Researchers have built a new grieving model where there are now seven stages of grief that are experienced non-linearly.

stages of grief

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By Sarah P.

Grief is a messy heart-wrenching time. It’s like the guest who overstays their welcome for months on end.

Grief is the robber of joy and the thief of peace-of-mind.

Just when it seems grief is moving out, it suddenly decides to extend its trip, and all on your dime.

That’s not very fair, is it?

Recently, I was confronted with the ugliness and horror of grief in my own life. Waking up each morning and not wanting to leave bed, due to grief, caused me to reflect on our current understanding of the grieving process.

I am not immune to human nature and human nature is to avoid pain. I don’t want to be in extreme emotional pain. Moreover, the degrees and the work I do don’t shield me from being all too human: academics and emotions are two different entities. Just like anyone else, a hard emotional blow can do damage, and I don’t want to be in emotional pain forever.

A Primer on Grief

Elizabeth Keubler-Ross pioneered grief studies and our understanding of grief. Her work has helped many throughout the years.

But, like all researched topics, they expand and evolve as they are studied. In Elizabeth Keubler-Ross’s framework, grief was experienced linearly and in 5 stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Understanding grief is so important because any time there is infidelity, there is also the cessation of the marriage you once knew. Often, being betrayed is experienced as monumentally traumatic. To grieve this loss of the marriage you once knew is not only normal, it is also essential.

Researchers have built a new model of grief, which affords us new ways to think about grief.

The two most important factors to understand on this new models are these: there are seven stages of grief and it is experienced non-linearly.

See also  My Struggles After the Emotional Affair

The 7 Stages of Grief

The newer model of grief looks something like this as applied to infidelity:

Denial/Shock – The human brain is very clever in that it has systems, which protect us from experiencing too much at once. Denial and shock protect us from taking in too much emotion at once.

Pain/Guilt – Next, as betrayed spouses, we feel the pain of betrayal. Paradoxically, sometimes guilt will creep into this scenario. Even though we did nothing to cause the affair, we might think of circumstances that make us feel guilty.

Bargaining/Anger – Anger is one of the stronger emotions that comes through the grieving process. Please don’t try to suppress it. Any time we try to suppress emotions, they will find an unhealthy way to emerge in our lives.

Bargaining also comes with this stage. We might beat ourselves up over things we “should have done,” believing that such actions may have prevented a spouse’s affair. Though these thoughts are normal, please do not let them get under your skin. Infidelity is a choice.

Depression/Loneliness – The burden of depression is one that is very difficult to carry. While we are depressed, we might also feel very alone since it’s nearly impossible to explain depression to those who have never experienced it. Moreover, we may not have a neutral party to speak with and this can exacerbate feelings of loneliness.

The Upward Turn – This is the stage where life feels as if it has breathing room. The clouds of depression and loneliness start to clear.

Reconstruction – Here we undergo a process of reimagining life and reconstructing what we have to work with. If you choose to salvage your marriage, this is where it will be very important for both you and your partner to create this new marriage together. This is a time for partnership and practical solutions.

See also  How to Save Your Marriage

Acceptance/Hope – Acceptance simply means that you aware the affair happened, you accept you cannot change the past, but you don’t necessarily forget that it happened. Simultaneously, you may feel as if you are no longer tied to an emotional roller coaster.

You understand that there are reasons to have hope that your marriage can be salvaged.

Grieving After an Affair: When Will I Get Over It?

Non-Linear Healing Through the Stages of Grief

Grief after an affair can feel very chaotic. It is not unusual to cycle through these stages out of order, or even cycle through several stages in one day.

This is especially the case if we experience triggers. Triggers usually take us by surprise. And when triggered, we may find ourselves back in one of the stages of grief.

It is important to know that these feelings can wash over us. Allow the feelings to wash over you and practice not reacting to them. This is a delicate dance because you do not want to suppress what you are feeling. You want to acknowledge what you are feeling and take a moment to yourself. By acknowledging feelings, you can then begin letting them go.

Each person heals on a different timeline. Healing is greatly influenced by earlier life traumas, length of a relationship, and of course the details of the events that happened during an affair.

When grieving, it is important to take time to process everything that you need to process. Please don’t listen to people who tell you that your healing must take place on a certain timeline. While they may be well-meaning, you are the one who has to do the work and you must honor yourself by giving yourself the time you need to heal. Don’t deny yourself the time to assimilate all of your emotions.

Give yourself a lot of grace throughout this process. Also, if you hadn’t set healthy boundaries with your spouse before, now is the time to do so.

Make This D-Day Your Last – What Works in Rebuilding a Marriage after Infidelity

Should a Wayward Spouse Aid In Healing?

In short, yes, a wayward spouse should aid in your healing. In order for a wayward spouse to help, please communicate to them in very specific terms what you need from them. Only you know how they can help you, so please communicate it to them.

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After infidelity, a relationship and its boundaries must be redefined. Please communicate your new boundaries to your wayward spouse and see if an agreement can be made.

If your wayward spouse is hesitant to help, you might want to consider whether or not they have the capacity to help. If they don’t have the capacity to help, you might want to find out why.

Another important part of the healing process is making sure your spouse has truly broken off the affair. It is important that your spouse isn’t in a position where they still have to see the other person.

For example, while a wayward spouse can promise not to see an affair partner who is a coworker, until that coworker is at another company, the coworker may attempt to rekindle the affair. All outlets to the other person must be cut off, otherwise there may be another D-Day.

In Summary

Grieving hurts, grieving happens, and grieving is necessary. Give yourself grace and he gentle with yourself. Don’t rush the process because you will only do yourself a disservice.

For those of you who are experiencing prolonged grief as a result of your spouse’s  affair, we’re offering an 8-week small group program that will benefit you.  If you’re interested and want to be notified when we’re ready to get started.  Please click here.

For those of you who have grieved an affair, what was the hardest part and how did you get through it?


    21 replies to "The 7 Stages of Grief: Why Grief is Messy"

    • Terrible Husband that cause the wife to cheat

      Hi Sarah, greetings & welcome back.

      I wonder, if my cheating wife is already asking for the divorced, how could I set the boundaries? She even won’t consider, for small ask boundaries, such as, no texting when I am around or going out with her. (Ie dinner, groceries & movie).

      From that, you can guess, to cut off, her, from her AP, it’s very impossible, 100%. She already insisted too, not only, she will not end the affair but also, she don’t love me, anymore. Whatever left is because of the bonding between me & her, from the past.

      I am still bide my time, while, endure, her very much ongoing affair. The only improvement after D-Day, (6-7 months, already, but the affair was 1 year past, before I found out), is, now she is more warmer to me, than before, as long as I don’t press & pester her, about the affair. The gaslight & hurtful remarks of me, also, soften & occasionally, than before, too. But for intimacy & sexual act, she did her best, to avoid & give thousands of excuses.

      I know, my marriage is over already. But, I don’t want to let it go, without trying, as I am not only still very much love her, but also, I could not lose this family (my son).

      So, I plead to her, to live together, at least for one more year, after D-Day, with the hope, maybe we could rekindle our love, but at the same time, the life span of their affair, night slowly wane off. But, 6-7 months past, it seems, such a wishful thinking, for me, to still hang on & hope for something miracle. I think one year is long & reasonable enough, right? (Again, because of the love & alter life decision) Or if there is improvement (even slightly) before the expiry of that date, should I continue?

      From comments here, I read, some, did give 2-3 years. (Mostly, the betrayed spouse is the wife).

    • Sarah P.

      Are there any betrayed men out there who would like to chime? 🙏

      • Shaun

        I am. Sadly mine completely abandoned me for the AP after getting caught. There’s was an on again off again affair over the span of 8 years. He finally became single and she jumped. Rubbed it in my face and seemed to revel in my pain. Her parents even lashed out at me and said I deserved it.

        I don’t have any advice other than it’s hard. Some days are better than others. I’m about 10 months out from dday. 8 months divorced. No apologies or contact on any level.

    • Sarah P.

      Has anyone experienced prolonged grief, which lasts for over a year, AFTER the affair has ended?

      Does anyone face unresolved grief years after the affair ended?

      • Karen

        We are almost 2 years post D-day and only recently have I felt some relief from the gut wrenching grief.

        His affair led to the loss of my friends and breakdown of the relationship between me and his family so I’ve been grieving lots of things simultaneously I suppose.

        • Sarah P.

          Hi Karen,
          You bring up a good point. Sometimes Evers is fall out from the affair, like losing friends and the breakdown of family relationships. That is yet another loss and can bring its own grief, separate from the affair.

          Have you been able to repair any lost friendships and/ or do you desire to do so?

          Sarah P.

      • A Betrayed Husband

        Hi Sarah,
        To answer your question, in short – yes I still experience grief from my wife’s affair. It has been nearly 6 years from d-day and though we are yet married I still grief the loss of our “first” marriage due to her infidelity.
        It certainly is not has painful as it once was but it yet remains and can be triggered by current events.

