The Emotional Stages of Divorce Are Like A Roller Coaster Ride

the emotional stages of divorce

By Jackie Pilossoph, Founder, Divorced Girl Smiling, the place to find trusted, vetted divorce professionals, a podcast, website and mobile app.

 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.

1. Shock/disbelief/denial.

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.


Cherie Morris, J.D. - Divorce Coach and
Founder, Dear Divorce Coach


2. Sadness.

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.

3. Panic/fear/anxiety.

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.


Emily Rozwadowski, Estate Planning Attorney


4. Anger/resentment.

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.



6. Frustration.

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.

7. Gratitude.

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.


Our Family Wizard


8. Acceptance.

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.

10. Peace.

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.


Hirsch Serman, Financial Divorce Coaching


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.”


Amanda Campbell, Financial Advisor and Managing Director, Wealthspire


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. Hellotherapy 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.


Feig Mediation Group


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”

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    Jackie Pilossoph

    Editor-in-chief: Jackie Pilossoph

    Jackie Pilossoph is the Founder of Divorced Girl Smiling, the media company that connects people facing with divorce to trusted, vetted divorce professionals. Pilossoph is a former NBC affiliate television journalist and Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press features reporter. Her syndicated column, Love Essentially was published in the Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press and Tribune owned publications for 7 1/2 years. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism from Boston University. Learn more at:

    13 Responses to “The Emotional Stages of Divorce Are Like A Roller Coaster Ride”

    1. Elizabeth

      I appreciate the positivity you’re sharing, but man, I have to say that after 22 years to have my best friend/husband leave me for a pregnant mistress 16 years younger – there’s just no way I can ever smile about that. Not even 9 years later. I have a great kid, a nice life, but still live in poverty, and still feel betrayed. He’s well-off and his life hasn’t changed. Not cool. Not smiling…

      • Anda

        9 years later you still thinking in your past due to financial burdens. I would try to separate the issues if possible. He cannot still be at fault. There is child support , spouse support or a better paid job for you. I aggree he is a major jerk making you feeling betraied but you caanot pick how he can feel or what he can choose. I feel i am being hard on you , abrupt in giving advice. My first language is not english , i know how to sugar coat things in Romanian , but that wont’t help …
        Be happy for your kid and the nice life.
        Practice yoga, meditation, chakra allignment, read and use essential oils. Learn a new hobby or how to dance, something you always wanted to do but you could not because of him.
        If you want , you can move mountains !!!!

        I am guilty of the roller coaster too , but you know what ? All my panic attacks used to las hours or days , now i burst in tears but it lasts approx 2-3 minutes . It’s like … I am out of … tears ….

        I also feed myself from artcles and blogs about divorce, how to handle it …. etc…

        Good luck , and you are not alone!

    2. Jo

      This article gives me hope. My husband walked out on me and our two babies last weekend and I completely agree with the rollercoaster feeling. I keep trying to feel in control but each day brings new highs and earth shattering lows. I can’t wait to feel happy again.

    3. L

      First of all, thanks so much for creating this blog! I’ve looked at numerous posts throughout my breakup to get me through and provide me with some words of encouragement. It’s 4 months after my breakup and it was very traumatizing. We did love each other and had a really nice life together. We had been together 6 years and I’m 28 and we were just really building the life we wanted. Anyways, I found out he was texting a coworker a lot and even though it was nothing inappropriate, it definitely seemed way too “buddy buddy” and like an emotional connection was being built. I felt betrayed and lost trust. We had some fights over it as we tried to rebuild the trust, I realized later we should have immediately went to therapy. Anyways, a few months later he said he felt “depressed and dead inside” from everything that had happened and the trust being broken. I begged him to stay and try therapy to work through everything because we had built a life together and I thought we both were as committed to it as we would be a marriage. He said he didn’t think therapy would help, so he moved out, for a week and a half before he came running back and offering to go to therapy. I asked him had he been with anyone else during the break up because I didn’t want to be blindsided later, especially if it was with that girl he was texting. He swore up and down that he hadn’t and I truly believed that the fights and stress caused him to become depressed and that he was just lost. So I took him back and we worked everything out and things were really wonderful. Then a couple months later I caught him in a lie, he finally fessed up and said he had slept with her during our breakup and that she had come to him at work saying she was pregnant. He said at the time that she was not pregnant. So I kicked him out and ended things, then two months after that I found out he took the girl to his sister’s wedding in our hometown, then 3 months later I found out he took her back to our hometown because she was pregnant. Still not sure if it happened during our original breakup or if he went running back to her after I kicked him out. However, it’s been A LOT to process in a short amount of time. It’s now been 4 months since I kicked him out. The difficult part of it is that I feel like we really loved each other and he just screwed everything up. At least I get a fresh start while he has really limited what his future can look like. I feel like it’s less of an erratic roller coaster, but I still feel this lingering sadness. I’m just wondering how long it takes for the sadness to fully go away. When will that sadness be gone, and how long does it take where I’m done crying about it?

