The Seven Stages of Divorce
After many years of experiencing divorce, firstly mine, then that of friends and then in more recent years that of clients I started to identify what I believe are the seven stages of divorce that everyone experiencing marital breakdown and subsequent divorce seems to travel through.
In identifying generic patterns that seemed common to almost all of these journey’s it enabled me to create an emotional timeline that would offer people the opportunity to understand and manage the rollercoaster of emotions they were now experiencing.
In working with the seven stages you will start to identify with certain emotions and behaviours that are common to where you are in the process, you will also be able to gain an understanding and insight into how best to deal with what your experiencing as I explore the reasons as to why you are feeling what you are feeling and how best to move through that emotion.
There are seven stages starting with “Disconnection” which is the recognition that the marriage has irreconcilably broken down through to stage seven “Freedom” which is living fearlessly as an independent single person.
As you read through these blogs you will get a really good feel for why what’s already happened has happened and what you are likely to experience going forwards, this results in you being able to remain grounded and in control of your emotions and in a far stronger position to move forwards in the divorce process without too much un-necessary drama.
Stage 1 Disconnection
Stage 2 Combustion
Stage 3 Acceptance
Stage 4 Adaptability
Stage 5 Nonchalance
Stage 6 Creation
Stage 7 Freedom
In identifying these seven stages I started to imagine in my head that taking this journey through divorce would be a bit like falling down into a deep dark crater from a place of safety and then spending a lot of time trying trying to find your way back out of it.
If you feel you want to, imagine yourself taking this journey through these seven stages outlined below, you may well be able to easily identify where you feel you are at the moment but if not don’t worry you can come back to this…
Imagine you are walking in a desert, you’re ambling along the midday heat, you’re not sure how far you’ve got to go to get to your destination, you’re trying to follow a map but seem to be getting lost , you’ve lost your compass and you start to feel quite upset and worried about the fact that you don’t know where you are but not really sure what you can actually do about it other than keep walking and hope that you find someone to help you.
Suddenly, as if out of nowhere you find yourself plummeting down into a deep dark crater and eventually you land flat on your face on the base of this dusty rocky crater, you’re understandably battered , bruised and in extreme shock.
You lay there for a while trying to work how the hell did that happen, how did you not see this sodding great big crater ahead of you, you’re angry, hurt and in disbelief.
After a while you turn over, you’re in pain, every part of you hurts but wincing you first sit up and then after a while try to stand up so you can take a look around you, there’s very little by way of scenery, its dusty, cold and dark and you feel a desperate need to get out of here.
You get up and accept that you need to find a way out, your exhausted and weak but you know you have no option but to do this .
So after taking a look around you accept that there’s only one way out of this crater and thats to start my climb your way out , no one appears to be hovering above with a helicopter and winch so you gingerly start your ascent, battered and bruised but determined, you can’t stay here so what choice do you have.
Still nursing some wounds from the fall, you finally start to make some headway but just as you start to gain momentum the rock disappears beneath your foot and you take a tumble back down to where you started, you cry, you’re exhausted , you just can’t deal wth this , not now, not today, why the hell did this have to happen to you ? So you sit exasperated, why did you fall into this crater in the first place ? Why didn’t you see it ?
Half angry, half frustrated you start again to make you’re way up, sitting here being a victim of your circumstances isn’t actually going to get you out of here so this time fiercely determined you try again, you get further and further from the base and then can start to see the ledge, you get a rush of adrenalin knowing you’re almost there and then finally after what feels like an eternity of climbing you heave yourself over that ledge and up onto your feet , you’re at last out of this stupid big crater.
You dust yourself down, its finally over but you’re so exhausted, you can’t move an inch more, you collapse in a heap and just feel relieved that you’ve finally managed to get out.
Its taken all of your strength, you’re deplete, your tank is well and truly empty and the thought of moving any further is just too much to bear. You sit here for a good while trying to muster up some strength and energy but its not happening, so you continue to sit, maybe even lie down, you need some time, time to recharge yourself, time to get over the trauma of what you’ve been through.
In time you feel ready to set off again and just before you do, you look back down at the bottom of the crater where you landed how ever many weeks, months or years ago and realise that if you can get yourself out of that then you can just about do anything !! So that’s exactly what you do…
You put this journey behind you where it belongs and you get on with re-designing the rest of your life, this is now the time to start doing all the things you’ve always wanted to do, this is your master piece and it deserves your best attention.
You’re finally free to live the life that you have created, enjoy it and embrace the feelings of joy, appreciation, empowerment and success, you’re where you need and should be, on top of the world or at least at the top rather than the bottom of the crater !!
Accept that your journey through life will contain more craters but also feel reassured that you can deal with them should they arise, they’ll be good times, they’ll be great times but they’ll also be some not such good times but that is life, married or single we all experience life’s ups and downs, its how we cope with them that has the biggest impact on our overall happiness.
That’s the best analogy I can use for travelling through the seven stages of divorce, so whether you're face down weeping at the bottom or struggling to get your way out, you're on the journey and you will get there, just keep looking for the top and know what’s waiting for you on the other side is freedom and independence.
You really don’t want to stay weeping at the bottom of a dirty old crater, what can you possibly achieve down there and besides crater dwellers are not good people to be around and you're too good to become one, those that are making the climb are far more interesting and fun to be with so become inspired and follow them.
Whilst Divorce is not a permanent state of being it does marks the end of an era and whether you walk away crying into your decree absolute or run away rejoicing it leaves a lasting imprint on our lives and it can take years to work through all the emotions that seem to surface as a result of going through this painful process, because that’s exactly what it is, a painful process and if you can see it for what it is then you will find it far easier to navigate your way through it.
Try and see the process of divorce as a timeline of stages that you will need to work your way through, being aware of where you are in the process you’ll know what to expect going forward and have the benefit of being in possession of the tools you’ll need to get through that particular stage that you’re either in the middle of or about to experience.
Everyone’s journey is different and individual circumstances will demand a different approach but there are fundamental emotional and physical hurdles that its likely will be experienced so whilst certain posts may feel completely alien to you others will strike a chord so strong you’ll feel they were written just for you.
There is no set time scale for this, everyone’s circumstances are different and everyone’s ability to process experiences and heal is different, you’ll know when you move through a stage because you’ll no longer feel so connected with the behaviour patterns of the current stage and you’ll start to identify with behaviour from the next stage, sometimes you can sit in a stage for what feels like eternity only to skip merrily through the next, its not about forcing yourself to feel anything its about allowing yourself yourself to feel everything.
Its very important when reading this blog that you take it for what it is, its by no means prescriptive, these seven stages have come together as a result of me observing a large number of people going through the process of divorce, everyones journey is individual so there really isn’t a one size fits all approach, some people never experience combustion or acceptance and head straight through to adaptability very quickly however others spend a huge amount of time in combustion and acceptance, it just completely depends on the circumstances of disconnection so on Monday I'm going to explore stage one, disconnection…which is where this all begins.