        • Sarah P.

          A Betrayed Husband,
          How are you coping 6 years out? And do you have any tips on building self-esteem after this occurs?

          Many blessings,
          Sarah P.

    • A Betrayed Husband

      @ Terrible Husband That Caused The Wife To Cheat.
      I’m sorry that you are experiencing the challenges of infidelity in your marriage and that this ever happened. I’m a husband whose wife betrayed the wedding vows we took. Infidelity is the single most painful and terrible thing I’ve ever experienced. However by God’s grace 6 years after d-day I’m still here. Although there are challenges we yet face from this trauma my wife and I are still married.
      First and foremost, you did not cause your wife to cheat! It was her choice! Nothing, I repeat nothing you did or did not do caused your wife to be unfaithful. You may be a terrible person but I sincerely doubt that you are. You may have done “terrible” things. I don’t believe that to be the case as well. However, even if so, none of what the betrayed does or says makes a cheater cheat… it simply is their choice to be faithful or not. In your wife’s case it is her choice to end the affair or not.
      In my opinion the betrayed can do little to stop the affair because the fuel for the affair is coming from another source. (More on that at a later time)
      The question you ask of, should I continue, is a choice YOU get to make.
      My guess is that she is still somewhat in the affair fog. How long that lasts varies depending upon many variables. The fog for some last longer because they are still getting a “high” from the affair.
      You have to make a choice of what boundaries you are willing to set and accept. Then express those boundaries to your wife and have a course of action plan should she not be willing to accept said boundaries.
      The love / desire for family (your son) will not change. How you display that love may however take on a different form.
      My thoughts and prayers for you and your family as you navigate this newly created journey.
      There are very insightful and helpful suggestions on this forum, stay tuned in and glean all that you can. You are not alone in what has happened and hopefully you can find something through others experiences that will be beneficial. 🙏

      • Cold Heart

        Thank you, it’s me.. (I changed the nickname).

        Yes, before, I could not imagine, how it feel. Cheating just a word. Knew, it’s sorrowful but until you face & deal with it, now you know, how much it’s, the sorrow & the pain & how much affected your self health & life.

        Not only, because of the affair itself & the fearful & uncertainty of life, the what you might lose, but the reactions, too, such as clandestine, the lying & gaslighting, to blame, condemn, with hurtful remarks, every inches of our lacking & so forth.

        So do the cold, disdain & rejectful treatment while you are, aware, how much she is longing for her affair partner, both the emotional & sexual desire. (Yeah, sexting, nude pics & videos).

        To the extend, one night, or 2-3 or 10 nights affair/ sex, is nothing, at all.

        • Cold Heart

          “To the extend, one night, or 2-3 or 10 nights affair/ sex, is nothing, at all.”

          I mean the pain & sorrowful of infidelity (emotional & physical affair & wife not only ask for the divorced, but also, fall out of love, despise her so call ex-lover/ husband).

          The one night, or 3-4 or 10 nights stand, is incomparable, to this.

      • Cold Heart

        Thank you again.

        Yes, eventhough, I am very much loyal, faithful & love her so much, but, it’s very true too, all this while, I am not up to the average standard,
        what most normal wife’s/women’s expect from their lovers & husbands, (ie cold & distance, lacking in effort & expression, failed to communicate effectively & etc),
        include, one of the most major things, very weak, financial wise.

        For that part, I feel very much guilty. & it’s true too, she was really affectionate to me, put an extraordinary effort, too, in all aspects. & though, I did appreciate & complement, too, but
        it was not the type & the way she was/is expected.

        About the boundaries, yes I know, but she is already, already ask for the divorced, even before I found out of their affair, (I was one year, late), then, after D-Day, & till now, she is dead set of it. So, how can I draw & enforce boundaries. In fact I did tried, only, for make the situation, much much worse. (ie strong opposed reactions, gaslighting & hurtful remarks, for every inches of my lacking & etc).

        So, that’s that.

