Kris Jenkins, Human Environmental Sciences Specialist, Bates County, University of Missouri

Divorce is a traumatic event. Whether you’re the person who wanted the divorce or the spouse who wanted to remain in the marriage, there’s nothing simple or painless. Likewise, couples who aren’t married but have been in a long-term, committed relationship as well as the children of these families suffer the same pangs.

On every list of life’s most stressful events, divorce is listed second only to the death of a spouse. The emotional, physical and economic stresses can be almost overwhelming. For that reason, people need to mourn the loss by working through their grief.

The five stages of grief were made famous by Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ book, On Death and Dying. These include: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The initial stage is denial. The “This can’t be happening to me” reaction is normal as people deny reality and believe that the spouse will come back or is just going through a phase or crisis. It’s not unusual to ignore the obvious signs that the spouse wants the divorce.

Anger closely follows denial. As the cold, harsh reality of the situation sets in, long existent anger and frustration surfaces. People may be angry about their treatment, the settlement offer, the lies and deceit that have occurred, or can be mad at everything. Spouses often get caught in the destructive desire to “get back or get even.” When children are involved, this bitter fighting can cause them life-long, painful scars. Anger can be healthy if dealt with in a positive and constructive manner.

The third stage is bargaining. It’s human nature to attempt to recreate reality. Often a spouse may promise to change, compromise values or beliefs or beg the other to return. At this stage very few marriages are saved, instead, people begin to realize what caused the marital problems and understand that the relationship has ended.

Depression is the fourth stage. The “I just don’t care anymore” attitude is perfectly normal when you lose something or someone important to you. People often get stuck in this stage and may need help from friends or even a physician to get them over the hump.

The final stage is acceptance. Realization that the marriage or relationship is over is a major step. Acceptance means you are ready to move on in a positive manner and find a new path for your life.

All five stages of grief are essential for adults and children to heal from a divorce or permanent separation. There is no easy path and you can’t hurry or force someone through the levels. It just takes time.

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