Ending a relationship is a very stressful event in anyone’s life. You may be feeling a confusing range of painful emotions or you might be overwhelmed by the practical elements of your breakup. Whether you’re separating from your partner or negotiating a divorce, rest assured, there’s widespread support available to help you move past this difficult period of your life.
When it comes to separating from a long-term partner, it’s normal to wonder how on earth you’ll manage the practical implications of your break-up, let alone come to terms with the barrage of emotions that seem to assail you at every turn.
Here are some reassuring ideas and resources from counsellors who work in this space, and who have helped lots of other people navigate the intense challenges brought about by separation and divorce.
Preparing for the end of a relationship
It’s often difficult to accept that a long-term relationship is coming to an end. Partnerships and families are complex, and support is often needed whether those families are together or separated.
There are a range of reasons for ending relationships including financial burdens, clashes of opinion or the stresses of raising a family. Although variations in the way partners approach their lives can enrich a relationship, there are a number of signs you should look out for when these differences can’t be resolved.
When conflict is recurring and it leads to less time together, a lack of intimacy, or dissatisfaction and unhappiness, it may be time to think carefully about the future of your relationship. There are a number of counselling services to help couples build stronger relationships, but when rebuilding or strengthening relationships seems unlikely, the first step to moving on with your life may be accepting the idea that a relationship needs to end.
Having strong, painful feelings is a normal reaction to separation
People experiencing separation or divorce can feel enraged, fearful, insecure or rejected when their relationship is ending. On the flip side, others might feel remorseful, guilty, relieved or ambivalent. Many people experience intense feelings of confusion.
These emotions can lead to:
- High and low mood swings
- Eating too much, not eating enough, or drinking more alcohol
- Nightmares, sleeplessness or extreme fatigue
- An inability to function normally
- A sense that this can’t be happening.
All of these feelings and reactions to ending a relationship are normal, and for most, people they settle down in time.
If you feel unsafe or feel things are getting out of control, it’s time to get help. This is especially important if you feel you’re not looking after your children. Talking to someone about how you are feeling may be the first step in finding a way through this difficult time.
Change and loss
One of the reasons separation or divorce evokes such strong feelings is because it brings about a huge range of changes and feelings of loss. Every separation involves making changes to many aspects of your life, so most people find this journey difficult even if both parties have agreed on the need to separate and are being cooperative.
Dreams and plans for the future can be interrupted by break ups. In turn, this can affect your sense of self, emotional and financial security, and your lifestyle. In addition, there are changes to familiar roles, routines and living arrangements. This impacts relationships with friends, relatives and children. Of course, those with children may also have to re-think their routines and the time they spend with them, and this can be very painful.
Compounding this, couples may also need to navigate the responses that their children, parents, extended family and friends have to their separation. As a result, it’s important to recognise these difficulties and to find ways of looking after yourself. Ensuring you have a support system to help you manage the changes that will come about after a break-up is paramount.
The good news is, given time, most people develop ways to adapt to their “new normal” and find fulfilment and happiness. In the meantime, The Family Relationships Advice Line is an excellent service that can help you decide which services you require when you are going through these sorts of changes.
Conflict around changes
The most common areas of difference and conflict following separation are disagreements about the care of children and sharing of property.
Finding somewhere to live (often in a hurry), and setting up different residences is always going to be challenging. Of course, sorting out money and property issues can be complicated when bank accounts and mortgages have been shared.
In terms of looking after children, under current family law, there is a presumption of equal shared parental responsibility, except in cases involving violence or child abuse. This does not necessarily mean a 50/50 time split – arrangements will depend on what is practicable and in the best interests of the child. There are a range of planning and support services offered by the government to help couples manage parenting children beyond separation as well as information about child support and your financial entitlements, and Relationships Australia offers a range of services that can help.
Family Dispute Resolution
Couples can find more information about the legal implications of ending their relationships using the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia’s website. However, as an alternative to resolving disputes via legal means, Family Dispute Resolution services are now compulsory in cases not involving violence or child abuse.
These services are for couples in conflict over issues such as child contact and sharing property. The more amicably and calmly these problems can be resolved, the less is spent on expensive legal fees and time in court can be avoided. Relationship Australia NSWs Family Relationship Centres provide clients with a safe, supportive atmosphere and a method of talking to one another, to assist them to sort out issues causing conflict and come up with acceptable solutions.
Relationships Australia NSW also has staff who have been trained to involve children in this process. Understanding how children feel and have been affected by separation often helps parents think and arrive at solutions that are in the best interests of the children.
Group workshops such as Parenting After Separation can also help families find strategies to support their children through changes and difficulties when parents are no longer together.
Violence and abuse
Ending a relationship can be a traumatic experience for all involved. It can also be a dangerous time when conflict may escalate.
The use of violence or abuse can increase at the time of separation, as one partner takes out their anger and frustration on the other. Violence, threats or coercion are sometimes used to persuade a partner not to end a relationship. If you plan to separate from your partner and believe this may put you in danger, it is important to get help. Always call the police on 000 in an emergency.
Finally, if you or your former partner need help acknowledging and managing anger after a relationship ends, our course, Managing Anger, can really help.