Disenfranchised Grief: Does It Happen in Divorce?

The term “disenfranchised grief” refers to the experience of grief that isn’t typically recognized or validated by our society. Examples may include family estrangement, the break up of a long-term relationship or friendship, and yes, divorce.

As a society, we like simplified responses to discomfort. While we agree that some things are significant losses, like the death of a family member or loved one, we tend to minimize losses beyond those obvious ones.

These losses, especially if unrecognized by society, can evoke complex emotions, loss, and feelings of isolation. 

Read: How Do I Find a Therapist to Help Me after Divorce?

Is it possible to suffer disenfranchised grief in divorce?

Disenfranchised grief can happen when a loss isn’t recognized as worthy of grief, when the relationship between the two people isn’t considered “grief-worthy,” or when the person grieving isn’t allowed the right or given the time to process their grief.

Is divorce grief-worthy? Yes. Divorce grief is very real and can follow the same trajectory as grief over the death of a loved one. But perhaps because breakups and divorces happen every day, we tend to diminish the genuine, heartbreaking emotional responses that most people suffer at the end of a long-term relationship.

Society at large tends to be patient and understanding with people who have lost loved ones, colleagues, or fellow students to death or tragedy. However, it doesn’t give the same level of patience, empathy, or emotional validation to people suffering other types of losses.

Examples of disenfranchised grief in divorce

Let’s say you’ve suffered for years with an overbearing and controlling spouse. But after your divorce, you feel a profound loss. After all, your divorce wasn’t just an end to an unhappy marriage. It was the end of hopes and dreams you held onto for years despite the dysfunction in your relationship. Your friends and family don’t understand why you just don’t move on. “You’re better off without them,” they say. 

Another example: Let’s say you initiated a divorce because you recognized your relationship wasn’t headed in the right direction. You knew it was best for both of you, yet you still have mixed feelings and find yourself mourning the loss. Your friends are confused. They remind you, almost impatiently, “Aren’t you the one who wanted this?”

One more example, because there are so many possibilities for disenfranchised grief in divorce: Let’s say your friends and family have never liked your former spouse. When you finally decided to divorce, their response was, “Good riddance.” But you have lost your companion and years of shared history. You feel lost and alone. They don’t get it. 

Suggested: Complicated Grief: When the Hurt Won’t Go Away

How can I deal with my disenfranchised grief?

Your grief reactions are real and deserve validation and understanding. But people are people, and you may not get the support you crave from friends and family. 

They want what’s best for you, but they just don’t understand that “what’s best” requires you to have a validated grief process and move on in your own time.

If you aren’t getting validation or grief support from the people in your life, you have other options. 

  • Acknowledge you have the right to your feelings. Even if others don’t understand them, your feelings are real. Allow yourself to grieve in whatever way you need on your own timeline. 
  • Be honest with the people around you. They may not understand your feelings because you haven’t talked about them. You might school them on the concept of disenfranchised grief. 
  • Take care of yourself. Write in a journal. Take walks. Get away from people who make you feel diminished. You won’t get validation from them right now, so why put yourself through the additional anguish?
  • Find a support group that can help you deal with your divorce grief. Sharing with others who are going through similar things can offer you the sense of comfort and community you lack right now. 
  • Find a compassionate therapist. One who understands divorce grief and can offer you guidance and strategies to move past your current feelings of loss and isolation. Finding the right therapist can take time, but when you click with the right one, you’ll see it was worth the wait and the research.

Learn about the stages of divorce grief in our article, Recovering and Healing from Divorce Grief.

Disenfranchised grief after divorce is a social issue that requires more awareness, understanding, and empathy for society at large. Until that is achieved, you may find yourself battling it alone. But you’re not alone, as there are definitely others in your same situation … and professionals who understand that fact.

Ending a marriage is complicated, and not everyone will understand or agree with your feelings about it. At Hello Divorce, we offer professional services, support groups and other important resources to support you during this challenging time. Want more information? Schedule a free call with us. 

Read: How Do I Find a Therapist to Help Me after Divorce?


Disenfranchised grief in historical and cultural perspective. American Psychological Association (APA) PsycBooks Chapter.

Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.