In sociology and social work which model of grief and loss fit best with the losses inherent in divorce?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The model of grief and loss fit best with the losses inherent in divorce is the Kubler-Ross model for the five stages of grief. 

You ask an interesting question, and I believe you could get different answers.  However, one model of grief and loss helpful for social workers is the Kubler-Ross model for the five stages of grief.  This is because the stages of grief are often experienced by those who have gone through a divorce.

Even though the Kubler-Ross model is usually used to describe the stages of grief after a death, it can describe the grief experienced after any loss.  This can be the case for either the parent or the children in a divorce case.

The first stage, most people recognize, is denial.  This means that when something terrible or unexpected first happens, at first we simply don’t accept it.  It’s not that we don’t believe it; it’s just that we can’t come to terms with it right away, because we are in such shock.  Divorce turns our lives upside down.  It often means leaving home, changing schools, and huge changes in routines.  Therefore it’s easy to understand why when we first realize that a divorce is upon us we can’t accept any of this, and we are in denial.

The next stage is anger.  You can think of it as though once the shock wears off, and it hits us that this has happened, we are getting divorced, or mom and dad are getting divorced, we are angry.  The spouses are angry at each other, children are angry at the mom and dad, and it is even common to be angry at God for “causing” this disaster.  Anger is the natural reaction to your life being turned upside down.  It is healthy, and although people might take out their anger on people that their anger should not be directed at, it is normal and this stage should be expected.

Then there’s bargaining.  In a divorce, this is where the parties will often try to stop the divorce.  One spouse or the other might try to get back together, or the kids might try to convince the parents.  Now that the shock of denial has worn off, and the confusion of anger has blown over, this is the last-ditch effort to try to get things back to the way they were, to try to prevent things from going bad.  Of course, it never works.  If it does work, it’s a temporary bandage solution most likely.

Depression sets in once bargaining fails.  At this point, everyone realizes that the investable will happen.  The divorce is coming.  This can lead to a terrible sadness, where the people involved in the relationship—mom, dad, children if there are any—mourn what was.  A divorce is a serious matter, and deserves a period of respectful mourning akin to a death—the death of what was.  It is the death of a family.

Finally, the last stage is acceptance.  This is a good stage.  It is time to move on.  It is the place where everyone involved cuts their losses and takes the good memories.  Hopefully there is not a long, drawn out legal battle and a civil custody arrangement can be reached, and acceptance is the place the parties involved remain at.

It is important to note that not everyone goes through all of these stages in order, or goes through all of them.  Some people skip a stage, or go back and forth, or never make it to acceptance.  It just depends on the person, and the circumstances.  A social worker needs to understand the individual, the process people go through, and the circumstances, to help them navigate the landmine of divorce.

It is extremely  important to note that in the case of divorce, the family will be deeply affected by the children's reaction to the parents.  Children often blame themselves, bargain with parents, and play parents or siblings against each other.  You simply never know how an individual family will react.

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