The transformation from caterpillar to butterfly is a compelling analogy for the phases of major changes in life. Divorce is just such a time when we’re given the opportunity to choose to embrace this divorce season, allowing it to change us into something more beautiful than before.
I’ve witnessed this metamorphosis many times.
The recovery and healing after divorce can be like a roller coaster that’s for sure. But unlike the emotional roller coaster feelings of psychological abuse, this time you’re put in charge. No more waiting for the next ball to drop or the next rage-filled explosion. Now you’re in God’s hands to process through these phases so you can become everything that He created you to be.
In the end… a beautiful butterfly full of freedom and a thriving life.
The 7 Phases of Divorce Recovery
1.) Survival Mode
The final event that leads to the decision that separation is the only answer is usually a traumatic experience, especially for you the innocent party. There’s either an abusive event (that you must leave from) or the discovery of inexcusable deceitfulness (untreated addiction, criminal acts, or adultery) that sends someone packing and fleeing the home.
Whether you had to leave or were left, you’re faced with picking up the pieces of the devastation left by the guilty party. This is when the feelings start flooding in. Feelings of shock, despair, numbness, fear, self-doubt, guilt, panic, crying, and so many others. When the feelings overwhelm you, it may be hard to take care of the things and people in your life. Reaching out to others during this time is really hard. Shame often keeps you paralyzed and unable to move or make decisions.
Each morning you wake, reminded that this horrible nightmare is happening for real. Then the pain hits you again, and there is nothing you can do about it.
I know it hurts, my friend, but understand that these phases are not permanent. And let me give you some hope, you might actually be excited about life again one day. But first, we must process through the other phases. I’m walking with you. (Read a little more about my story here.)
As some of the feelings and intense pain starts to diminish… or you just get used to it… you may start to feel anger take its place. The legal divorce process can make anyone angry. But there is also the anger about the choices of others. Anger for the situation and ruin you’re living in. Maybe even angry at God, for what seems like senseless devastation, at the time.
Maybe your anger is righteous indignation for unrepentant sins that were committed against you and/or your children. These are very normal and healthy feelings. Just remember, Jesus was angry too but He never sinned in His righteous indignation.
This may also be the stage of demanding and bargaining. You just want your old life back because you’re so sick of dealing with all these feelings. You’re emotionally and physically tired. Divorce – and surviving it – sucks! And sometimes, going back to the life you knew with your family intact and your children with two parents seems a lot easier than this unknown future that you face.
But like I said in my YouTube video, you can only change you. You’re not responsible for changing your husband or making him into a healthy, repentant man. God gives everyone free will… and if he’s choosing sin then you NEED to choose a healthy life for your kids. Keep moving forward!
Realizing that marriage reconciliation is no longer an option (or at least not right now), divorce depression starts to become your new reality. You may still be dealing with the righteous indignation and many feelings from before – like sadness and despair. But the depression sinks in as you grieve the losses, the life you deserved to have, and the future that will never be.
As you process through abuse recovery you’ll even have to mourn what you thought you had in order to accept the truth. Seek help for both your divorce recovery process and your abuse recovery process (if that applies to you) – remembering that adultery is abuse as well.
Divorce depression is a healthy phase of the divorce healing process (read more about surviving it here) and can happen at any time during the divorce healing process. You just have to get through it, feeling the grief until it’s gone. A brighter future is ahead. If depression becomes a problem in your life, seek a licensed therapist for help.
4.) Seeking & Self-Development
Once you’ve processed all the feelings and worked through your depression… now you start on the journey of real transformation. This is about the time you realize that you need to heal your heart first before you’re able to move forward into any other relationships.
You want to know what healthy relationships look like – so you surround yourself with other healthy people to guide you. Now is the time to grow to be the most authentic version of yourself as you continue this transformation. You might even start liking yourself again. Be sure to practice lots of self-care… because you deserve it!
You also seek to educate yourself on all things healing. You’re seeking out answers and those who have been through such pain. You might read blogs like this one, pick up books, and join community groups to hear stories of others (if you haven’t already).
You also seek out God’s Word for His promises, studying and learning what God’s purpose is in all of this, and how He’s going to help you to thrive after divorce. You want to move past the pain and the bitterness (although forgiveness may take a lot longer than others may tell you)… as the phases start to become brighter and more hopeful.
5.) Acceptance & Adaptation
After some time healing the heart, you come to complete acceptance of the marriage ending. You’re no longer seeking restoration. You fully accept everything that happened as God’s purpose. And you’re looking for how things are going to work out in your new life as a divorced woman.
The future is still unknown but you have adapted to this new chapter or at least you’re seeking ways to get the job done. You know that life, as a single woman, will never be perfect, but somehow each day you and the kids (or pets) figure it out… and you even manage to pay all the bills at the same time.
This is where the real heart change starts to show on the outside. People notice you’re happier than you’ve been in some time (and you know you don’t need a man to make you happy). You start to develop high standards for yourself so you don’t find yourself in a rebound situation with the same toxic person with a different body. You’re honestly fine being alone and you feel complete just you, by yourself.
Although you may feel like you’re still surviving at times, you feel the work happening inside of you and you know that you’re on the right path to healing.
The final phase. You’ve processed through all the others to get here. Certain situations might remind you of the losses in your life. Times and situations may feel harder to handle but you have the trust in your heart that no matter what happens you’ll make it through. You trust God is with you and He’s got this.
You’re proud of the life you now have and you have confidence in an even brighter future. You may be alone but you’re no longer lonely. Not one ounce of you wants to go back to the toxic marriage or any toxic relationships you were once in. You only want to be the authentic you, with healthy boundaries that show… you won’t take anyone’s garbage again.
This metamorphosis has led to a change in circumstances and a change in your emotional character. You’re not the doormat you once were. And you’ve educated yourself so you won’t make the same mistakes again.
There is no time constraint or set-in-stone order through this process. Thriving is the goal for all of us but how each of us gets there is totally up to us. Those who try to skip right over or through these stages will find themselves trapped in unhealthy relationships, unhappy marriages, or worse, still bitter and angry decades after a divorce. You cannot renounce the process, you must go through every single phase – even if just for a short period or with very little intensity.
If a butterfly skips a stage of their metamorphosis, they do not survive. So, don’t jump ship! Just trust God to lead you through… to become the most beautiful creature that you are.
I’m happy to say that I’m on the other side of this transformation. I’ve given myself grace to navigate through the stages at a pace that was healthy for me. There are still things that I mourn about my past life but I realize this new life is way better than I ever could have imagined.
I enjoy my freedom and ministry, that never could have happened if it weren’t for my divorce. Sometimes I only wish I’d been brave enough and accepting of this divorced life when God had released me many, many years earlier.
God bless your healing journey,