Coping with Divorce and Separation

Some practical advice to help those coping with the heartbreak and upheaval of divorce and separation …

Family Dispute

Get Support

It’s really important that you don’t try to cope with this period all alone; because this is a time whey you need all the support you can get.

Here are some ways you can seek support:

  • Tell friends (whom you know who are sympathetic) and ask them to stay in touch or see you more often;

  • Speak to someone in your family of origin who is supportive;

  • Talk to a counsellor or psychologist;

  • Seek support from organisations you have been involved with (eg a minister or priest from your church, someone from your sporting club, someone from your book club);

  • If you have a history of mental health problems or difficulty with adjusting to change, it may be especially useful to get professional help at this time. Seeing a mental health professional for a period of time during the hardest part of this transition can make the difference between feeling you can cope and not coping;

  • Accessing telephone crisis counselling is another means of getting help.

Reduce the Load

There can be many practical challenges thrown up when you separate from your partner: organising children, sorting out financial matters, arranging contact between your children and your ex-partner, changing names on accounts, and learning to do tasks your partner did when you were together, are just a few of these new/extra challenges.

There can be so many changes to deal with that you may feel overwhelmed, so it is important to admit that you can’t do everything at once.

It can help to make a list of things which need doing and then select which of these you need to do first. Even if the list is very long, it can help you to get some of the things you’re concerned about out of your head. Then you can work your way through the list.

If you think of the problems you have listed as challenges rather than overwhelming tasks, this can help to keep you motivated to try things and to take action. Ticking off the items as you complete them can give you a great satisfaction. Make sure you balance this work on “challenges” with some sort of reward though, something small that gives you a chance to refocus on yourself and what is important to you.

Mediation / Conflict Resolution / Legal Advice

Where there is a lot of ongoing conflict with your ex-partner, it might be a good idea to obtain help in the form of mediation or conflict-resolution from a professional in this area.

This is often particularly important where there are conflicts over children (such as where the children will live and how much contact they will have with the non-resident parent) and financial issues. If mediation and/or conflict resolution have not been successful in organising these issues, you may need to seek legal advice or even take legal action.

It is important to find out your legal position with respect to parenting responsibilities, financial matters, your accommodation and any other property matters. It may be helpful to speak with a lawyer experienced in family law matters.

Look after your Health

Exercise, eating properly and getting sleep are all important in maintaining your stamina and morale through the enormous stresses of separation:

  • Exercise – You may not have much time, but try to do at least 30 minutes’ exercise three times a week.

  • Eating Properly – When you’re very stressed and overwhelmed, it can be difficult to think about food in a balanced way – either you lose your appetite and don’t eat enough, or you overeat without considering what nutrition your body actually needs. Try to give some priority to self-care by regularly eating healthy, nourishing foods.

  • Sleep Problems - Commonly, sleep problems become an issue after a separation. These are caused by changes in your routine, worry (including over-thinking/over-analysing) and depressed mood. If your sleep is seriously disrupted, it is worthwhile speaking with your GP about this. He or she may prescribe some medication for temporary use while you are in your most unsettled phase, to ensure you have adequate rest/sleep in order to manage the challenges facing you during this time. There are also some helpful techniques you can use to manage sleep problems.

Allow yourself to Grieve

Allow yourself to grieve and mourn the loss of your relationship; it can help you cope with your separation. In some people this process occurs naturally; however others resist, or actively try to avoid feeling sad about major losses. They may identify more strongly with anger than grief and continue to focus their emotional energy on anger and blame. While it is reasonable to feel this way, if your entire emotional energy is being spent on these feelings, it may prevent you from recovering and moving on from the loss.

Where the shock of separation is severe and there is significant grief, it may be helpful to see a psychologist or grief counsellor to obtain assistance and support.

When you’re grieving it can be hard to get things done, you may need to take time out to cry and feel sad, and you may also need some time off work. This is okay – it is more important to have some space/time to grieve now, than suffer down the track if you haven’t given your grief the time and space it needs to resolve.

And one last piece of advice that might help you in this incredibly difficult period: be kind and gentle to yourself; you may not have wanted this to happen but you DO have the strength to get through it.

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