time when I kept trying to convince myself that maybe we could work things out.
Sadness stems both from the breakup with the person, but also the idea that you won’t be one of those couples who grows old together. Your kids will now have divorced parents, and you can never have that happily ever after you thought you’d have. You are grieving your relationship and the future you always dreamed about.
How am I going to pay these attorneys bills? I don’t even understand the divorce process. Do I have to get a job? Do I get to keep my house? Are my kids going to be OK? Am I going to be alone forever? Who’s going to take care of me when I get sick? I don’t even know how to pay a bill online. I don’t understand finances or investing.I’m old. Who is going to want to date me? Get the picture? There are a million more concerns that go through your mind at this stage.
Now reality is setting in and you are fucking pissed at your ex-regardless of who wanted the divorce. How could he/she do this to me? He took all my good years. He took advantage of me. He seems happy. I hate his guts. He treated me like crap all these years when I could have been with someone else. You resent everything about him and your past.
5. A tinge of excitement/hope.
Intertwined with all the stages actually, there are little sprinkles of hope, happiness, and excitement that keep you strong and keep you able to cope with the divorce. You meet a cute guy and realize you are still attractive to men, you make a new girlfriend. You land a job and are really proud of yourself. You saw a mouse in your house and learned how to take care of it. You start be believe you can handle this and you realize you are going to be OK. And you love yourself for this.
The divorce is taking forever to be final. Your ex will never change. Your ex is dating someone and you can’t meet anyone. The same problems you always have never go away. It gets to be very frustrating.
As time goes by, you start to realize that life is getting better, and you are thankful for that. Little things cause you to have gratitude. You realize you are doing great and the worst might be behind you. You appreciate things and people so much more than you used to. It’s a good feeling.
Sometimes this takes years, but there is some acceptance that must happen before you can truly find a good life. Anger fades and you decide that everything was supposed to unfold this way. Things aren’t perfect (they never will be) but they continue to get better and better. You won’t forget the things your ex did to hurt you, but you aren’t thinking about them constantly.
You look in the mirror and realize you are so happy with yourself for a lot of things. No one is perfect, but you’ve done well, given the circumstances. You are a great parent and you are independent and self-sufficient. You’re so much smarter and wiser than you used to be. It feels pretty fucking good.
With all of these things happening, there is a sense of peace that comes over you about your ex and about the divorce. Life seems calm now, and everyone is doing fine. You know now that life will go on and that what’s in store for you has not yet been revealed. For now, you’re just happy living. In my opinion, that’s probably when Mr. Right walks into your life unexpectedly.
It is possible-probable actually, that you go back and forth in these emotional stages of divorce and jump around, which is what makes this time like a roller coaster ride.
In my case, here’s what would happen. One day everything would seem peaceful and manageable, until my lawyer called and gave me bad news about the case. Then, after sobbing about how unfair everything was, I got a call back from a prospective employer who seemed really interested in me. Now it felt like, “OK, I can handle this.”
But then, the next day, I found out my ex was seeing my neighbor. Ouch. That one was like a punch in the gut. She was 10 years younger, beautiful, great body, etc. Not more than a day later, I met a woman in my kickboxing class who would turn out to be a great friend. We were both getting divorced and decided to meet for dinner. From the first girl date, we were friends, leaning on each other through thick and thin through our roller coasters.
Then another bomb a few days later. My daughter was acting out. Big time. She was not handling the separation well. Hello therapy for everyone. Add in that I got the worst flu I’ve ever had in my life and I seriously wanted to end it right there.
But then, a few weeks later, my ex took the kids on a trip and a friend called and asked me if I’d meet her and her husband and a few of his work buddies at a bar. I went and met a man who would become very significant to me.
A sweet, kind, funny (and majorly hot) younger guy. We dated for a few months. Now I felt young again and energetic and full of confidence. It almost felt like God was sending me a message: “Life isn’t over. It’s just beginning. Things are going to change, and that’s a good thing!”
I guess one could say that life in general is like a roller coaster, not just through the emotional stages of divorce. But I think in life after divorce, although there are still highs and lows, they aren’t so extreme.
People always talk about living an authentic life. What does that mean to me? It means doing what you love, both personally and professionally, knowing your capabilities, taking advantage of your strengths, accepting and learning from mistakes, consistently striving to treat others with respect and love, trying to give back as much as you can to the world, and most importantly loving the people you love with all of your heart, every single day.
Almost a decade and a half later, my roller coaster is kind of like a kiddie ride, at least for now. My dad always used to say “Boring is good.” I’m bored in a very blissful way. With a great job, kids I adore and being with the love of my life, maybe better words are content and very very grateful. In other words, I really hope I stay on this ride!
Like this blog post? Check out my post, “20 Things I Wish I Could Have Told My Newly Separated Self”