Part X: Grief Stages
The Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle focuses on five key stages: shock, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. For each stage, I will provide a summary and describe my own reality and time frame for moving through the grief cycle post affair.
- Shock/Denial– In this phase the activating event is ignited. The brain processes daily life in narrative form, but a traumatic event is not processed in the same way. The body goes into protection mode; one of the first responses to trauma is shock. It is common to deny what has taken place and you might even find that you avoid the subject altogether. You could experience fear and or elation. In my situation the shock began as a tingling numbness that eventually penetrated my whole body. For three weeks I walked around dazed and confused. When engaged by other people in conversation I experienced cognitive delays in information processing. I told myself the affair was a lie, that my husband just made it up to make me jealous. When reality set it, fear seized my heart. How will I afford to live if he leaves me? Will I have to move? Will the kids have to change schools? Will I lose the support of his family and our friends? It took about four weeks for my appetite and sleep to stabilize.
- Anger– Frustration, irritation and anxiety dominate the emotions in this phase. You might be tempted to skip over this aspect of grieving, if you do you might find it returns to bite you in the rear. Anger is a natural human response to loss; it is not a sin, how it is expressed can be (Ephesians 4:26). The chief responsibility here is to resolve indignation. Anger is a secondary emotion; it is the result of some other potent primary emotion. To demonstrate this point, I use the following formula in counseling to assist clients in identifying and discussing their true feelings: fear + hurt + frustration = anger. When I examined what I was truly feeling, it was fear and hurt. I was afraid I would wind up with an STD. Even worse, I was terrified the affair partner would end up pregnant. I only stayed in this phase for two weeks and had two meltdowns. I was committed to forgiving my husband and making my home in one of the more positive phases…like acceptance. When I felt consumed by my wrath, I’d call a friend and vent or write another article (on adultery) for this series; it was quiet effective!
- Bargaining– You will recognize this phase by comments that begin with “if only.” “If only I recognized the signs earlier,” “If only I had done this or that differently, the affair would not have happened.” You might find yourself hyper focused on what you could have done differently to prevent the betrayal. The good that came to me from this stage is that it forced me to examine my own actions and admit to the harm I caused the relationship. The problem I encountered was remaining in the past trying to negotiate my way out of the pain instead of staying in the present. I really didn’t stay in this phase more than a few days. I moved out of this town fast!
- Depression– Every human gets depressed at some point in life and it’s common during this stage to feel overwhelmed and helpless. I hit my lowest point two weeks after the confession. My love was in Kentucky on a two-day business trip and I was home holding down the fort, paying bills and chauffeuring the kids to basketball practice and sleep overs. On a gray drizzly Friday afternoon, I pulled into the garage, shut the door behind me and sat in the car while the ignition continued to purr. For just a few seconds I wondered what it would be like to inhale the noxious exhaust fumes and allow myself to slip away. No more suffering or humiliation, simply peace with my Father in heaven. A dose of reality slapped me in the face when I realized that my 17-year-old daughter would discover my body, so I quickly turned off the motor and exited the vehicle. It took about six weeks to work through this phase; it was agonizing. My emotions fluctuated wildly. One minute I hated my husband and the next I couldn’t live without him. In the end, I made the decision to forgive him and forced my feelings to follow suit.
- Acceptance In the final phase, you are exploring new options and you have a plan in place for moving on. You’re pervasive mentality might be “It is what it is, I can’t change it.” This phase was the most difficult and took the longest to work through, about six months. Here I struggled to find new meaning, I began reaching out to others and shared my story. These articles are the fruit of my new meaning. As a professionally trained speaker I am seeking ways to share my story so I can assist other couples. As a licensed therapist, I am creating a marriage boot camp for struggling couples that I will launch by late 2016 or early 2017.