Divorce or separation is personal and everyone will experience it differently. You might feel a sense of relief that your relationship has come to an end, or a failure because you were powerless to prevent it.
You might have both decided that a separation is for the best, or one of you might feel more certain than the other. If you’ve decided to leave the relationship, you might have been thinking about it for a long time, building up the courage to leave and feeling guilty.
If you’re the one who has been left, it might have come as a shock and you may feel a sense of rejection or abandonment.
If the break-up is sudden and without warning, feelings could be more intense than if the relationship has broken down over a long period. Feelings are also likely to be more intense if you’ve been left, than if you’re the one who decided to leave. The pain of a break-up can be deep and experienced physically as ‘heartbreak’. Your emotions might mean it’s harder to make decisions for a while; you might feel tired and lacking in energy.
Grief is an important part of the divorce process. Knowing about the stages of grief can help you cope. When a partner dies, there’s a set ritual – a funeral and an acceptance that grieving is natural. When it comes to divorce, grief might not be acknowledged and there is no set ritual, although some people may latch on to the court process in place of this.
Maybe you’re both at very different stages of the grieving process; often the one who decides to leave has already experienced many of these feelings before leaving the relationship, whereas the other person has still to experience them. Many losses occur when a relationship ends – the loss of being part of a family, the loss of a partner, the loss of future plans as a couple, the role as a husband, wife or lover, and the status of being part of a couple.
Many people have to move from the house they lived in during the relationship and may mourn the loss of that home. The parent living away from the family home might feel the loss of the relationship with their children. Children can feel this loss, too.
While taking care of your children, take care of yourself, too. Do things that are just for you – nurture yourself, visit friends, read, eat properly and get enough sleep and exercise.
Limit the emotional energy you give to the conflict. If you’ve been battling with your ex-partner for a long time, this will have a negative effect on both you and the children. Ask yourself, “If I’m physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted, how can I be available to care for my children?”
Express your feelings by talking to a friend or a counsellor. Release the tension by taking exercise. Remember that although divorce is a painful process, things tend to feel better over time.
You have a right to your feelings; however, what you do with them can make a big difference in your child’s life. It’s not healthy to keep your anger inside, express it aggressively or use the children to get back at your ex-partner. Tell yourself that it’s fine to feel angry or sad. Express your feelings by talking to a friend or counsellor, or by joining a support group.
If you’re the leaver, you’re likely to feel guilty about the separation and to be more ahead in the separation process because you’ve had more time to come to terms with things. If you‘ve been left, you could feel betrayed and rejected, leaving you insecure about any new relationship your ex-partner has started. You might not want to accept the end of the relationship and try to hold on to it – sometimes conflict can be the only way that you continue to stay connected.
Sometimes it might feel like you have a mountain to climb, but with time the mountain can turn into a small hill. Time heals. However you and your children feel now, you won’t feel the same way in six months, a year or five years’ time.
Developing a support network can help you through any difficult patches. If you feel “stuck”, you might also consider seeing a counsellor or using mediation.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE or ABUSE
If you are suffering, or have suffered, from domestic violence or abuse (including bullying, manipulation or exploitation), Pro-Contact has information about services that may help you. Pick up a leaflet from the waiting room or ask a member of staff. You will not be expected to talk to staff if you don’t want to.