    4. Matt Ingham

      As a practicing attorney of nearly 10 years I have represented more than 500 clients in Family Court. Based on my experiences with my clients this article is 100% spot on in that divorce is an emotional rollercoaster ride more often times than not. As part of the divorce process I recommend my clients get plugged in with a licensed therapist not because the clients have psychiatric issues but simply so the clients have an opportunity to unload the emotional anguish that is bottled up inside of them.

    5. Chantal Voegt

      Morning , i been searching the site just to find out if its only me or if its a normal thing . Its been 14 months since my divorce was finalized , six prior he moved out. I am really to work this out in my head …. for the past year i was “fine” i was managing i was ok , i was good , i was copying . People would ask how i was doing and i was all positive , i wasnt an act i really felt fine and good and capable. I even started dating … nothing too serious but the past month something has changed i am just so emotional . I cry myself to sleep i cry in the car on my way home from work … i feel overwhelmed by the everyday chores with the kids , i feel overwhelmed to fill out school forms ( he used to handle all that)
      i feel so sad when i drop the kids off at his place and see my ex neighbour / friends car there at 6.30am. its feels like i am beginning to feel anger and pain that i didnt in the 1st year because i was too busy coping and MAKING it work on my own with my kids. They expected me to crumb and lose it but i didnt …. i showed them i would be ok now im not so sure . Feels a bit like things are starting to fall apart dont get me wrong i dont want him back but its like im mourning the loss of our home … the thought that i could not afford to own my own home again , the thought of how the money goes so quickly and how much more expensive things are becoming . The idea that my kids are growing so fast and moving into different stages of their lives ( one starting university and one starting high school) So yes i can totally identify this rollercoaster ride today . One good thing i have done this month was give up smoking ( just i started the day he left) … need to find a better coping mechanism other than a glass or 3 of wino . i want to get back to running but i just cant find time right now . Thanx for this post it feel a little better knowing that the low in going thru now will be followed by a thrilling high soon. Blessings to all.

      • Jackie Pilossoph

        Thank you so much for reaching out. A couple thoughts. Wine: bad. Quitting smoking: great! My point is, try to find better coping mechanisms. True story: today I felt awful and i couldn’t stop crying. I went to yoga and my whole day changed after the class. Try it. Try anythign that is healthy and good for you. You deserve to heal and not cry all the time anymore!! It is good to mourn and maybe you need to get it out but when are you going to let yourself start being happy? Connect w old friends, become more spiritual, go on a healthy eating binge for a week, rent your four favorite movies and watch them and laugh all day. Start doing more for yourself and take paths that will make you happy. YOu deserve that. Regarding feeling overwhelmed, I completely get it. Write everything you have to do down, and just do things and check them off. Prioritize the most important things. that is key. So many things can wait. some things can’t. know the difference. It’s ok to sleep when you need to and just veg when you need to. You don’t have to be so perfect! xoxo

    6. Chantal Voegt

      Morning . Thanx so much for taking the time to reply. The kids and i are joining the neighbourhood walking/ running group. one of my greatest accomplishments ( besides my kids) is that i an overweight 40 something mom woke up one morning 3 years ago and decided i wanted to run a half marathon 🙂 I have never run in my life … i entered the race in Nov and started walk/running in March the following year i completed my 1st 21km half marathon . not even my husband thought i could do it … but i did it was the GREATEST FEELING IN THE WORLD . i think i need to get back that belief . Have an awesome day .

    7. Sara

      Your story seems to me when i sit on the roller coaster then i was so much afraid. But, after some time so enjoy this coaster riding. This is the amazing journey for me. I never forget that day 🙂

    8. Motto

      Hello, I read your article about financial wealth. It is very informative for us and shares unique stuff. I think financial intelligence plays a major role in the creation of financial wealth. I think it is a very great idea that we start with, always think positive in life.

    9. Dor

      Great article
      Life in general is like a rollercoaster!
      Things have been calm for me after 41/2 yrs after divorce
      Then yesterday, his lawyer writes to mine would I considered an alimony buyout?
      Low ball figure and here comes more lawyer and mediator bills!
      You used the word fucking twice! Unusual for you and lol!

    10. annegoldman

      Thank you so much for very informative content you shared. This is very helpful especially to those who are experiencing low self-esteem. Having a divorce is not an easy problem to take and so it is very important to seek help and support from your friends and loved ones. You are also right about the roller coaster ride of emotional stages on divorce. A good content made.


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