'I Discovered the 7 Stages of Divorce'

In 2020, after 12 years together—as well as two children, 10 pets, and five properties—my partner and I decided to call it quits. One of the first therapists I spoke to post-divorce said that the end of a marriage was a death of sorts, and I was going to go through the five stages of grief as a result: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Now that I have made my way through my divorce, it seems to me that grief might be too classy of a metaphor for the process. Grief elicits imagery of a gentle soul writing emotive poetry in the morning mist. Divorce, on the other hand, left me feeling like a contestant on Wipeout: completely battered, generally off balance, and surrounded by utter chaos.

With a little bit of distance from my chaos, I can see that my therapist had been right about there being stages of divorce, but she was a bit off with her warnings about what was coming my way. I can see seven stages in my rear-view mirror, not five, and I think it's worth warning other people about what their divorce obstacle course may look like.

There are no rules as to when you will hit the various stages of divorce or in what order you will hit them. For added fun, there is a good chance you'll visit each stage more than once, or multiple stages in a single day.

The good news is that you will make it to the end. In my experience, there is sweet relief waiting for you at the finish line, when you make it past the endless hurdles.

The Stages of Divorce That Nobody Talks About

1. Denial

Yes, I stole the denial stage from grief, because any decent life journey usually starts with a healthy amount of denial that the journey is necessary at all. In the case of divorce, the denial stage can start years before the breakup even takes place, with you repeatedly dodging the reality that your marriage is toast.

Even once you move past the initial denial that divorce is imminent, there is still room for this stage to linger. Maybe you are ignoring the truth that your "trial" separation is actually a "forever" separation. Or maybe you are in denial about your role in the way everything went down.

Dawn Dais
Dawn Dais writes about her experience of divorce, and the seven stages she identified going through at the time. Dawn Dais

In my case, I hit denial early and often throughout my divorce. I spent years in denial about the fact that my marriage was coming to an end and then was in denial after my divorce about how long it was going to take for me to heal.

2. Exuberance

I really leaned into the exuberance phase of my divorce. There were celebratory meals with friends, dance parties with the kids, and settling into a new home that was all mine. I felt so free.

I realize not everyone lands on this stage, and some people may be the opposite of elated at the ending of their marriage. If that is the case, you might still be forced into this stage by friends who show up at your door with booze and/or ice cream, insisting that you are better off without your ex. They will ask you to deny your heartbreak and celebrate your newfound freedom.

Either way, I recommend enjoying this stage, even if you have to fake the fun; go out to drinks, high five with abandon, buy a couple of new outfits. It's an entertaining phase. Unfortunately, it's also relatively short-lived.

3. Blame game

Sadly, my exuberance phase came to a pretty abrupt end when the day-to-day motions of my new life started exposing the reality of my new situation.

I missed my kids the 50 percent of the time I didn't have them. I missed half my bank account. I missed all the things my partner did around the house. I missed having someone to talk to.

And, because it was still pretty early in my journey, I wasn't quite ready to get into the depths of what this hurt was all about. Instead, I got defensive; I deflected, and I blamed. I told myself that everything was my ex's fault.

The anger of the blame game stage shares some origins with the denial stage because we are still generally opposed to owning our part in our divorce, and not quite ready to get to the root of our emotions.

4. Netflix and cry

Going back to my Wipeout metaphor, the Netflix and Cry portion of the program is when we hit the first red ball. Our legs buckle, we smash off the second ball, and we go splat into the pool below. We realize what is really going on in our lives, and we are no longer able to ignore it.

Stock image of someone going through divorce
Stock image of a woman taking off her wedding ring. Dawn Dais writes about her journey through divorce; leaving behind denial and reaching a place of near-acceptance. iStock / Getty Images Plus

During this phase I curled up on the couch, binge-watched 46 hours of the most depressing documentaries I could find, and cried into my Chinese takeout containers.

The Netflix and Cry phase is the first time some of us will really cry about our marriage being over. Everything might feel scarier than we thought it would, but this phase is the beginning of being honest about what has really taken place.

5. All the therapy

Once you've had your way with Netflix and you've recovered from your crying-induced migraine, it might be time to start Googling some therapists. You've finally hit your breaking point, so now it's time to get to work on putting things back together. And, in my eyes, that's not a job that you should tackle on your own.

For the record, I think therapy is a welcome addition to any of the stages listed here, but in my case, I was not ready to do any real work on myself until I fully embraced the sadness of my new reality.

I needed to move past the denial and blame stages so that by the time I started therapy I wasn't looking for validation, I was looking to be better. I needed to acknowledge my role in my marriage, dive into the roots of who and why I was, and figure out how to be better going forward. I think therapy works best when you are actually ready to do the work.

6. Single and ready to mingle

While therapy is great—and leaning into the healing process will serve us well in the future—it is a long-term investment. In the meantime, you might want to have a little fun.

And so, we now enter our single—and heavy on the mingle—phase. The single phase is when we embrace the joys of singlehood and let them distract us from the disaster of divorcehood. We go out on dates, we make out with the occasional stranger, and we generally revisit the poor choices of our younger dating years.

I firmly believe this is an important stage of a divorce journey. Sure, it's superficial and maybe a little immature, but it's also fun to go out and do simple things. To have one thing in your life that doesn't feel heavy and sad and overwhelmingly big.

7. The Shrug

In my experience, the final stage of divorce is not as deep as acceptance, which is the final stage of grief. Acceptance feels big and final and evolved. I'm not sure we need to get that far to really make our way through our stages of divorce.

One of my favorite quotes that I revisited often during my divorce is this: "The opposite of love isn't hate; the opposite of love is indifference."

The hate you carry around at the beginning of your divorce is rooted in the love that used to exist between the two of you. As long as you hate your ex, you are still admitting that you care an awful lot. Caring is not something that is easy to navigate around and through, but once you do, you'll find that indifference is a much easier place to reside.

It took me about two years to get to the "shrug phase" following my divorce; to a place where my ex and our past didn't send me into a tailspin on a regular basis. But I would be lying if I said I never tailspin now and again.

These days, however, my mind is mostly on the present and the future; the past is far enough in the rear view that it doesn't play much of a role in things. Even though we aren't together, my ex and I still have a job to do in raising our kids. Moving through the stages of divorce and getting beyond the blame, anger, and tears, has helped us be better for our kids and for each other in this new version of our partnership.

The above is an adapted extract from Dawn Dais' new books, The S*** No One Tells You About Divorce, which is out now.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.