Divorce Recovery: 5 Stages of Divorce

By Julie Garrison

Special to DadsDivorce.com

Divorce is like a death – but with the corpses still walking around.

Whether you are the one initiating the divorce, or you are at the receiving end, the emotions you experience are too many to list. It’s one of those life changes that you have to live through to really understand.

Just as when a person loses a loved one, the survivor of divorce goes through various stages throughout the grieving process, also. Though there is no way to shorten these stages, in divorce it’s important that you transition through them without getting stuck.

In order to heal, you must travel the entire path – until you reach the point where you are able to move on with your life in a constructive, healthy manner, free of bitterness and remorse.

So let’s step onto this rough-trodden path, and watch how one couple, Jason and Amber, navigate their way through the stages of divorce.


Stage One: Pre-decision

Something is wrong. The dynamics in Jason and Amber’s marriage are changing. Every couple has an ongoing dance that they do together in the ways that they relate, solve problems, and deal with everyday issues – only now Jason and Amber are out of step with each other.

At this point, Jason is seriously considering filing for divorce. In many cases, the spouse who initiates the divorce has gone through a lot of anguish trying to make the marriage better, and this is the case with Jason. Now he is withdrawn and standoffish.

His wife doesn’t know what to do. She talks with her friends about it and meets with her priest. Amber is afraid to confront her husband.


Stage Two: Decision

Jason tells Amber that he wants a divorce. He says that he’s going through a midlife crisis and needs to “find” himself.

Amber feels shock, betrayal, anger, and a hundred other unexplored feelings. Her emotions are like a rollercoaster, changing from one minute to the next.

She gets an attorney, runs up her MasterCard in legal fees, and rattles around in their big, empty house. The kids have been on their own for awhile, and Amber feels unloved and very much alone. She gave up her career for this man.

She gave him everything – even her identity:

The Bachelor

They put the house on the market.  There are meetings at both attorneys’ offices and hearings at court.

Now Jason has started playing hardball and Amber is fighting back. But neither is being realistic. Both want everything – as if that will fix all of their problems. This goes on for almost a year.

Jason has his own “bachelor’s pad,” dresses like a 21-year-old, and has been bringing a different woman with him to every hearing, deposition, and conference in the divorce case.

The Victim

Amber is no better and has become a professional victim. She carries herself in a stooped gait, wears a permanent frown, and has aged considerably in the year since her husband filed for divorce.

Jason alternately anger feels and pity – back and forth, over and over. Why won’t she get on with her life? Jason feels like he has destroyed Amber.

Stage Three: Realistic decisions

One day around a year and a half after the break-up of Amber’s marriage, she sees herself in the mirror for the first time and decides that she is going to change.

She buys new clothes, loses weight, colors her hair, begins attending a divorce recovery group, and is now going out with friends on the weekends to movies, dinner parties, and other social functions. She enrolls in college and decides that now is the time to take charge of her life.

Her entire countenance begins to lift as the burden of her life becomes lighter. She is beginning to learn that happiness is a stage of mind – not a set of perfect circumstances.

Jason has found himself, all right, but doesn’t like the man he has found. He is lonely. One day, Jason sees his wife in court and wonders why he ever left her. He decides to stop the divorce, but – to his surprise – Amber doesn’t want to.


Stage Four: Finalizing

Finally, Jason and Amber begin compromising with each other on the money, the spousal support, and the division of community property.

In what seems like an eternity since the divorce began, it is now finished. After the last hearing, the ex-spouses shake hands and go their separate ways.


Stage Five: Recovery

Now Jason is the one who needs work. His doctor puts him on anti-depressants. With another single friend, he gets involved in martial arts and begins meeting and dating women closer to his age.

He also gets involved in a divorce recovery group – for men only.  He begins to feel like life is worth living again.



Jason and Amber behaved typically during their divorce process, and fortunately, both of them emerged from it as stronger and happier people.

The stages they went through were grueling. They had to deal with shock, self-pity, betrayal, midlife crisis and a host of other issues. But they did it.

A quote by psychiatrist and author Elisabeth Kubler-Ross sums up the process:

“There is no joy without hardship. If not for death, would we appreciate life? If not for hate, would we know the ultimate goal is love? … At these moments you can either hold on to negativity and look for blame, or you can choose to heal and keep on loving.”

Fortunately, Jason and Amber chose the latter.


Julie Garrison has been writing articles and short stories for the past 10 years and has appeared in several magazines and e-zines.

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One comment on “Divorce Recovery: 5 Stages of Divorce

    As a widow, I’ve heard many whining remarks from (divorced) men I’ve dated that their divorce is worse than my losing my husband to death. The comment about ‘corpses still walking around’ is sadly funny … and true. It’s not that divorce is worse than death …. it’s just that some people are somehow unable to treat the divorce like a death and just move on! Clinging to the hurt of a divorce is no different than people who grieve the death of a spouse forever. I guess if that’s the way they choose to handle their emotional well-being, who am I to interfere? For me, I would rather fall in love with someone who’s free to participate in the here-and-now and not wallow about their failed marriage.

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