How Marriages End

An old legal sage once pointed out the obvious that a marriage can end in only one of two ways:  Divorce or death.  The sage also noted how a person goes through similar emotional/psychological stages when advised they are dying, or being divorced.  The sage mentioned Dr. Kubler-Ross as the sources of the stages of dying, and noted the similarities with divorce.

Dr. Kubler-Ross had treated dying patients for a long time and noticed how many of them go through similar emotional/psychological stages when coming to grips with their inevitable outcomes.  In her book “On Death and Dying” written in 1969, Dr. Kubler-Ross noted the stages as generally denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance.

When advised of death/divorce, people often first deny it’s happening:  “Do the tests over again, there’s a mistake…” or “…my love would never leave me, they’ll get over it and be back soon…”.  But, unfortunately, the second round of tests show the same results as the first, and the “love” doesn’t return.

Anger often sets in after the diagnoses/news becomes undeniable.  The person may irrationally lash out at friends and family, or blame others for their sad predicament.

When the anger starts to subside, it can be replaced with bargaining.  That is, the person starts thinking of ways to postpone the inevitable.  The dying may try special diets or seek multiple opinions in the hope of prolonging life while the divorcing may make promises of changes for the good to appease the leaving spouse in the hopes they will return.  But the inevitable is not postponed, and there is no return.

Depression, not surprisingly, develops as they start to realize the practicality of their situations.  Sadness and regrets are prevalent at this stage, and some will withdraw into themselves and become distant and lethargic.  A nostalgic melancholy can set in.

Finally, it’s realized there is no ‘magic cure’ coming; there will never be a reunification.  The dying person accepts that circumstances can’t be changed, and hopefully starts to live each day thereafter to its fullest with appreciation.  The divorcing person starts to move forward with their new life.  Both the dying and divorcing lose something that can’t be replaced – a life; a past relationship.

But why is any of this important in family law?

Because in family law, whether in court or not, we first try to negotiate a resolution.  When negotiating (or attending court) it is good practice to consider the other person’s emotional/psychological state – it may help to explain why they act or react as they do, and gives some direction on how to best approach them.  The best negotiations occur when both parties have reached ‘acceptance’, but some people do not progress through all the stages, and some may skip stages.  How fast or slow you proceed through the stages, or if you proceed at all, is dictated to some degree by your own inherent emotional/psychological characteristics and fortitude.  Recognizing the stages may help you better understand the other person’s actions or inactions, and negotiate a resolution.

If you require assistance with a family law situation, please contact one of the lawyers who practice family law at Pushor Mitchell LLP.

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