There are many stages of grief. Here are some definitions of each stage and how to move through them, following divorce or separation.

Anger, Tears and Acceptance

There is no right or wrong way to grieve and adjust to divorce or separation. It is a process that involves layers of emotion.

By understanding your path, finding your grit in the face of adversity and moving toward self-care and acceptance, you can shorten the length of time and impact of the distress for you and your children.

Shock and Disbelief

Grieving involves a rollercoaster of emotions. Shock and disbelief sinks in and the first wave of emotion may be an absence of emotions. During this period of time, it’s important to not miss a beat and carry on with daily life. A person may wonder why it is so difficult for others.

Cooperation or Bargaining?

Then we sometimes see a period of congeniality and a cooperative spirit surrounding the separation. When this is born of a genuine, mutual agreement regarding the ending of the relationship, and a true desire to make things as amicable as possible, then the two adults and their children are extremely lucky. All too often, this honeymoon period is a desperate, hopeful time of bargaining in a sincere attempt to reverse the outcome plea. The spouse who is leaving may be asked to change their mind and return home, and resume again as a couple, leading to anger and rage.

Anger and Rage

Anger and rage is common in separation and can continue well into post separation adjustment. So much change, so much loss, and often a feeling of helplessness to stop what’s out of your control. Its a very normal reaction to struggle and fight against these unwelcome truths.


Underneath anger we find sadness and grief. Sadness may feel slower and deeper than anger and it has an energy all its own. Unlike the energizing emotion of anger which comes with an adrenaline rush, sadness lays heavy on our hearts, drains energy and replaces our normal sense of self with feelings of vulnerability, loneliness and loss. Then there is the tears, difficulty concentrating, anxiety about the future and sleeping more than normal. This makes day-to-day activities difficult to accomplish.

The Journey

Remember that grief is a journey that doesn’t last forever, and you don’t have to travel alone. Divorce and separation can be like traversing a glacier of emotion. It’s easier to bring along necessary support and allow ample time to work through emotion. Most consider the first two years post-divorce/separation the most significant in adjusting and the first five years part of the adjustment territory.


At the end of the journey awaits acceptance. We discussed above the layers of emotions that you might wander through and visit again from time to time during your grief process.

We can remind you that what awaits on the other side of all these difficult emotions are the view of your future through the lens of acceptance, which is well worth the arduous journey. There is no straight path or right path but we hope for you to reach, in time, that new place of acceptance. And acceptance may even include forgiveness.

From The Co-Parents’ Handbook by Karen Bonell