Steps to Grieving the Loss of a Marriage

Divorce is one of the most stressful events you can experience in life. It ranks second only to the death of a spouse on the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, a popular measure used by therapists and physicians to determine the amount of stress in a person's life. In order to recover, there are steps of grieving that most people will experience. These steps were first identified by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in the 1960s, and they apply to many major life stressors, such as a death, terminal illness, the breakup of a marriage and more.


Denial is the first emotion many people feel upon realizing their marriage is not going to work. This may take the form of staying in a marriage that is unhealthy, sometimes for many years. Another example is that of the wife who, after her husband has told her that he wants a divorce, continues to act as though nothing was said in hopes that the news will go away.


Anger follows denial. This is the emotion we most often associate with divorce. Anger takes the form of accusations, fights over property and custody battles. Divorce lawyers are able to bill many hours when people are going through this stage. In another form of anger, silent anger, the person feels that she has been treated unjustly or that "all men are jerks."


When anger lessens, the person experiencing the loss of a marriage may begin to bargain. The husband may ask God to bring back his marriage and promise to do better. He may ask his estranged wife if they can remain good friends. The wife may try to be the person her husband wanted and plead with him to return.


Once a person realizes that the marriage is over, and that no amount of bargaining or anger is going to change that fact, depression may set in. She may feel as though she will never find another mate, or as if the world is against her. These feelings are exacerbated when ex-husbands and wives actively do things to make their former partner's life difficult or when former in-laws exclude the person from holidays and events. This is particularly true if children are involved.


Most people who experience the loss of a marriage reach the stage of acceptance. The person realizes that things are what they are, and accepts that he cannot change events that have already occurred. With acceptance comes peace and the ability to finally move on with life. People who do not reach the stage of acceptance often are left with feelings of bitterness and an inability to enjoy a healthy new relationship. Working toward acceptance is a worthy goal for any person who has experienced the demise of a marriage.