Even when divorce ends a bad marriage gone terribly wrong, a divorce does not make people happy. Pain and suffering are natural and inescapable consequences of any divorce. Even after the divorce, waves of pain and suffering shoot through consciousness. Something hurts, but the memory remains. Sadness and anger, fear and anxiety, sorrow and denial — all race like alternating current, back and forth.
In the face of this, divorce recovery is a do-it-yourself project. Divorce recovery means acceptance and the ability to go forward. The ability to keep a perspective, a sense of humor (even a dark one), but in the end people recover by putting one foot in front of the other and living.
After a divorce, getting through the day often seems no small accomplishment. There is no single right way to survive a divorce; there is no universal right way to start over. A person does it by doing it. Even with help such as counseling and support groups, the surviving divorce is a self-help project. The ancient Greeks believed that the reward of suffering is experience, and so it is with divorce.
Stages of Divorce Recovery
Many counselors agree that a divorce takes a person through stages very similar to those described by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, in her landmark On Death and Dying, including denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Dr. Kübler-Ross pioneered methods in the support and counseling of personal trauma, grief and grieving, associated with death and dying, and she also improved the understanding and practices in relation to bereavement and hospice care.
The five steps she identified as the progress associate with death and dying overlay neatly with the grief and recovery associated with divorce. In denial a person refuses to accept facts, information and reality (“I can’t believe this is happening”). Anger follows denial. Bargaining sometimes means making hypothetical deals (“Can we still be friends?”). Depression prepares a person for grieving. And finally acceptance.
While Dr. Kübler-Ross’s focused on death and bereavement, her grief cycle model offers a useful perspective for understanding, not only our own but also other people’s pain and suffering in the face of personal trauma and change, such as divorce.
“Time,” as Thomas Jefferson said in a letter written in connection with the death of his wife, “is the Great Physician.” The same is true for divorce.