Switch to ADA Accessible Theme
Close Menu
Philadelphia Family Lawyer > Blog > Divorce > Ambiguous Grief and Divorce

Ambiguous Grief and Divorce


Strictly speaking, ambiguous loss is loss without closure. It was coined to describe a grieving process that happens outside the context of the loss of a family member. Prior to this concept, grief was almost always couched in terms of the death of a loved one. After, it became possible to talk about grief in terms of other losses, most notably, the loss of a romantic relationship.

Ultimately, closure is a major part of the grieving process. When we think about the 5 stages of grief, we’re talking about that process. It begins with denial and ends with acceptance. With ambiguous loss, it’s easy to get stuck in one of the phases that occur prior to acceptance. The search for answers precludes reaching acceptance. In some cases, there are no answers or at least no answers that satisfy. In this article, we’ll discuss how ambiguous loss applies to couples who are separating or divorcing.

Why is ambiguous loss more difficult to handle? 

When some abrupt change occurs in life, there are numerous feelings that can be overwhelming. Ambiguous loss delays or prevents the type of closure necessary to move forward from the grieving process. Imagine this in the context of a kidnapping. If someone disappears, the family may not have answers as to how or why this happened. If someone dies, that closure generally exists. When it doesn’t, the brain is wired to seek out answers. There cannot be any closure when the mind is seeking answers.

Ambiguous loss and divorce 

In terms of divorce, there may never be a satisfying answer to why the marriage broke down. In most cases, the best answer is that the spouses had irreconcilable differences, different goals, or the energy that made the relationship work before is no longer present. It may not be anyone’s fault particularly as everyone deserves to be with someone who makes them happy. But the search for answers is usually a part of the bargaining phase. So, when someone is in the mode of looking for answers, it can trap them there in the third phase and prevent them from moving forward.

In point of fact, this is much more likely to happen during a divorce than at any other time. However, complex or ambiguous grief can also be related to watching a parent deteriorate due to Alzheimer’s disease or watching a child become an addict. There may not be any firm closure in these situations. This is called (among other things) grief limbo.

Ambiguous loss teaches us that there’s no one set way to deal with grief, but we can make mistakes along the way that prevent us from moving forward.

Talk to a Philadelphia Divorce Lawyer Today 

Lauren H. Kane represents the interests of Philadelphia couples who are seeking divorce. Call our Philadelphia divorce lawyers today to schedule an appointment and we can begin discussing your goals for the future and paving a path for the next chapter of your life.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn