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The Stages of Grief in Divorce

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Divorce is an excruciating journey for many. The experience is said to resemble the loss of a loved one through death.  But divorce is often more complex, with the many facets of loss involved.  There are multiple losses that come with divorce, which makes the pain so immense.  The pain of losing an intimate relationship, of a dreamed family life together, free access to children, the marital home that comes with precious memories, financial stability, the sense of self etc., the list goes on. It is also an unchartered path, with uncertainty surrounding custody, the impact on children, and what the future would entail.

A father told me in session, “I miss the sight and noise of my children playing when I return home from work. There is such a deep sense of emptiness, returning to an empty house and falling asleep alone.”

Another mother mentioned, “My husband was like a pillar of strength for me all these years, even though our marriage was largely conflictual. Having him in the home somehow gave me a sense of security. Now I feel as if I have lost my security.”

The grief of divorce, like any other grief, comes in stages. One could be moving back and forth between these stages of grief. According to Elisabeth Kubler Ross’ model of grief, the common emotions associated with grief are denial, anger, sadness, bargaining, and acceptance. It takes time for one to move through these stages of grief, before finally arriving at acceptance, where one comes to terms with the multiple losses and gets adjusted with life post-divorce.

The grieving process often gets complicated when couples go through a contested divorce, which inevitably aggravates the animosity between them. Not only does the divorcing couple have to grapple with their own emotions, they have to attend to their children’s emotions and support them through the transition. This often leads to self-neglect and not attending adequately to own emotional needs.

If you are grappling with the grief of divorce, below are some tips to help you cope:

  1. Recognize your grief is normal. The range of your emotional experience is normal for someone going through grief. There may be days you feel that you are doing alright, but difficult emotions may come crashing on you again when you least expect them. Certain places, events, and things may trigger your pain and leave you wondering how long it will take to get out of the woods.

  2. Give yourself time to recover. There is no fixed timetable for how long it takes to get over a divorce; it varies. Give yourself permission to go through the emotions – talk them through and process your feelings with trusted family members, friends, or a professional counsellor. Know that however much pain you may be feeling, the pain will lessen in intensity and frequency over time.

  3. Practice good self-care. Going through the divorce proceedings, making new arrangements for you and your children can be exhausting and stressful. Intentionally blocking out some ‘me’ time for yourself regularly for leisure, exercise and relaxation is vital to help yourself cope with the demands. Ensure that you have enough sleep and eat well.

  4. Seek support and help. Seek support and practical help if you find that your emotions are taking a toll on your health, work, or well-being. Engage your parents’ or siblings’ help to take care of your children for a few hours to give yourself a breather. Surround yourself with supportive family members and friends.

  5. Forgiving yourself and your ex-spouse. When there is a marriage breakdown, one may be plagued with a sense of guilt and self-blame. A divorce can shatter your self-esteem, causing you to question your self-worth with constant ruminations of ‘What have I done wrong?’, ‘Is there anything wrong with me?’

On the flip side, there could be many grievances towards your ex-spouse, such as experiencing disappointment and hurt for their ‘failure’ to be the desired spouse you had wished they would be. Holding on to unforgiveness towards yourself and your ex-spouse would hold you captive and prevent you from moving on.

However hard it may be, letting go will free you to start anew. Own your responsibilities and contributions to the marital breakdown, and let the insights enable you to move towards growth and maturity.

  1. Finding New Meaning in life. The feelings of ‘brokenness’, of losing the sense of self after a divorce, can be devastating. After allowing yourself the time and space to heal, you will find yourself in a better place to recover your sense of self, dreams, passions and hopes. It is where you can find fulfilment once again through a new purpose in life.


If you would like to seek emotional support for yourself and your children going through a divorce, you may reach out to us via [email protected] or call us at 62355229. We provide counselling and support group programmes for divorcing families.  Please register your interest in Transcending Divorce online group support programme via go.fycs.org/transcendingdivorce.

Our centre also facilitates Pre-action Mediation service (PAM). It helps couples who have decided to embark on divorce and are unable to agree on the reason for divorce and/or ancillary matters. During PAM, a professional mediator will guide discussions to support couples in reaching a mutually agreeable settlement. It could potentially reduce animosity between the couple and arrive at better outcomes- speedier settlement and reduced cost. You may contact us for further details.

Written by: Carolyn Ku, Counsellor, Fei Yue Community Services