So you’ve decided to get divorced. Maybe the realization just hit you like a ton of bricks, or maybe it’s been a long time coming.
Either way, you’ve found yourself at the end of your marriage and the start of a new chapter. The path ahead isn’t always clear or easy, but knowing what to expect can help you navigate this difficult transition.
Divorce typically happens in four stages: Shock, Transform, Awaken, and Release, known as the Divorce STAR.
You’ll cycle through emotions like denial, anger, guilt, and acceptance. You’ll have to work through legal, financial, emotional, parental, and social changes. But with time and conscious effort, you can heal and grow into a happier and wiser version of yourself.
This journey is deeply personal, but you don’t have to walk it alone.
Shock: The Initial Reaction to Divorce
When the final breakup happens, shock is a normal first reaction. Your mind goes into overdrive trying to process this new reality.
Once the surprise and disbelief wear off, powerful emotions often take over. You may feel angry, betrayed or deeply saddened by the end of your relationship. Some common reactions during this stage include:
- Feeling numb or unable to concentrate. Your world has just been turned upside down, so feeling dazed and confused is to be expected.
- Debating how this happened. You rehash events leading up to the divorce, wondering what you could have done differently.
- Difficulty sleeping or eating. Your normal routines are disrupted by the emotional turmoil.
- Crying spells or feelings of despair. The pain of heartbreak and grief can be intense.
Don’t be afraid to lean on your close friends and family for support right now. Talking to a counselor or divorce support group can also help you work through painful emotions. While the shock stage is difficult, the intensity of these feelings will lessen over time as you start to adjust to this new chapter of life after divorce.
Though the pain seems unbearable, this stage will pass. Have hope that there are brighter days ahead, even if you can’t see them yet. Be gentle with yourself during this transition—your world has been shaken, so take things day by day until the dust settles. With each day, the shock will fade as you awaken to new possibilities for your future.
Transform: Navigating Legal, Financial, Emotional, Parental, and Social Changes
The legal and financial changes during divorce can be overwhelming. There are many important details to work through, like dividing assets and debts, determining spousal and child support, and more.
The divorce process involves filling out paperwork, attending court dates, and finalizing agreements. You’ll have to file for divorce, serve your spouse, attend a court hearing, and negotiate the division of assets. If you have children, you’ll also need to determine custody arrangements. This part of the process can be complicated, so consider hiring an attorney to help guide you through it.
Splitting Up Finances
One of the most difficult parts of divorce is separating your finances. You’ll need to determine how to divide bank accounts, properties, investments, retirement funds, and any businesses you own. If selling joint assets like a house, you’ll have to agree on how to split the proceeds. You’ll also need to determine a fair allocation of any debts you share. Creating a budget for your new financial reality can help make this transition smoother.
Child Custody and Support
If you have kids, divorce means making important decisions about their well-being. You’ll need to establish a custody agreement that details where the children will live and how much time they’ll spend with each parent. You’ll also need to determine an appropriate amount of child support to provide for their needs. These decisions should always put the best interests of your children first.
A New Normal
While the legal and financial changes can be complicated, the emotional, parental and social impacts of divorce are often most difficult to navigate. Your relationships and routines will change in many ways. Give yourself time to adjust to this new normal and lean on your close ones for support. With time and effort, you can build a happy, fulfilling life after divorce.
Awaken: Discovering a New Sense of Self
Congratulations, you’ve made it through the hardest parts. Now it’s time for the awakening. You start to rediscover who you are now that you’re no longer part of a couple. This can be an exciting time of self-discovery and growth.
During this stage, make a point to try new hobbies and activities on your own. Take that art class you’ve always wanted to try or join a local sports league. Start a new routine like yoga or jogging. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone – you may just find a new passion or talent you never knew you had!
Your relationships may change as you establish your new identity. Some friends may not understand this new independent you. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries or move on from those who don’t support you. At the same time, strengthen your connections with those who empower and uplift you.
This is also a chance to reevaluate your life and career. Maybe there were dreams you put on hold for the relationship. Now is the perfect time to dust them off and start working to achieve them. Make a list of goals and the steps to accomplish them. Having purpose will boost your confidence and self-esteem.
The awakening stage is about discovering who you are – and who you want to become. Take time for self-care and reflection. Do things that make you happy. Learn to enjoy your own company. Appreciate the freedom and possibility ahead of you. The end of your relationship was not the end of your story – it’s just the beginning of an exciting new chapter!
Release: Letting Go and Moving Forward
The final stage of divorce is releasing the past and looking toward the future. This is the point where you’ve accepted the end of your marriage and are ready to move on as an independent person.
Releasing resentment and anger towards your ex is key. Holding onto negative feelings will only make you feel worse and stall your progress. Try writing an unsent letter expressing your feelings, then tear it up. Speaking with a counselor or divorce support group can also help gain perspective and find forgiveness.
Now is the time to pursue new interests and rediscover your identity. Think about the hobbies, activities, and social interactions you’ve missed. Join a local club or take a class on something you’ve always wanted to learn. Travel to a place you’ve never been before. Read books that inspire and motivate you.
Create a fresh start by redecorating your living space or moving to a new home. Remove reminders of your previous life together and fill your surroundings with things that reflect who you are now. Establish new routines and habits that energize you.
Don’t be afraid to date again when you feel ready. Even if you’re not looking for another serious relationship right away, casual dating can help build your confidence and show you there are more fish in the sea.
Releasing the past and forging a new path ahead is a pivotal turning point. While life after divorce will never be exactly the same, releasing allows you to reconstruct your life in a way that is more authentic and empowering. The future is yours to shape.
So there you have it, the four stages of divorce that almost everyone goes through.
It’s a difficult process, but knowing what to expect can help you navigate this life transition. While every divorce is different, understanding these common stages can help reduce feelings of isolation and make the challenges feel more normal and manageable.
Though the road ahead won’t always be easy, maintaining your confidence and self-care, learning from your mistakes, and allowing yourself to heal and grow will help you come out the other side stronger and wiser. Stay focused on surrounding yourself with your true supporters, and try to approach each stage with courage, empathy, and hope.
Before you know it, you’ll be through to the other side.