The 5 Stages of Grieving a Relationship after Divorce

Mourning the Death of a Marriage Is Similar to the Grief Felt after a Loved One Dies

Giving up on a relationship can be tough, and learning to let go can be even harder. When a relationship ends, we all go through a grieving process. A relationship’s end is the loss of a loved one. Even if the loss is not because someone has died, a person who mattered a great deal – someone we lived with, dreamed with, depended on – has exited our life. It is a death, of sorts, and our minds often can’t distinguish between the two kinds of loss.

But we can anticipate the phases of that process. It’s not a pretty process, but what follows are the 5 stages of grieving a relationship after ending one.

  1. Denial. In this first stage you are still listening to your broken heart’s ballad played on repeat rather than your logical mind. Said mind makes it clear that the relationship is done for. But you don’t hear it over the beating, entrancing unchained melody blaring from within.

As you’re trying to adjust to your new reality, one free of the struggles of your relationship and old routines, you’ll notice a tightening in your abdomen and a brief loss of breath caused by anxiety. You’re in a constant state of disbelief. And even send out the occasional (albeit unanswered) drunk text from time to time.

Still believing you can fix the broken-ness in the marriage, you entertain a level of hope for a future with her despite evidence to the contrary.

2. Anger. Anger is sneaky and can manifest in surprising ways during the 5 stages of grieving a relationship. It may be hard at first to know exactly where to aim your rage. You’re clearly angry at your ex, but you’re also conflicted by deeply rooted feelings of love and fondness for her.

You begin to think about all the ways she did you wrong. This, of course, leads to you to more self-loathing where you question your very place in the universe, and wax poetic about the fact that you will probably die alone.

After all, everyone but you is in a relationship that will last forever. How could your

How could she do this? What about all the plans you made? Did your promises mean nothing? You begin looking for someone to blame for your poor fortune. The ex is a given, but you really need a bigger target. God? The Universe? The producers of The Bachelor? Sure! They’ll do.

Everything reminds you of her.

A song on the radio.

A billboard for a local restaurant.

You associate situations and people with your breakup, and you find that you’re angry with people who really had no bearing on your relationship at all. When people try to avoid your wrath by talking some sense into you, it’s easier to respond with pure, fist-shaking, vein-popping rage than listen to reason.

You may also feel an increasingly powerful urge to tell her off. Resist that urge. Be the bigger person.

3. Bargaining. Bargaining and denial are best friends. They go on dates where they watch home movies of your defunct relationship wearing rose-colored glasses. They eat those disgusting salads with fruit and spinach mixed together in an unholy combination.

And they’ll have you believing that right amount of begging and some clever bargaining could bring that relationship roaring back to life.

Now you’re looking for any way to make this work: threats, negotiation, a deal with the devil for your soul for eternity…

Hollow promises (about changing things about you really don’t think are a problem but you lie anyway) leave you faster than you can write them down. Counseling, a second job, fewer hours at the office–they’re all declarations declared in a vain attempt to revive what’s already laying flat in a fridge wearing a toe tag.

If that doesn’t work, opt for a side of guilt with your corpse. Throw in the kids. Tell her about all the therapy they’ll need just to function like normal adults. Blame her.

Keep it up long enough, and she’ll see she was right to leave your crazy ass.

4. Depression.

This may manifest in different ways. Symptoms include (but aren’t limited to):

  • A lack of energy
  • A desire to sleep more often than normal
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lack of desire to do anything you had previously taken pleasure in.

Drug and alcohol abuse are common in people going through this stage. A permeating lack of hope may push you to miss days of work or duck out on pre-planned outings. Friends and family will grow noticeably concerned about your welfare, but you can’t muster the will to care.

You feel like you’re going to explode into a weeping puddle of emotion at any second. And you long for the sweet reprieve of death. Believing everyone would be better off without you around, you’re tired of burdening those around you with your problems.

If at any time you experience any of these symptoms, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline immediately at:

1-800-273-8255

24 hours a day, 7 days a week including holidays. The service is free to everyone, and your call is kept confidential.

Visit the National Institute of Mental Health’s site dedicated to suicide prevention for more information about depression and steps you can take to treat it. 

5. Acceptance. The last of the 5 stages of grieving a relationship takes the longest to reach. But once you get here, you start to feel like yourself again.

Here, in the land of “Wouldn’t trade nothing for my journey, now,” you are finally able to accept the relationship is over. You’re better off for it.

If you don’t agree you are, it’s at this stage that you are finally able to recognize that the only course of action is to move on. Let go of the past.

Your interests begin to return little by little. Friends may comment that you look better than you have in years. You find a renewed sense of purpose and may even take up new hobbies.

Final Thoughts

In the midst of the churning tide that is the five phases of this process, it may seem impossible that you will ever arrive at this sunlit place, but you will. A lingering sadness may occasionally pop up, but those days become few and far between.

In the end, you are focused on your own well-being and your bright future ahead.

Understanding how the break-up process affects us can help you overcome some of the more challenging parts of this experience by making them easier to navigate. Just remember, you can’t rush through any level of the grieving process. The best thing you can do for yourself is to allow yourself the right to pass through each stage all the while feeling your feelings. Processing them is the only way to keep the breakup from haunting you for years to come.

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