Betrayal Trauma Stages of Grief

One of the first women to be respected as a psychology theorist was Elizabeth Kubler- Ross. 

Circular grief cycle

She came up with something called the Grief Cycle.

It was designed to help people work through the death of loved ones.

It can also be used to help people work through the death of a dream. 

Even those of us who consider ourselves “realists” often hope that we can maintain the honeymoon phase or “summer” of our marriages.

But, nonetheless, that dream dies too.   If we add some spiritual insights, these principles can help individuals and couples transition through the “fall” of their relationship in a healthy preparation for a successful “winter”, followed by the re-birth of their marriage.

Kubler-Ross started with Denial, “This can’t be happening to me.” “Didn’t I do everything the way they said to keep this from happening?” “I don’t want to be a statistic.”  We all hate the idea of being one more couple that isn’t able to maintain the glorious harmony of a quality relationship.    

The next stage is what she calls Bargaining. I call this the Thinking Stage. “What if we had just known..?”, “What if we . . .? “, “Maybe if we had just done this differently or maybe if we had done that different”, “What if we could do this next?” “If I would have just..”  “If he/she would just…”

Grief cycle in circle with inner circle

There are a couple of different ways to bargain or to think. (This is where I start to add some enhancements.) 

There are 3 different ways of Thinking during this part of the Grief Cycle. 

Most of us will spend some time in each of the 3 ways.

The first of the 3, I am sad to say, is also the most common that I see in my office.  I call it, “Fretting.” 

Fretting occurs when one is so urgent to find answers that they engage in the thinking process without the help of the Holy Ghost.  One of the most common Satanic attacks on those who are experiencing marital strain is the sensation of panic. 

The Adversary will slide ideas, perspectives, interpretations, etc into our minds with the intent to scare us into a state of desperation.  The urgency to find answers here and now have us running around in circles in our minds. 

Each time we go around the circle, chemicals that give us more anxiety, depression, worry and frustration also accelerate the experience, which can, if it goes too far, turn into a panic attack.  

One image for me was to see the Holy Ghost sitting on a bench watching his loved one go around and around on the merry-go-round at the local amusement park.  Except this merry-go-round could become dangerously fast. 

It was as if I could hear him say, “If you would just get off the merry-go-round and come sit by me, I could help you find some answers.” 

And it was as if my response was, “No!  You take too long!  You always want to stay calm and clear headed when we need to be running faster and faster!”  After hearing me say that, it seems kind of silly.

Fretting is thinking without Inspiration (see diagram above).

It is very painful when you can’t find a working solution for your marriage. Smart people resist moving into the following 3 stages of the Grief Cycle because they believe they can find a solution if they just keep searching with urgency.

And why not!? They have been successful in finding solutions in most other areas of their lives. So, they go around and around and around, chewing on every aspect of their experience, hunting for a solution. 

Now I want to make sure the reader knows that I do not discuss this topic with any mockery. I have learned to have a great deal of respect for the process many people go through in these situations.

I have learned that the reason they do this is because many of you, at least most of the ones I have worked with, have a deep hope for miracles. You don’t want to give up, and slowing down the thinking feels like you are giving up on the miracle.  That is not true. 

The second type of thinking one can use at this stage of the cycle actually can lead to a miracle (see diagram to follow).  

It is challenging, though, to maintain this different kind of thinking. Keeping your mind, and body, in the condition necessary to have access to Inspiration is a challenge. This is what I call Pondering.

Pondering is thinking while remaining calm and confident. Pondering is thinking without fear. Pondering increases the likelihood of inspiration. Fretting decreases the likelihood of inspiration.  

I hope you have all experienced at least once in you life when pondering has provided you with amazing solutions never before thought of.  I am confident that when Moses had the idea to part the Red Sea, he was in a state of Pondering, not in a state of Fretting.

In future Lectures, we will talk more about experiencing miraculous revelations as an individual or  as a couple.  But there is a third thought path that will need to be used. 

It is glorious when a miracle can be found. But we all know that more often than not, we must learn and experience life “line upon line, grace for grace.” 

