Divorce isn’t easy for anyone. Even in the most amicable of situations, it’s challenging. Therapy can help you understand yourself better as you navigate a divorce. It can also assist you in dealing with the ramifications of divorce in your family, whether they are fresh wounds or old ones. There is no one right way to work through the challenges of this kind of separation but a good therapist can help you find the way that is right for you.

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Defining Divorce

Obviously divorce usually means the legal separation of two partners in a married relationship. This comes with is own set of unique issues including stressors around dividing up assets, handling lawyers and paperwork, etc. However, people may experience much of the trauma and stress of divorce when separating from partners they weren’t in a traditional marriage with. Living together for a long time, sharing children with someone, being in a non-monogamous long-term partnership … these are all things that can end up in some version of a divorce. So don’t hesitate to discuss divorce with a therapist even if your version doesn’t look quite like the typical model of a family.


Stages of Divorce

Divorce is a complex, non-linear process. Your experience may not look like someone else’s. With that in mind, here are some common stages of divorce that many people experience:

  1. Shock and Denial: The initial stage of divorce often involves shock and denial, especially if the decision to divorce was unexpected. It can be challenging to accept the reality of the situation and come to terms with the end of the marriage.
  2. Emotional Turmoil: As the divorce process unfolds, individuals may experience a rollercoaster of emotions. Feelings of anger, sadness, guilt, fear, and confusion are common during this stage.
  3. Negotiation and Bargaining: During this stage, individuals may attempt to negotiate with their spouse to salvage the marriage or make compromises to avoid the divorce. Bargaining can be a natural response to the desire to hold onto the relationship.
  4. Acceptance: Acceptance is a crucial stage in the divorce process. It’s the point where individuals begin to acknowledge that the marriage is ending and start to focus on moving forward.
  5. Legal and Practical Matters: As the divorce progresses, individuals will need to address legal and practical matters, such as dividing assets, determining child custody arrangements, and establishing financial support.
  6. Grief and Loss: Divorce involves the loss of a significant relationship, and individuals may experience a grieving process similar to mourning a loved one. This grief can be complicated by the practical aspects of the divorce.
  7. Rebuilding and Rediscovery: In this stage, individuals start to rebuild their lives and rediscover who they are as individuals. It may involve exploring new interests, making new friends, and setting new goals.
  8. Co-Parenting Challenges: For individuals with children, co-parenting can present challenges. Learning to navigate parenting responsibilities and communication with an ex-spouse can take time and patience.
  9. Healing and Growth: Over time, individuals may find healing and experience personal growth. They may develop resilience and a deeper understanding of themselves and their needs.
  10. Moving On: Eventually, individuals reach a stage where they are ready to move on with their lives. This does not necessarily mean they forget about the past, but they are more focused on their future and new possibilities.

Impact of Divorce on Friends and Family

Impact of Divorce on Friends and Family

Perhaps you’re not the one going through the divorce. You might still feel an impact. Whether you’re a child or an adult when your own parents divorce, it can create things to reckon with. If you have adult children, their divorce can impact you. Even when divorce happens among your close friend group, you might experience an emotional reaction that’s hard to grapple with.

Children of Divorce

For children, divorce can be an emotionally challenging experience, leaving them feeling confused, sad, and insecure due to the changes in their family structure. Academic performance, social relationships, and emotional well-being can all be influenced by the divorce of their parents. Even adult children of divorcing parents may find themselves grappling with a mix of emotions as they navigate the shifting family dynamics they have known for years, leading to feelings of loss, guilt, or divided loyalties between their parents.

Extended Family and Close Friends

The effects of divorce also extend to extended family members, who may feel torn between supporting the divorcing couple and providing emotional support to their children or siblings. Close friends are not immune to the impact of divorce either. Witnessing the pain and turmoil experienced by their friends going through a divorce can be deeply distressing and lead to a range of emotional reactions, including sadness, anger, and frustration. Some friends may even find themselves caught in the middle, feeling compelled to take sides and dealing with loyalty conflicts.

Moreover, divorce can affect entire social circles, especially when the couple’s friends are part of a tight-knit group. The breakup of the couple’s relationship may cause fractures within the friend group or shared activities, leaving some feeling disconnected and isolated. Mutual friends may struggle with maintaining relationships with both individuals, which can lead to strain in previously close friendships.

