Family Law Attorney Belleville, Illinois

The Five Stages of Grief in Divorce

A woman covers her face in grief while holding up her wedding ring.

Make sure you have the right guidance throughout this time of transition.

Divorce is a legal and economic process, but it's also a deeply personal loss. Even if you are the one initiating the divorce, you're still grieving the loss of what your marriage was supposed to be or might have been. It's not a physical death, but it is what some psychologists have called a "social death" — your spouse still exists, but your relationship with them is not and will never again be what it once was.

That means people going through a divorce also go through the five stages of grief. It's important to understand how these stages work and to know that you are not alone in experiencing them — and that the right legal advice can make all the difference as you work through the emotional fallout.

What are the five stages of divorce?


As the name implies, the denial stage is characterized by a refusal to believe the relationship has ended. If your spouse asks for a divorce, the denial stage may include thoughts like "this is just a phase" or "they can't really mean that." If you're the one considering divorce, the denial stage still occurs, but it's more subtle, as you perceive the deep issues in your marriage and think "this is fixable" or "it will pass." Some of the emotions you might experience during the denial stage are numbness, confusion, avoidance, and shock.

It's important to remember that while denial may seem unhealthy, it's also part of your body's natural defense mechanisms; it's a way to avoid feeling the full brunt of the loss right away. That said, you certainly can't stay in the denial stage forever.


Most people who go through a divorce are all too familiar with the anger stage. You might experience anger directed at your spouse, blaming them for the end of your marriage. You may also be angry at friends and family members who could have done something or warned you that this was coming. Or you may be angry at yourself for your role in the divorce — or, often, all of the above.

There's nothing wrong with being angry about your divorce. Your life is changing radically in ways you didn't expect. However, it's important to express your anger in a healthy way, rather than lashing out at your spouse in ways that could harm your legal case as well as your post-divorce relationship.


The bargaining stage in divorce is characterized by ruminating on what you could have done differently, overthinking what you can do next, and often, trying desperately to find ways to salvage the marriage. Statements like "I will do X" or "I will stop doing Y" in order to win your spouse back are common in the bargaining stage. This may be an attempt to save the marriage, or it may just be an attempt to eliminate doubt that it could have been saved.

Again, bargaining is a natural stage of the grieving process, but it's important not to make concessions or offers that will come back to bite you later. If your spouse has asked for a divorce, then statistically, you are very likely going to get divorced, and you don't want to undermine your negotiating position in the hopes of reconciling.


As the reality sets in that your marriage is over, it's normal to experience great sadness. Symptoms of the depression stage include losing interest in activities that you once enjoyed, low energy and motivation, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, and generally feeling hopeless and despondent.

These feelings are normal and should pass in time. If they don't, you absolutely should work through them with a mental health professional. It's also important to have legal representation during this stage; your attorney can do the heavy administrative lifting while you focus on processing your feelings.


This is the ultimate goal: the place where you have come to terms with the divorce and the changes it has brought in your life. Acceptance involves adapting, adjustment, and readjustment as you learn how to be a single person again, and possibly a single parent for the first time. There's no such thing as perfect, unequivocal acceptance, but you can learn, grow, and move on with your life.

The right divorce attorney can guide you through this difficult time

There are a few things to understand about these five stages. First, while both spouses will likely go through all five stages at some point, the spouse who initiates the divorce is usually further along than the other spouse. Initiating a divorce or separation usually means you've already been grieving the end of the relationship for some time, whereas the spouse on the receiving end may be completely blindsided. So, insofar as possible, it's important to be understanding and gracious with a spouse who may be in a very different stage than you are.

Second, these stages don't always proceed in the same order, nor are they each experienced just once. It's very common to bounce back and forth between the five stages. Even when you believe you've reached final acceptance,  it only takes a moment to shift back into anger, bargaining, or depression. Again, this is all normal and should pass with time — and don't hesitate to speak with a mental health professional if it doesn't.

The five stages of divorce also speak to the reality that you need legal representation at every stage. As experienced divorce lawyers, we can take a broader view of your divorce and help you find your way to a stable long-term reality instead of responding to the immediate emotional reactions to the divorce. Divorce is difficult, but it becomes much more manageable with good counsel. If you are going through a divorce in Illinois, contact Courtney Clark Law, P.C. today.

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