Even if you experience some insight or some miracle, there will still be a portion, possibly a major portion of the problem in your marriage that is not yet resolved and still makes your marriage feel much more dead than it felt during the honeymoon phase.

With the remainder, unresolved pain and disappointment, our thoughts must take us on to the next stage of the Grief Cycle.  Anger

The next stage Kubler-Ross discusses is Anger.

This is what you feel when none of your ideas are working. You may want to kick things, and use strong language in your head, even if you don’t out loud. You get mad. Some of your anger can be attached to your frustrations about things not being the way they were supposed to be.

This is the stage when we are most likely to misbehave…and feel justified about doing so. I have seen everything from significant eating changes, to throwing things, to serious sexual indiscretions.

Not a fun stage to be in.

My hope is that each of you will find activities in which you can channel this energy so you will not do things that would make you feel embarrassed if caught on video.

After, or mixed with Anger, there is the Sadness stage.

The Spiritual Journey through Betrayal Trauma

Some call this depression but there is a difference between being sad and being depressed. Sadness is a normal, healthy feeling to have when your life isn’t going as planned.

I define depression as when there doesn’t seem to be a legitimate reason to feel sad. Depression can be genetic. Sometimes it is due to thinking errors.

A person can be both Sad and Depressed at the same time.

You can guess that this would be uncomfortable. We can talk about Depression more at another time, but let’s return to Sadness.

While grieving, some people spend more time being angry and some people more time being sad. Most bounce back and forth between both of these stages. 

The Fifth Stage is Resignation. Resignation means to come to the awareness that, “This is just the way things are (for now).”

The question is asked, “Does that mean I should surrender?” There are two versions of surrender. There is the powerless weak version of surrender.

This is often described as Victim mode, “My life is ruined now and there is nothing I can do about it.”

Or, there is the Pioneer Woman mode. “You just kicked me out of my house in Nauvoo. Fine, I’ll go to Utah and build a whole nation.”

It is a form of surrender, but more of a form of acknowledgement of reality as it stands now. “Things are not the way I hoped they would be, but I’ll make the best of it.” 

For men, we call this Man in the Mountain mode.  When you reach the stage of Resignation you have entered Season 4: The Winter

Personal Note:

My own experience with the Grief Cycle revolves around infertility issues. When it finally became apparent that we would not be having any more kids, I went into my own resignation mode asking, “What does that mean? That means that my son, adopted from my wife’s first marriage, will be 20-years-old when I’m 40.

That gives me a ton of time to do some really cool stuff with an empty house. I could work on a lot of projects designed to serve the world if I don’t have more kids to have stewardship over.” And so, it took some time, but I was ready to not have any more kids.

Now, here is where I need to emphasize the main difference between typical men and typical women when it comes to the Grief Cycle. Masculine psychology encourages people to get off the merry-go-round at this point.

Become resigned, stay resigned. There are some healthy reasons for this at times, but I will not address those here.

The problem is, if people stop believing in miracles or unlikely outcomes, the whole world would stagnate.  

Let’s add a little more to what Kubler-Ross taught. I have observed that this is where, after a brief Resignation, women experience something powerful.

Unfortunately, we can’t really clarify whether or not this powerful thing is a blessing or a curse. As you will see, it depends on how things turn out.

At this point in the cycle, after trying to stay Resigned, the woman often re-begins the Grief cycle by going into what I call a Denial of Reality, otherwise known as HOPE.

I consider this “hope-out-of-nowhere” a gift from God.

Quite often, the hope that comes into the heart of a woman, and yes, some men also, is against the odds; against logic; against reality. If the idea comes to fruition, it will be a miracle.

Continuing with my personal story. . . I came home one day, after I was well prepared for a life with no more children and my wife said, “I’ve been thinking.” One of the worst phrases for a man to hear a woman say.

But she had been planted with hope. She was denying reality. “What if we…, we could still…, maybe if….” For a while, to avoid going through the Grief Cycle again, I had been inclined to throw water on every hope she had. “Stop hoping for things.”  I just wanted to stay Resigned.

My wife said, “What if we try adoption?”

I thought, “Have you seen the statistics on that?”

I went into a logical, mathematical mode.