Additionally, the impact of divorce can extend beyond emotional reactions. Friends and family members may find themselves providing practical support during and after the divorce process, offering help with childcare, providing a place to stay, or assisting with logistics.

Lastly, witnessing a divorce can also evoke feelings of anxiety or uncertainty about one’s own relationships. Individuals may reevaluate their own marriages or partnerships, wondering if they could face a similar fate.

How Therapy Can Help with Divorce

How Therapy Can Help with Divorce

As you can see, there are many stages of divorce and many ways you might be affected. Therapy can help at any stage of the process. It can help if you’re navigating a divorce right now (or deciding together if you want to get one.) It can help if you’re having trouble getting past a divorce, whether your own or perhaps your parents from childhood. It can help you understand your feelings and fears around divorce.

Therapy During the Stages of Divorce

Couples in the different stages of divorce might find therapy helps, through individual therapy or couples therapy or both. Here’s what that might look like in each of the common stages of divorce.

Shock and Denial:

Therapists can help clients process the shock and denial they may experience at the beginning of the divorce process. They offer a safe space for clients to express their feelings and concerns about the changes happening in their lives.

Emotional Turmoil:

Therapy provides an outlet for clients to explore and work through the intense emotions that arise during the divorce process, such as anger, sadness, and fear. Therapists can teach emotional regulation techniques to help clients manage their feelings more constructively.

Negotiation and Bargaining:

Couples therapy can facilitate communication between partners during this stage, helping them navigate negotiations and make decisions that are fair and mutually acceptable. Individual therapy can help clients process their emotions and clarify their needs and priorities during the bargaining phase.


Therapists support clients in accepting the reality of the divorce and adjusting to the changes it brings to their lives. They can assist in reframing the divorce as an opportunity for personal growth and new beginnings.

Legal and Practical Matters:

Therapy can help clients manage the stress and complexities of the legal process by offering coping strategies and emotional support. Couples therapy may focus on developing effective co-parenting plans and addressing other practical concerns.

How Therapy Can Help with Divorce

Grief and Loss:

Therapists provide a compassionate space for clients to grieve the end of their marriage and the life they envisioned. They help clients process feelings of loss and begin the healing process.

Rebuilding and Rediscovery:

Therapy supports individuals in rediscovering their identities and rebuilding their lives after divorce. Therapists can assist clients in setting new goals and exploring opportunities for personal growth.

Co-Parenting Challenges:

Therapy can offer guidance on effective co-parenting strategies, fostering cooperation, and minimizing conflict. Couples or family therapy can help improve communication between co-parents for the well-being of the children.

Healing and Growth:

Therapists continue to support clients in their journey of healing and personal growth, promoting resilience and self-empowerment.

Moving On:

Therapy can assist in the transition to a new life post-divorce, addressing any lingering emotional challenges and facilitating a sense of closure.

Benefits of Therapy Before, During and After Divorce

Other Benefits of Therapy Before, During and After Divorce

Therapy can be a valuable resource for individuals and relationships impacted by divorce, promoting emotional well-being, communication, and healthy adaptation to life changes.

Before Divorce:

  • Helps couples explore relationship challenges and communication issues.
  • Provides a supportive space to address unresolved conflicts.
  • Assists in making informed decisions about the future of the relationship.

During Divorce:

  • Supports emotional processing and coping during a tumultuous time.
  • Facilitates communication and negotiation between divorcing partners.
  • Assists in co-parenting planning and effective parenting strategies.
  • Offers guidance on legal and practical matters related to divorce.

After Divorce:

  • Aids in healing emotional wounds and promoting post-divorce adjustment.
  • Supports parents and children in adapting to new family dynamics.
  • Assists in co-parenting challenges and conflict resolution.
  • Provides a space for personal growth and self-discovery.

Some of the benefits for children and family and friends of divorce:

  • Helps children express and process their emotions about the divorce.
  • Assists children in coping with the changes in their family structure.
  • Supports children’s emotional well-being and development during and after the divorce.
  • Provides emotional support and coping strategies for loved ones affected by the divorce.
  • Assists in navigating changes in family dynamics and relationships.
  • Helps friends and family set boundaries and cope with loyalty conflicts.

