Seven Stages of Divorce

The seven stages of divorce are outlined in this posting. Parents that have divorced are challenged with a series of psychological tasks which, if mastered, can lead to a posi­tive outcome for both parents and children.

Task 1: Ending the Marriage

Bring the marriage to an end in a civilized manner. When done well, this has the potential to ease future years for adults and children. Done poorly, it can set the stage for years of contin­ued anger, deprivation and suffering for everyone involved.

Task 2: Mourning the Loss

It is important to acknowledge and express sadness over the loss of one’s spouse, as well as the hopes and dreams of the marriage. Not mourning a marriage can result in preoccupation with the former spouse’s life and use of the children as voyeurs and spies, forcing continued conflict through prolonged litigation.

Task 3: Reclaiming Oneself

This involves detaching from the marriage and establishing a new sense of self identity. This is a move from the “we” to the “I.” Remembering and activating strengths that existed in one prior to the marriage helps in this task.

Task 4: Resolving or Containing Passions

Divorce brings on feelings that can engulf people for years. Emotional flashbacks or bitter feelings can be stirred up by contact with one’s former spouse or by life changes such as remarriage. These passions have the potential for destroying the individual who feels wronged. It is important to try to resolve these passions so that the trauma of divorce does not dominate one’s life. Children can be greatly harmed when used as weapons for revenge when a parent’s passions are unresolved.

Task 5: Venturing Forth Again

The essence of this task is finding the courage to try new relationships and new roles, which will allow one to regain confidence.  Taking chances and trying again allows people to move out of the “lingering shadow of divorce”.  When people divorce, they may be afraid of failure in the future.  Venturing forth helps people maintain confidence in their own judgement.

Task 6: Rebuilding

This task is built upon the earlier tasks. The goal is to create either a new, sustained relation­ship that will be better or a satisfying life outside marriage. Both of these should include the children.

Task 7: Helping the Children

Parents need to support their children not only through the divorce crisis, but through the post‑divorce years for as long as the children need them. Because children have experienced pain, loss and conflict through the divorce process, they particularly need the commitment of both parents to support and nurture them through their lives.

The seven stages of divorce have an impact on the individual and requires the person to make changes. Divorce also requires family relationships to change. Individuals need to complete psychological tasks to move forward in their lives, just as family relationships need to be reorganized.

Focusing on the children’s needs during this time is critical to their success after divorce. Being able to separate the parent’s difficulties from those which the children face helps to move the focus from spousal issues to parental issues. Being able to deal with the seven stages of divorce allows parents to move forward with a parental relationship devoted to meeting their children’s needs.