4th October 2010
Separating out without Falling out
There is a very big part of me that wishes all relationships had the fairy tale ending. You know the one where they ride off into the sunset and live ‘Happily Ever After’.
Having been through a divorce myself, I am acutely aware that for many the fairy tale ending eludes us and we find ourselves heading down the slippery slope of separation and divorce.
I remember the day I asked my (then) husband for a divorce. I was awash with a murky mixture of relief and complete panic as I had absolutely no idea how to navigate this unknown, complex and painful process. Frustratingly, people around me seemed more interested in questioning my decision or making sure I was ‘getting a good deal’ rather than giving me what I really needed with was help to unravel the relationship (without the ‘compulsory’ fighting, blaming and shaming) and deal with the onslaught of emotions that came my way.
Staying sane on the emotional rollercoaster
Managing the practicalities of separation is difficult enough but what seems to catch most people off guard is the emotional rollercoaster ride that goes with it. Men and women alike are often taken aback by the emotional swings which range from sadness, disappointment, self pity, depression, loneliness, anger, resentment and fear through to relief, freedom, hope, excitement and even bliss. The experience can leave you wondering whether you are becoming the infamous Jekyll and Hyde.
So, having practical tools and tips to keep coming back to is a good way to maintain a level of sanity throughout the process.
Below is a list of seven things I wish someone had shared with me at the time and which I continue to share with clients who embark on the separation process.
Stay away from blaming and shamingWhen in pain it is so easy to lash out and blame or shame your partner as a way to make yourself feel better. While this may bring temporary relief it will create enormous amounts of tension between you as well as contribute to delays in the process and potentially leave you with a completely different set of emotions to deal with – such as guilt, embarrassment and shame in yourself. So before you say anything, think about your intention behind what you are saying and if it isn’t positive – don’t say it.
Use collaborative lawyersCollaborative law is a relatively new way of dealing with separation and divorce. In collaborative law your lawyer works face to face with you, your partner and your partner’s lawyer to help navigate the various processes as a way keep you out of court, reduce costs and find resolution. This works best when both you and your partner are actively seeking to find a positive and mutually beneficial solution.
Develop a support networkFind a relationship therapist to work with both of you throughout the separation process. Therapy has the potential to offers a safe, supportive and contained environment for you to work through the practical and emotional issues at hand. Ideally you would want to engage in therapy together but should your partner choose not to go then go on your own. If therapy is not for you find a support group that offers you the emotional and practical help you need. For those of you who prefer to do it alone, Amazon has a number of books which explore how to manage separation and divorce and there are a multitude of websites offering all sorts of advice which may be of value to you.
Re-vision the relationshipOne of the exercises I invite separating/divorcing couples to do together is ‘Re-Visioning the Relationship’. Take a sheet of paper and write down what the relationship will look like going forward, then spend a little time together talking about what you wrote. This allows both parties to, safely and opening, explore the shifts in the relationship and address how they need to adapt and change in order to appropriately navigate this next phase. This exercise is most effectively done together as it provides a shared framework for all future interactions between you.
Develop a co-parenting strategyChildren are often the innocent casualties of divorce and separation. To reduce the impact it will be important for you to come together to create a clear, shared co-parenting vision and strategy. Again, sit down and write up a list of how you would like to co-parent your children then discuss it, negotiate and draw up a shared list. Co-parenting is hard enough when you are together but being effective parents when you are apart requires a completely different level of communication, support and understanding between you.
Embrace the changeWhether you like it or not separation and divorce brings about enormous, and often unexpected, amounts of change. The more you fight the change the more likely you are to become trapped in self pity, depression, anger and resentment. A brilliant little book to help you embrace change is ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’ by Susan Jeffers
Establish new boundariesPart of re-visioning the relationship will involve establishing a new set of boundaries between the two of you. Take time to reflect on and discuss what feels appropriate for you both with regards to contact be it by email, phone or in person. You will be amazed at how many arguments occur as a result of parties making assumptions, and having expectations, about the others availability and accessibility.
If you were a robot this process would be easy but given your humanness I invite you to dig deep and find compassion for both yourself and your partner.
And, when you fall over or feel it is just too much, I invite you to lovingly pick yourself up, reach out for support and remember you are doing just fine!
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