Stages of Divorce Recovery

Canoe perched on a serene lake

People tend to think that most couples who have been married more than 10 years don’t split up. However, that’s not true. Betsey Stevenson, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania, says that although marriages are more likely to fail in the first 10 years, after 10 years, the rates of divorce are very similar throughout the years of marriage, so that couples have as much of a chance of breaking up at 15 years as they do at 35 years.

Although older women are in the majority when it comes to initiating divorce, women initiate divorce for the same reasons that men do: emotional estrangement, lack of intimacy or shared interests, infidelity, and abuse. How women respond to divorce, however, may be somewhat different than the way in which men respond.

Recovery from divorce is a process. The number and order of the stages of recovery may differ a bit depending on who initiated the divorce. The recovery stages commonly experienced by women are:

Stage One: Denial

Women who did not initiate divorce usually go through considerable shock and disbelief at first. You may still be in love, but know somehow that the marriage foundation is badly shaken, and so you may make pleas for your spouse to reconsider. You may make offers to see a marriage counselor. Although you may still harbor the hope of reconciliation, eventually you start to realize that the divorce is going to happen. There is no way to stop it.

Denial is a part of the healing process and slowly gives way to acceptance of the end of a marriage. To facilitate healing and acceptance, it is particularly important at this stage to seek out and stay in touch with friends. Getting out of the house with a friend to see a movie (about something other than divorce or loss) or take a nature walk can be very helpful. Keeping a journal allows for the healthy expression of feelings of loss and grief.

Stage Two: Depression

The sense of loss associated with divorce creates sadness and other depressed feelings. Again, it is important not to spend too much time home alone, mulling things over. Getting out of the house is key. Exercise and relaxation techniques are healthy ways to support your mind and body.

The end of this stage is marked by increased energy, a desire to make plans for the future, and the emerging ability to express anger outward. Clinical depression, which is more than sadness, sometimes occurs. It is very important to seek medical treatment if you think you are clinically depressed. (Take a screening test from the Center for Epidemiologic Studies to see if you are clinical depressed or not.)

Stage Three: Anger

The expression and venting of angry feelings is important. How you do it is also important, because lashing out at your ex can interfere with your ability to negotiate well and can leave you feeling even worse. Successfully processing your angry feelings can be done through vigorous physical exercise as well as dialogue with good friends and other caring family members. Laughing with friends about the curveballs that life can throw can be a very healthy way to deal with your anger! Signs that you have successfully moved through the stage of anger include:

  • A clearer sense of the problems that you need to handle and how to handle them.
  • Prioritization of your goals.
  • More energy for activities and projects that have nothing to do with your divorce or your old life.

Stage Four: Resolution

Although you have not yet fully recovered from the divorce experience, during the resolution stage, you have a much greater awareness of what it means to live independently. Women at this stage may do some goal setting and take the risks involved in accomplishing those goals. This stage provides the groundwork for meeting new friends and acknowledging long-standing, true friends. Some women consider dating at this time.

Stage Five: Recovery

Regaining your inner balance and enjoying relationships that are of value are signposts of recovery. Even if you still have some lingering negative feelings about your ex, this is the stage when you feel satisfaction with your life and the direction it is taking. You start to see new opportunities for growth and take joy in the simple pleasures of life. You realize that you are a complete and competent human being. You are less fearful and worried. Your journey through divorce has not proved to be a dead end. You are back on the main road of life!