Divorce and Other Mental Health Conditions

Divorce and Other Mental Health Conditions

Divorce can have a complex and varied impact on mental health, potentially exacerbating or contributing to various mental health diagnoses and conditions. While divorce itself is not a mental health diagnosis, it can be a significant stressor that influences existing mental health conditions or leads to the development of new ones. Here are some common mental health diagnoses and conditions that may be affected by divorce:

  1. Anxiety Disorders: Divorce can be an anxiety-provoking experience, triggering feelings of uncertainty, fear of the unknown, and worries about the future. Individuals may experience generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or social anxiety disorder during this period of transition.
  2. Depressive Disorders: The emotional upheaval of divorce, along with the loss of a significant relationship, can contribute to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness. This may lead to major depressive disorder or persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia).
  3. Adjustment Disorders: Divorce represents a major life change, and individuals may struggle to adapt to the new circumstances. This adjustment process can sometimes lead to an adjustment disorder, characterized by emotional and behavioral disturbances.
  4. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): For some individuals, divorce may involve traumatic experiences, such as infidelity, abuse, or contentious legal battles. Such traumatic events can trigger symptoms of PTSD.
  5. Substance Use Disorders: Divorce-related stress and emotional distress may lead some individuals to turn to substances like alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism, potentially leading to substance use disorders.
  6. Eating Disorders: The emotional upheaval of divorce and feelings of loss of control can contribute to the development or worsening of eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge-eating disorder.
  7. Parent-Child Relationship Issues: Children may experience emotional challenges and behavioral changes during or after divorce. This can include issues such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) or separation anxiety disorder, as they adapt to the new family dynamics.
  8. Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): Individuals with borderline personality disorder may experience heightened emotional instability and fear of abandonment during the divorce process.

Types of Therapy for Divorce

Types of Therapy for Divorce

You might find that you benefit from different types of therapy for divorce – working with a therapist who specializes in one area or one who can combine techniques from different therapy types. Some types of therapy you might consider:

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)

is one such approach that focuses on understanding and processing emotions within the couple’s relationship. By helping partners identify and express their underlying emotions, EFT fosters emotional bonding and strengthens the connection between the couple. It can be particularly beneficial in addressing communication breakdowns and promoting a more empathetic understanding of each other’s experiences.

Gottman Method Couples Therapy

which is based on the work of Drs. John and Julie Gottman. This method emphasizes building trust, emotional intimacy, and effective communication. It aims to identify negative patterns in the relationship and develop healthier ways of interacting. By improving conflict resolution skills and developing a stronger foundation, whether for reconciliation or a more amicable separation, Gottman Method Couples Therapy can help couples move forward.

Narrative Therapy

is a therapeutic approach that assists individuals and couples in reframing their divorce experience and constructing a new narrative of their lives. By encouraging a more empowering perspective and acknowledging strengths and resilience, Narrative Therapy helps individuals move beyond the challenges of divorce and find new meaning in their experiences.

Solution-Focused Therapy

on the other hand, aims to identify and build on existing strengths and resources within the couple. It focuses on setting goals for the future and identifying practical solutions to move forward positively, both individually and as a couple. This approach emphasizes the power of positive change and growth, empowering couples to find constructive ways to navigate the complexities of divorce.

Types of Therapy for Divorce


While Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is often used in individual therapy, it can be adapted for couples to address negative thought patterns and improve communication and coping skills. In divorce situations, CBT can help couples manage stress, anxiety, and depression related to the process, fostering healthier emotional adjustments.

Co-parenting Counseling

This therapy specifically focuses on supporting parents in developing effective co-parenting strategies. Co-parenting counseling helps parents put the well-being of their children first and fosters cooperation in shared parenting responsibilities, contributing to a smoother transition for the entire family.

Supportive Therapy

This provides a safe and understanding space for individuals or couples to process their feelings, gain emotional support, and navigate the emotional challenges of divorce. This form of therapy can be valuable at any stage of the divorce process, offering a non-judgmental environment to explore emotions and thoughts surrounding the life-changing event.

Next Steps

Are you ready to find a therapist who can assist you and your family as you navigate divorce? Search our therapist directory today to find the one who is right for you. Or call us for more information.

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