Relief, guilt, failure, freedom. These are just some of the many feelings you may experience when your relationship ends and you face the prospect of parenting separately. It can feel a little like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster, especially when you go through very different feelings very quickly indeed. Learning ways to handle disagreements constructively is crucial in any relationship. We always say: conflict is inevitable. It’s how you deal with it that counts.
Surviving the emotional roller-coaster
Making decisions and supporting your children while you’re on such a rollercoaster of emotions can be challenging. Sometimes, the simplest way of doing it is to make sure that you’re taking good care of yourself.
Only when you feel good will it be easier to make decisions and support your children.
I went out and bought myself a new yellow T-shirt. I never wear yellow, but when I put it on at home, my 10 year old said, ‘Wow Mum, you look cool.’ When she smiled, I smiled too. (Mum of Lily).
What’s worked in the past?
Think about what’s made you feel better in the past during difficult times. It could be sleeping more, or sharing your tough times with a good friend or family member.
Try your tactic again.
It can help to allow yourself some time to do something that’s purely for you. Think about what you enjoy.
You could try:
- A long walk
- A soak in the bath
- Spending time on a hobby, interest or sport
- Reading a good book
- Immersing yourself in music, poetry or a film
- Seeing friends
For the next week spend a moment before you go to bed at night to write down something nice about yourself; for example, “I have a great sense of humour” or “I am a very kind person”. Find something different every night.
Then, for the following week write down one thing you did well that day.
Do this for a month and reflect on all the positive qualities and actions you’ve done.
Separation as a loss
When you make the decision to separate, the future can seem scary. The checklist of practical tasks to get through can seem overwhelming and the many feelings you’re experiencing like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster. Things can seem chaotic and confusing.
An understanding of your separation as a loss can help you in many ways.
Separating can be like bereavement or any other loss. After the initial shock, you start on a journey which takes you through a cycle of emotions.
The stages of this journey typically go from denial through to anger, emptiness, depression and acceptance, until you can start to move on. It’s very common to revisit the same stages or emotions more than once. This is often how your mind comes to terms with what’s happened.
It can really help to acknowledge your separation as a loss – for you, the partner you’re separating from and your family. It can also help if you understand what stage in the loss journey you’re at.
Make talking easier
You and the partner you’re separating from may not be at the same stage in your emotional journeys.
For example, if you’ve been thinking about separating for a while and have ideas of how things will work out, then you’re probably on the upward part of your loss journey, as shown in the diagram above. The partner you’re separating from may still be angry, and on the down slope.
It helps you both to work together better if you can recognise this difference.
Talk to someone
Find the gains
Wherever there are losses, there are usually gains. The gains in your separation may not be obvious to you, or maybe they seem slanted in one direction.
Discussing this with your ex can help you both to understand why some things are more difficult to manage than others.
Go easy on yourself
It’s useful to remember that if you were able to talk calmly and negotiate with each other well at this stage you probably wouldn’t be separating!
Where are you emotionally
Look at or print out the loss cycle diagram.
- Where do you think you are on this cycle right now?
- Where do you think your partner might be?
- How far apart are you? Usually, though not always, the person who has initiated the separation will be further ahead in the process.
- Think about how your and your partner’s behaviour reflects where you are on the loss cycle.
- Accept that your partner is at a different place and will go through the cycle at a different pace
- How does this affect how your separation is going?
- Remember that it’s not a straightforward process – in practise both of you may go backwards and forwards re-experiencing a range of emotions over time