      • Cold Heart

        I don’t know, truly don’t know, how long I shall hang in here. It’s already almost 2 years, since the affair started & almost 9 months since the dday. There is still no sign that my wife will end the affair. The only improvement is she is getting more warmer (still, she badmouth me & crying to AP about me, occasionally) & the divorce talks is almost nonexistent, now, while it’s already, almost 2 months past, the last time she see the AP (of course, fuck him too). But I know, they are still very much intimate, whatapps, trade pics & maybe, still sexting, too. If up to me, I am still want to salvage this marriage & forego, whatever in the past, though it’s very much hurting me, still, the betrayal, the badmouth, berate & belittle me, so do make fun out of me, with the AP. Nevertheless, one thing for sure, if we still could resume the marriage, she will always look at my fault & shortcomings, & definitely, will compare me with the AP, too. Definitely, the empathy will never be the same, like before. I am far from a perfect guy/husband, much worse, I have nothing to offer in materials things (ie money, promising job career & etc). So, very sure, the marriage will still very much fragile, too, if I could salvage this marriage as she already set the high standard & expectations, since she decided to have an affair. Maybe the only thing that stand still, now & in future, is the bondings, between me & wife, our son & the families. (in laws). I don’t want to go on details, but that’s that, that make me, rethought & feel, I shall give up, already.

        • Cold Heart

          As I coul see, it’s more better, to start fresh, with another women, who will not have, any negative perception over me, yet. While there is suggestions for me to be the bestest version of me, but there is definitely limitations for that, I could not be, suddenly, very perfect, very rich, & make jump to be on top in job career. Yeah I know the AP might be better guy, husband & father, in every aspects than me, thus, she choose the AP even he is a married guy, still fail to see, the AP fault, to betray his sick wife & son (ongoing sickness & actually, quite serious, too). How could I top that.

    • Sarah P.

      A question: I remember dealing with gut wrenching anxiety. Sometimes the anxiety would wake me up in the middle of the night and I would have full-blown panic attacks. Sometimes the anxiety spiked strike when I was onsite at my corporate job. (This was before h became a marriage mentor).

      Did anyone else experience anxiety as part of the grieving process?

      • Cold Heart

        As for now, the worst was the D-Day. (7 months ago). I could not even eat, trouble in sleep (lucky could still sleep & it’s really hard to wake from the bed. It’s continue for several weeks.

        The shock really staggering, the whole minds & body. Cold & shiver, too. To process what has happened & still happening. & all the images of the texting (sexting) nude pics & videos & all others evidences. (Hotel & etc). Still feel very much, if I try recall that, too. I think,that, the most part, whereby, I really push myself to be strong, to go through all of the evidences & chronologize, what’s what.

        I’m term of grieving, afterwards, not so much. But, yeah, since the relationship is still very much ongoing, every once in a while, still feel it, too, (ie lost appetite, losing focus, feel lament) & etc)though, not so bad as the D-Day.

        Some other time, feeling very much anguish, too. Helpless & sorrowful, a little bit.

        But I could go through & slowly, get over of of all the pains, if she is stopping now, in which, she is not until now.

        The only thing, that, keep me going, is we are talking, now, & she is bit warmer, & yeah, our son, & maybe the love for her & this family, I might could swallow all of the grief’s & pains.

        But, yeah, I count the day, to finally, finally, get out from this hole & maze.

      • Cold Heart

        Btw, may I add, if course it’s take a lot of efforts (block, distraction &shields) & push very harder, try to feel ok, & mitigate the grief.

        Nothing is normal & casual since that day.

        Could not think, even once in a day, that, I totally, not think about that. (The infidelity or the regret, like what if…)

      • victoria

        Absolutely! In those first few monhs, I lived with low level anxiety and would wake in the night having full blown panic attacks…and couldnt sleep naturally. Many things would trigger me and I would instantly be hurtled back to the initial trauma.
        I think everyone reacts differently. For me it was something I never for one moment, thought could happen. I just didnt think he would be “the type”…though he defintely had a secretive side to his personality.
        Now nearly 10months since D Day, the tirggers are rarer and trust is building…and I think my capacity for copoing with stress is less. We have worked very hard to rebuild and my husband has done everything he could to make it work and to be honest, I think its better this “second time round”.
        I guess Im lucky, but my world view is different. I’ll never be the blind trusting person ever again.

    • Sarah P.

      Correction: a spike in anxiety would also strike when I was at work and it happened seemingly without a trigger. Did anyone else experience that?

      • Cold Heart

        Wish you well.

    • M

      My world is turned upside down. My feelings are everywhere right now. I accidentally discovered my husbands ea through his phone. In fact, my 10 year old,my husband and myself were looking at his phone after he showed us a text from mutual friends when I saw the ending of the text from the ow. It still didn’t register in my mind until he grabbed his phone and started to back away from me with a guilt ridden expression on his face. I just don’t trust him with anything anymore. I am disgusted with myself because I have turned into a jealous, suspicious, crazy person. I have lost motivation in my home, in everything. I look in the mirror and feel awful. He told me she’s more attractive (on the outside) so of course, that doesn’t help. Also, she’s much younger. How do I get over this?

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