While a lot of work has been done on the stages of grief following the death of a loved one, the emotional process following separation and divorce is different – the partner is still alive, and, ironically, this fact can make the situation more complicated to navigate emotionally.  As a result, it can be helpful to order your feelings somehow. The five stages of grief were first introduced by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and outlined the series of emotions experienced following the death of a loved one. These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance. Denial is a state of shock. You don’t want to believe that after so many years, perhaps even decades, your relationship is coming to an end.  If your spouse has told you that they want to leave, you might not believe them, and continue making plans and living your life as you have always done. You push their words away but find that they keep bubbling to the surface as you wonder why. ‘What happened?’ ‘Did I do something wrong?’ And then you find yourself denying those thoughts. ‘It’s not true.’ ‘I don’t believe it.’ ‘I don’t want to think about this.’ A person in denial may refuse to speak with any professional associated with separation, especially with a lawyer. That can cause frustration for the other spouse, who might be tempted to ‘lawyer up’ to get things moving. If you are struggling to come to terms with your separation, asking for time might keep this in check. This can be a very low time emotionally. It can look like depression, but it is not the depression usually experienced a bit later – it is the crippling grief and sadness of being in shock, numb, not being able to go forward, being stuck in denial.  With increased pressure to face the truth another feeling begins to dominate – anger. There can be angry reactions, explosive arguments, even domestic violence events in the denial stage. These emotions are often masking the pain and can prevent you from facing reality.  The anger stage is different. It is a step forward. This anger can be constructive as it can help you feel more empowered. Anger as an emotion carries huge energy. This energy can mobilise you out of being stuck and move you towards the future. It is healthy to feel anger. Support and guidance from a therapist or skilled, neutral third party can be very helpful here.  How you behave towards each other in the anger phase is critical to determine how well your separation will proceed. Bargaining is usually listed as the third stage in the grieving process. The stages can cycle backwards and forwards, and the bargaining phase is a time when you and your spouse might find yourselves taking a step backwards. How you act in this stage depends on what you are thinking about. Therefore, the bargaining stage can be seen as pivotal for change in either direction – to stay or to leave. As a result, this is not a good time to negotiate a property settlement or a parenting plan, because it is likely that your decisions will be influenced by your efforts to avoid the end of your relationship. The bargaining stage can also influence how the separation process runs when it comes to negotiations and agreements. If one of you is at this stage and the other is still in anger, there are often heightened negative emotions played out in an effort to seek compensation in parenting or property settlements. We strongly recommend getting some skilled professional assistance from family lawyers with the knowledge and sensitivity to understand this phenomenon. After bargaining, there is a new sense of reality. The end of the relationship will occur. With this realisation can come a deep sadness and grieving, which is often called the depression stage. When you’re lost in your own grief, it’s easy to forget that you, as the separating couple, are not the only ones who are going through the grieving process. Your children, your wider family, your close friends, and even your workmates all have their own emotional journey to take. People will be at different stages at different times. Sadness is usually an aspect of normal grieving. It is possible, however, to tip into a clinical depression. If there is any concern for you, your spouse or your children, medical assistance is vital to assess the seriousness of the condition. Acceptance is the end of the trail. This is the stage when you start to focus on the future. You realise that the divorce is going to go ahead and, even if you aren’t happy about it, you can still make the best of it. You get a sense that everything will be okay, and before long you start to have hope for the future. Acceptance doesn’t mean you don’t have lingering feelings of sadness or anger, but you are able to put energy into imagining and creating your new life and this has become important to you in a practical way. You are now more equipped for the legal negotiations required for you and your ex to reach a mutually acceptable settlement. Acceptance usually isn’t an immediate, all-encompassing state. Instead, you will feel degrees of relief at different stages of your journey. This excerpt is from ‘Breaking Up Without Breaking Down’ – Dr Tina Sinclair, Tricia Peters Marguerite Picard which can be purchased via Amazon – https://www.amazon.com.au/Breaking-Up-Without-Down-Preserving/dp/0992317665 Please contact MELCA – https://melca.com.au/ for more information and to book a free 15-minute information session.