THE FOUR EMOTIONAL STAGES OF DIVORCE WORK

by Phil Rich, Ed.D., MSW.

The End of Marriage

Healing Journey Through Divorce Book Photo

The hallmark of the marriage is the expectation that this is to be a permanent relationship, in which both partners commit their lives to one another, joining their individual lives together in mutual co-existence. Accordingly, the breakup of a marriage can be devastating and life disrupting.

Divorce Work

Divorce may be the sensible route to go for any number of reasons, but nevertheless unless completely amicable and acceptable to both parties, divorce represents the ending of a romance and the failure of a partnership in marriage, and is bound to have an emotional impact on one or both partners. Regardless of the circumstances of a divorce or the conditions that led up to it, the clear basis for any divorce work is the idea that the break up of a marriage is a loss.

Divorce is composed of both "technical" and "emotional" aspects. The technical aspects will be taken care of, one way or another by the legal process. But the "other" side of the process deals with the emotional aftermath. This is "divorce work" -- the process of dealing with and working through the sense of loss, emotions, and situations caused by the divorce.

The Emotional Stages of Divorce

Although every divorce is highly personal and unique, it can help divorcees to know that they're not alone in their confusion and despair, and that things improve over time. At this difficult time, it can help to understand what's typical in the divorce process, what to expect from their emotions and their life as their divorce progresses through the final decree and beyond, and the sort of emotional and practical issues that they're likely to experience, and in what order. These are the "emotional" stages of divorce -- the sequence of feelings and issues that divorcees typically go through.

The necessary emotional aspects of divorce work, include:

  • facing the reality of the divorce
  • working through painful feelings
  • experiencing the full range of emotions associated with the breakdown of a marriage
  • coping with the situational and lifestyle changes resulting from loss
  • adapting to the change, and reconfiguring life

The Stages of Divorce Work

Stage 1: "Shock and Disbelief" begins as soon as the idea of a separation and divorce is introduced and sinks in. It involves four major tasks and issues to be worked through.

  • Facing reality
  • Self esteem and inadequacy
  • Telling the world
  • Support and help

Stage 2: "Initial Adjustment" involves the ability of people to actively adapt to this new phase of their lives. The primary goal of this stage is adaptation and mustering the personal resources needed to manage the many emotional and practical changes faced by people during this phase of their divorce work, and tasks include:

  • Functioning and responsibility
  • Practical reality
  • Legal Matters
  • Managing emotions

Stage 3: "Active Re-organization" centers around how people live their lives and cope with the tasks of being suddenly single. Major tasks to be dealt with and worked through include:

  • Managing life style and practical affairs
  • Re-defining relationships
  • Reconstructing personal values and beliefs
  • Concluding legal procedures

Stage 4: "Life Re-formation" represents the final steps as readers pass through to the "other" side of their divorce. During this stage people deal with the emotional issues and life choices involved as they move on with their lives.

  • Constructing relationships
  • New interests
  • Personal responsibility
  • Accepting your new life

Summary and Conclusion

The first stage of the divorce typically passes the most quickly. It's the quick hit, and sometimes numbing shock wave, as people realize their marriage is over. The second and third stages are the most active and represent the bulk of active divorce work, covering the most active legal, practical, and emotional changes in life after divorce. The final stage represents that time in life during which divorcees are moving far away from their divorce, and into their new life. This stage really has no formal "end," and is marked by the full acceptance of the divorce and a resolution of most of the practical issues and many of the emotional.

Of course, the reality is that many of the various tasks of each stage overlap. And things aren't as clean and neat as checking off one task and then moving on to the next. But helping divorcees recognize these stages and tasks can be an enormously useful way to help them see and understand the path that lies ahead for them.

References:

Burns B., & Whiteman, T. (1992.) "The Fresh Start Divorce Recovery Workbook." Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Engel, M. L., & Gould, D. D. (1992). "The Divorce Decisions Workbook." New York: McGraw-Hill

Kramer, P. D. (1997). "Should You Leave? New York. Scribner.

Rich, P., & Schwartz, L. L. (1999). "The Healing Journey Through Divorce: Your Journal of Understanding and Renewal." New York: John Wiley.

Schwartz, L. L., & Kaslow, F. W. (1997). "Painful Partings: Divorce and Its Aftermath." New York: John Wiley.

11/09/99

Phil Rich, EdD, MSW, DCSW is the author of "Understanding, Assessing, and Rehabilitating Juvenile Sexual Offenders," the eight books in "The Healing Journey" series of self help journaling books, and two books in the "Therapy Homework Planner," series, all of which are published by John Wiley & Sons. He is the Clinical Director of the Stetson School, a long-term residential treatment program for sexually reactive children and juvenile sexual offenders.

 

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