Applying the Five Stages of Grief to a Divorce

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was a Swiss-American psychiatrist and a pioneer in near-death studies.  She wrote a groundbreaking and bestselling book in 1969 entitled On Death and Dying.  In the book she describes the five stages of grief people experience when confronted with death.  The five stages are denial (or shock), anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

If divorce is the death of a marriage, then it is logical to think that one experiences the five stages of grief while going through a divorce.

Here are the five stages of grief applied to a divorce.  Remember that grief is an individual thing and, although there are stages and the usual responses to it, everyone is an individual and situations may be different.

Stage of Grief

Applying Stage to Divorce


When divorce is first thrust upon a spouse, that spouse can go through a period of not believing that the divorce will take place, to a complete shock that the marriage is ending.


When the anger stage sets in is usually the time to call the lawyers.  At this stage both separating spouses might be trying to “win.”


At this point, many people are tired of fighting and just want the pain to go away.  However, it is important to strive for one’s own personal happiness.


Depression may set in if feeling sad and alone.  However, set in place a good mental health support system.  The system may include family, friends, support groups and mental health workers specializing in divorce.


At this point in time, the ex-spouse has accepted that this is his/her new reality.  Maintain the support system to help navigate this “new normal.”

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