Stage Two: self-confrontation. Stage Two begins the moment you believe that the divorce is actually going to happen. As you face the truth, your emotions abruptly shift. Instead of feeling numb you feel ashamed and hopeless. If you're the one being left, you reproach yourself, thinking you did something terribly wrong. You start asking yourself, "What will people think of me? How am I ever going to get through this?" Positive self-talk is the best answer. If you're the one who's been abandoned, say affirmations like this: "Our relationship was a worthwhile experience. I'm a good person. I have much to offer a new partner and the world." If you're the initiator, tell yourself, "What I'm doing is painful in the short run but better for everybody in the long run." Stage Three: attack and counterattack. This stage is marked by emotional scenes: crying, screaming and mutual blame. The lawyers you've each retained may egg on your mutual rage toward each other. No matter whether you litigate or engage a mediator (a neutral third party), you have to draw up a divorce and custody agreement. When you work out a fair divorce agreement -- and take responsibility for your role in the divorce -- the attacking and counterattacking finally end. Stage Four: acceptance. Hopefully, once you get your legal decree, the emotional divorce follows. You accept your status as a single person and forgive both yourself and your ex for mistakes both of you made. You organize a new household and get comfortable living alone. By getting on with your life you bring this stage to a successful close.
Gayle Peterson, MSSW, Ph.D., is a family therapist specializing in parenting, marriage and family development. She has a private practice in Berkeley, California, and is the author of several books on prenatal preparation for childbirth, including her latest, "An Easier Childbirth." She is married with two adult children, and a one-year-old grandson. Her upcoming book is entitled, "Making Healthy Families."