The grieving cycle of Divorce – is it more difficult to come to terms with than death?

In 1969 Kubler-Ross described five stages of grief in her book “On Death and Dying”. These stages represent the normal range of feelings people experience when dealing with change in their lives. The stages were first observed as a human response to learning about death.  They have also been used to understand our individual responses to all kinds of change and it clearly applies to divorce and breakups. Not everyone will experience all of these stages in a divorce or breakup, or, if all are experienced, they won’t necessarily occur in this particular order. You can go back sometimes to any of the stages.  This model helps those experiencing divorce or breakup as to why they are feeling the emotions and reactions they are and to understand that their experiences are perfectly normal and how they are an integral part of their recovery.

The five stages of grief Kubler-Ross are:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance


In this stage, grieving people are unable or unwilling to accept that the loss has taken place. This shields the immediate shock of the loss, numbing us to our emotions. It can feel as though they are experiencing a bad dream, that the loss is unreal, and that  they are waiting to “wake up” as though from a dream, expecting that things will be normal.


After people have passed through denial and accepted that the loss has occurred they may begin to feel anger at the loss and the unfairness of it. Anger can be manifested or expressed in many ways. While some take out the anger on themselves, others may direct it towards others around them. There is a tendency to remain irritable, frustrated and short-tempered during this stage.


This phase usually involves promises of better behaviour or significant life change, which will be made in exchange for the reversal of the loss. It’s an attempt to postpone what is inevitable. We often see the same sort of behaviour happening when people are facing change. They start bargaining in order to put off the change or find a way out of the situation.


Once it becomes clear that Anger and Bargaining are not going to reverse the loss, people may then sink into a Depression stage in which they confront the inevitability and reality of the loss and their own helplessness to change it. During this period, grieving people may cry, experience sleep or eating habit changes, or withdraw from other relationships and activities while they process the loss they have sustained. People may also blame themselves for having caused or in some way contributed to their loss, whether or not this is justified.


Finally, people enter a stage of Acceptance in which they have processed their initial grief emotions, are able to accept that the loss has occurred and cannot be undone, and are once again able to plan for their futures and re-engage in daily life.

How death and divorce evoke similar feelings of loss

There has been many articles which put forward that divorce or breakup is even more difficult to come to terms with than death. Many people feel that a divorce or a breakup is even worse than death as rejection, betrayal and shame are added to the loss.

  • Both involve the painful loss of your partner or loved one
  • Regardless of whose decision it was to break up or divorce, it can still feel like you’re grieving the death of your marriage and the death of your future hopes and plans.
  • Many people are blindsided by a divorce or breakup and the abrupt decision to leave the marriage can be just as shocking and traumatic as a sudden death.
  • Both are traumatic life changing losses with long-term effects. The life you know is suddenly ripped away and you’re left without the security or familiarity of your marriage. You no longer have a partner to rely to share problems or to help and solve financial issues etc.

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