For many, separation can be a devastating experience. Here are seven ways to move on
Separating couples are rightly told to put their children first and to do all they can to minimise the negative impact the relationship breakdown will have on them.
But self-care is vital too. Parents owe it to both their children and themselves to avoid becoming psychological and physical wrecks at a time when everybody has to adjust to the new family circumstances.
“The kids don’t want to see you down,” says one father who has been through it. He believes separation is a “devastating emotional experience” for both sides. “It’s one of loneliness, frustration, desperation and you are trying to deal with the situation itself while making sure you are okay and your kids are okay”.
It’s a mistake to think it’s necessarily easier for the one who initiates the separation, says psychotherapist and couple counsellor Lisa O’Hara. The only difference is that he or she may have been contemplating it for a while, so is likely to be a bit further along the coping path than the partner for whom it may have come as a complete surprise.
“Often, the person who has wanted a separation and initiated the end of it is left with huge grief as well. They often feel like there is something wrong with them, or that they don’t have a licence to grieve. They will say things like ‘I shouldn’t be feeling like this’. It is important they acknowledge this is a loss for them, even if they wanted it.”
No matter how it happened, the end of a marriage or long-term relationship is one of life’s biggest losses. Even if it has been a relatively short relationship, it can mean the wiping out of a future you thought you had together.
Separation is akin to death in terms of the feeling of bereavement but has the added complication of wondering about what the other person is up to, says O’Hara, author of, When a Relationship Ends, and who will be speaking about the experience of separation at the monthly series Shrinks in the City on November 14th in the Central Hotel, Dublin. (Details at facebook.com/seminarsdublin).
The more the couple can separate out from each other the better, but if they have children, they will be tied together as parents for the rest of their lives. “Sometimes, people get very lost in separation,” says Geraldine Kelly, director of children and parenting services at One Family, which runs two courses for separated parents that focus on self-care and personal growth. “We try to get people to focus on the positives rather than dwell on the negatives.”
If they have been caught up in a long battle over access to children and splitting the finances, they may have not really been looking at what’s going in their life, she says. When all that’s finished, they are left wondering, “what do I do now?”.
So, what are the stepping stones to moving on after separation? Here are seven:
Some people are intuitive copers – they like to talk about it and might cry a lot, says O’Hara. “They feel their feelings in glorious technicolour. Other people’s emotions are more in pastels” – they may not want to talk but will think about it a lot or make themselves busy by throwing themselves into work or, perhaps, playing more golf.
There isn’t a right or wrong way to cope but it helps to recognise what works best for you.
See what triggers your stress, then catch it early and manage it, says Kelly. People use different tactics to do that, from…
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