She says, “Yeah, but there’s a chance.” I now call my wife Babe Ruth. She seems to have a record for the most strikeouts and the most home runs. She gets up to the plate and swings her heart out.

So what happened in our case, after dozens of times of going through this cycle, there was a miracle. The beautiful daughter we have now came into our lives due to my wife’s denial of reality, or in other words, HOPE.


What I have learned is that if you stay Resigned there are no miracles.

There are no miracles if you stay logical.

There are no miracles if you don’t hope.

Unfortunately, this is where tension and/or contention surfaces in many relationships. One spouse wants to stay Resigned… the other experiences Hope.

man consoling wife

If you stay Resigned you don’t have to visit Anger and Sadness anymore. “Honey, if you just stay Resigned you don’t have to be Angry or Sad. That is the solution to your emotional problem.

If you hope, statistically speaking, we are probably going to have to go through all this pain again.”

Spouses or other loved ones often try, with good intent in most cases, to prevent Anger and Sadness by killing Hope.  

I have realized that Hope is very deeply ingrained in women.

When I look at the big picture, especially the divine picture, what if all women stopped hoping? What would happen to our culture?

At best it would stagnate, more than likely it would deteriorate. This means women are blessed with a curse. Women get up to the plate and Hope and will probably strikeout at least two out of three times like a baseball player does.

This means women are going to be Angry and Sad. Men validate it all the time in sporting situations.  

I have learned that if I want to be on a team with my wife, if I am going to be one with her, I need to join her in both Denial of Reality and Pondering, not to just sit on the sidelines, stubbornly resigned, and wait for her to “get over it.”

Miracles are by definition something based on a low percentage.

So if I can join her in experiencing a miracle, it will be glorious. But if I am going to be a connected spouse, I need to join her in the Anger and Sadness, as well.

There is an energy inside of all women. They go to bed crying under their wagon and before the men wake up the next morning, she has the fire built and says, “Let’s do this!”, because she has been filled with a new Hope.

Knowing where you are in the Grief Cycle, helps facilitate moving between the stages. Unfortunately, if you have been brainwashed a little bit by American psychology, you may have been told that the Denial of Reality and reigniting the Thinking stage again, are mentally unhealthy.

I propose that it is important and healthy, although uncomfortable most of the time, for people to revisit the Grief Cycle. If people don’t Hope beyond logic, opportunities for miracles cease.

By the time I meet a couple in my office for marriage therapy, there is a lot of damage to the marriage. It is this Hope, this Denial of Reality, which gives the relationship a chance for a miracle.

In almost every case, if both can tap in to Hope, a miracle can be found. Statistically speaking, this Hope usually comes from the woman.  

When you break out of the Grief Cycle Prematurely:

What is unhealthy is when a person skips or avoids any one of the stages. Imagine having Hope and your Hope doesn’t come to fruition and you don’t get Angry. That means that you have no fire in you. You’re bland. You go straight from Failure to Sadness. You don’t have any energy at all to be upset about it?  

The Spiritual Journey through Betrayal Trauma

Now imagine not being Sad at all. That would be weird. That’s a little unhealthy to not be Sad at all.  

Skip Resignation and you have problems. Straight from Sad to Happy and Hopeful? That’s like being bi-polar. You ought to plod along like a Pioneer Woman for at least 24 hours before you get Enthusiastic or Hopeful again. 

And if you take all Hope out of your life…then what do you have?

Yes, there is a time to stay Resigned and not regain Hope again, but you are the only one who will know when it is that time. Only personal Inspiration can tell you when it is time to let something die.  

In my experience with quality women, they need to feel like they have done all they can do. So they are going to have to go through the Grief Cycle many times. It is usually painful and difficult, but if a miracle can be found…it makes it all worth it!

If you are experiencing any of these stages of betrayal trauma, WORTH can help. We offer free therapeutic training and support for women struggling from betrayal trauma. Please reach out if you are experiencing any of these betrayal trauma stages of grief.

If your husband struggles from a pornography addiction or any other sexual misbehaviors, visit our Men of Moroni program so he can get the help he needs and you can both begin your healing process.

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Article written by Maurice W. Harker, M.Ed, owner of Life Changing Services.