How to cope with Separation and Divorce
Posted on Thursday, 3rd Aug 2023
If your marriage is on the rocks, there’s plenty of legal and financial advice out there. But the emotional impact of a split – the anger, sadness, grief, confusion, and loneliness – needs to be tackled, too
An estimated 42% of marriages in the UK now end in divorce, with about half of these expected to occur in the first 10 years of marriage. Alongside this, around 62% of women initiate divorce – it's said that they notice the problems sooner. Yet men remarry more quickly, as they are usually confronted with greater emotional adjustment issues. That said, 31% of all second marriages will also fail.
These are truly sobering statistics, yet divorce rates are slowing down, year on year. So why is this? Divorce is not only a financial stress but emotionally damaging, and not a decision taken lightly.
While the legal and financial processes associated with divorce are not necessarily easy to navigate, thankfully there are systems in place to help guide you through each stage.
In contrast, the emotional journey of separation and divorce is all too often neglected. The impact on your mental health and wellbeing can feel overwhelming, as you attempt to adjust and adapt to changes that you may feel you have little control over.
Once the decision to separate has been made, often the impact ripples out further throughout the lives of those involved. The stresses and strains can be felt by family and friends, which may in turn create additional pressure on your day-to-day relationships. It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that divorce is listed as the second most stressful life event, after the death of a loved one.
Much of my work as a psychotherapist and counsellor is spent helping clients work through emotional issues in their relationships. When a person finally makes the difficult decision to separate, or divorce a partner, I am often asked how long the actual process will take for them to recover. Statistics show that it can take up to two years to get over a divorce or separation. However, we are all different, so for some this can take considerably longer.
The significant changes that take place in your life during this period can often feel chaotic, traumatic, and filled with contradictory emotions. The process can at times feel much harder to adjust to than initially imagined.
Some days you may feel hopeful, and even relieved, to be out of it, especially if your marriage or relationship has been difficult for a long time. Other days you may feel angry, sad, lonely, confused or anxious. These are all normal emotions and it is especially important that you take extra care of yourself during this time.
Prioritising your own needs is vital, particularly if anyone is dependent on you. As difficult as this can be when you have so many overwhelming responsibilities, it is important to remind yourself that it will be harder to look after your children or pets, or other family members, if you don’t look after yourself to begin with.
An important step towards recovery, will also be in giving yourself time and space to understand what went wrong, as is focusing on what you need to do to help you let go of the past. Looking forward to the future will help stop you feeling stuck, and more in control.
That said, with the end of any relationship, it is natural that your self-esteem and self-confidence will feel at an all time low. When you experience hurt, it is normal to want to lash out and blame one another, which will cause more resentment and upset. It is all too easy to get trapped in a cycle of blame and fault-finding.
However once you’ve agreed to separate, it might be more helpful to focus on what the relationship was lacking for both of you. While the answers may be upsetting, a better understanding of what these are will allow you both to move on.
The following tips may help you to get through this difficult time, and face the future with more hope.
1. Keep the lines of communication open
Giving yourself time and space to understand what went wrong is an importat step towards recovery
Talking to your friends and family could help stop you from feeling isolated; it will also help to keep things in perspective. It is natural to feel that you are the only one with problems and that you are burdening others with yours. Learning to reach out and share your heartaches and worries will not only help you feel more supported, but will allow them to feel more connected and closer to you during this difficult time.
2. Let yourself grieve
It is normal to feel shock and disbelief when your relationship comes to an end. Endings can evoke a sense of loss in the life that we once knew, and the life we hoped for. The process of grief will play out differently for each of us and is said to have several stages. These include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. While you may enter each of these stages at any given time, it is important to remind yourself that these are neither neat nor linear. You may require some help to work through any one of these stages if you feel you are getting stuck.
3. Dealing with anger
Anger is often the stage that many people get stuck at. Holding on to your anger not only slows down your ability to move on, but retains an emotional connection with your ex. It may be useful to recognise that anger is an externalised version of sadness. Learning to let go and making time to de-stress will benefit not only you, but also those around you. Learning to relax is essential in helping you maintain your health and wellbeing.
4. Feeling more in control
You may feel demoralised and start to lack confidence. Setting yourself small, achievable goals will not only boost your self-esteem, but will help you feel more in charge and self-reliant. Completing even minor tasks can feel like huge wins, which will help you overcome self-doubt and give you a sense of moving forward.
5. Healthy body, healthy mind
While it is tempting to reach for high fat, high sugar, comfort foods, unfortunately they won’t provide you with the nourishment that you need to manage additional stress.
I bet you didn’t know that 50% of dopamine and 90% of serotonin – those neuro-transmitting feel good chemicals – are actually produced in your gut! Therefore eating foods that are high in omega 3, such as oily fish, nuts and seeds, adding a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables to your diet, alongside a probiotic drink or yogurt four to five times per week, will not only promote better gut health, but will make you feel better, too.
Exercise also produces endorphins that make you feel good about yourself and will improve your resilience levels, which in turn help you to manage stress.
6. Professional help
The process of divorce and separation can often make you feel trapped, as daily life may feel like it’s getting harder. Talking to a professional counsellor will help provide you with the necessary support to work through and understand your feelings, so that you will be able to manage situations with a better sense of self-awareness and control.
Whether you’ve chosen, or perhaps feel forced, to make this huge change in your life, the process is never easy. Looking after yourself and getting the right support will help you get your life back together again so that you can move forward with a clearer sense of direction and a chance to find happiness and a fresh start in the future.