Coping with a significant relationship separation or divorce can be extremely difficult. In fact, according to the Holmes-Rahe Stress Test, a divorce is the second most stressful event someone can go through in life, right after the death of a spouse. Even though it may seem as if nothing is stable, and that our homes, finances and routines have been turned upside down, there are ways to make this tough period a little easier.
Recovering after a relationship breakdown can take longer than expected. Often, the grief felt over the loss of the relationship is only one part of the equation. Severing ties with another person after many years together is a very stressful exercise – dividing up assets, navigating friends and family, finalising legal proceedings and making custody arrangements for children or pets. Unsurprisingly, it’s very difficult to move on when you are still finalising the practical parts of your separation.
Untangling your life from another person is a complicated and drawn-out process so be patient with yourself. There’s no clear path to follow and no set rules, this is your heartbreak and your process. While this is an incredibly challenging transition, with support, kindness and self-care, in time you’ll be able to move forward and make a new start.
Accept that difficult feelings will be part of the process
During a breakup, it’s normal to experience a range of emotions – some of which may take you completely by surprise.
Try to accept your feelings, even if you don’t like them. Sometimes just acknowledging your emotions can help take the sting out of them. For example, saying to yourself, “I notice I feel guilty” is far more helpful (and far kinder) than, “I am guilty”.
Talk things through
Talk to your friends and family and remember that there’s no need to go it alone. A number of professional organisations now run group courses that can help you build skills in everything from managing your emotions, to parenting after separation, and positive ways to move forward as a stronger, healthier person. It may also be useful to attend personal counselling sessions, and remember that most people can access a free mental health care plan through Medicare. There’s lots to be said for talking to others and sharing the emotional load.
Look after your health
Looking after your physical wellbeing is vital at a time like this: eat healthy food, drink plenty of water, get yourself into a routine and exercise every day (even if it’s just walking a few laps around the block). It’s amazing how much these things will help reset your body and mind.
On the flip side, avoid alcohol and drugs as coping mechanisms. Trying to dull the pain can lead to more problems down the road. If you feel like you’re slipping into destructive patterns, reach out to others – you don’t need to tackle this alone.
Seek further support
Family and friends can be wonderful social supports and great distractions, but if you have any legal, financial or medical questions, speak to appropriate professionals. Those separating with children in NSW will generally be required to attempt Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) before they can approach the Family Court.
If you’re worried your grief, sadness or anger is not easing over time, it’s helpful to discuss your emotional state with your doctor. Keeping your GP informed if you’re concerned about your mental health will help them to monitor any changes, and link you with mental health professionals if needed.
Separating with kids? Help them through the situation
Separation can be extremely tough on kids as well. Assure your children that both parents love them, no matter what. You may have fallen out of love with your partner, but your children likely still adore them and might not understand why you’re separating.
Let them know that they don’t have to take sides and they can still love you both equally. For more information on helping your kids get through a breakup, including tips for each age group, we have a free “What about the children” e-book available.