You are probably familiar with the grief process that occurs after the death of an important person in your life, but did you know that there is a grief process involved in divorce as well? The most famous model of grief, made famous by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, is made up of five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Some of these may seem quite familiar to those of you going through the divorce process.
This is when people act as though something is just not happening, e.g. “This can’t be happening, we were so in love.”
This stage is pretty self-explanatory, but it is when you feel nothing but anger toward your soon to be ex-spouse, e.g. “I always hated you anyway, and I’ll be better off without you”
During the bargaining stage, people are trying to get things to go back to the way they were before the event causing the grief. In divorce, this might look like people saying that yes, they’ll finally go to couples therapy if only the other person will stay.
Depression can set in once you are starting to realize that the divorce is actually going to happen, and you are starting to feel the sadness that comes with this realization.
This is the ideal stage to reach because at this point, you have accepted the divorce, and have made peace with what happened. You should be able to civilially interact with your ex-spouse, and the divorce does not take up a lot of time on your mind.
Unfortunately, some people never reach this stage, and spend years stuck in anger or depression. These are the people who are not able to put their differences aside to be together at functions for their children, or may even start fighting at these functions.
Order of Stages
Although these are presented as stages, research shows that they are not actually experienced as discrete stages that occur in this order. Someone can start at denial, go to bargaining, then to anger, then to depression, then back to denial, etc. Usually someone who has reached acceptance will stay there, but people often fluctuate between the other stages.
How Grief Can Affect Mediation
So, why is this relevant to mediation? Well, it can be very helpful to know what stage of the grief process each party is in once they come into the office. It changes how the mediation plays out, and gives the mediator valuable information about how to work with them. This is why it can be important to choose a mediator who has knowledge of these issues, because they are at play in the room whether they mediator knows it or not.