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When parents separate or divorce, it may take months or years for feelings to change. While the grief process in adjusting to the death of a relationship can be different for each person, most people gradually pass through several stages. The stages may occur in any order, and some people may deal with the issues more than once. Children also experience the grief process when parents separate or divorce.

Denial

In the beginning, it may be hard to believe that the relationship is over. Denial protects against shock. It insulates from fear about the loss of the relationship and the feelings of rejection, loneliness and depression. Some people react by becoming withdrawn and isolated. Others become highly active to block out the pain.

Bargaining

Thoughts surface about the ways that the relationship may be saved. A parent may ask the other parent to become involved in counseling, to stop engaging in some behavior or to participate in activities together. Some people may make a deal with themselves to do something they believe will save the marriage or help them overcome the loss of the relationship. Children may promise parents to do chores or be good to try to save the relationship.

Anger

The realization hits that needs have not been met in the relationship. Anger surfaces. Anger may be directed toward self or others.

Depression

Admitting that the relationship is over brings sadness. Fear about being alone surfaces. These feelings are draining and make it difficult to think about the future.

Acceptance

In time, adjustment to the changes results in feeling better. Anger, grief and guilt dissolve, and focus on the future becomes possible. Life is more stable and hope emerges. 

SMILE Handbook

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