Separating from your life partner can be a devastating crisis in a person’s life. In fact, psychologists recognise it as the second-biggest stressor in a person’s life-time. That’s because usually, so much is lost, and so much is happening, all at once. People make it through, and you will too, especially with support. It’s important to remember that it is absolutely normal to feel overwhelmed and struggle to cope initially.
The emotional loss..
Most people build their lives around forming a bond with a person they love, who loves them, and bring up a family with. That bond is a human need, like food and shelter. It makes us feel safe and anchored in the world. Losing that bond can be like having the rug pulled out from under our entire lives. It can be agonising, making us doubt our worth, our place in the world, and the way we lived our lives in the past and will live in the future. On the other hand, realising the relationship hasn’t met your needs, or is causing you pain, is also devastating, especially when you have children to take care of. Whatever the circumstances, coming to terms with the ending of a long-term relationship is a process, and a painful one.
If you’ve just heard the news, it’s normal to feel…
- Alone, abandoned & heart-broken
- Betrayed and confused, wondering when and how it all went wrong
- Like you may have failed
- Afraid, anxious, and lonely
- Embarrassed and humiliated
- Exhausted and over-loaded with stress
But please don’t make a bad situation worse, by harassing the other parent with text messages or phone calls, venting on Facebook, stalking them or calling their family or friends for understanding and support. The courts are full of Domestic Violence Order applications for issues just like that.
Get some support:
- Let yourself cry
- Write it all down – people’s minds often work overtime to work it all out, and that can make you feel like you’re going crazy
- Talk to a counsellor or psychologist
- Go for a walk, run, or to the gym
- Do something, go somewhere, or talk to someone, you know relaxes you
- Call a helpline – Lifeline, DV Connect, Mensline, Dads in Distress,
- Call a friend or family member
- Keep telling yourself that you will be okay
- Think about your children, and the need to hold it together for them
- Follow a daily routine which includes exercise, enough sleep, and healthy food
- Put the pieces of yourself back together, piece by piece, by seeing friends you haven’t been in touch with for a while and getting involved in activities you might have stopped doing.
- Think about telling your boss about this. You may need to take time off, or extra support.
Though you may not want to talk to your ex-partner, you will have to get your head around that because you have children together. It’s important to remember that everything else is “stuff”, but your children are fragile, and their needs must be at the centre of your discussions and arrangements.
Some tips for telling the children…
- Talk to each-other, parent to parent, about how you will tell the children before one of you blurts it out, or the kids work it out, or accidentally hear it from someone else
- Tell the children together, if that’s possible
- Be calm and united, regardless of how you feel – remember that this is for your children
- Both parents, and other family members, need to have the same explanation
- Do it during the week-end, when the family is calm can be a good time.
- Explain that you haven’t been getting along and need to live in different places, but will make sure the children still spend time with both of you
- If the children haven’t seen you arguing, you might explain that you need to do different things in life
- Keep your explanation short and calm
What not to do:
- Don’t blame each-other
- Don’t talk about not loving each-other anymore
- Don’t tell them one person has found another person, or any other details they don’t need to know at this point – think of how they would feel
- Don’t tell the children it’s to make them happy – they could blame themselves
- If you can help it, don’t do it after an argument or other stressful event, and definitely don’t do it during a special event or date, like a birthday (it has been done).
After you have told them:
- Let the children know it’s okay to feel sad or angry
- Reassure the children that you will both always love and be there for them, and everything will be okay,
- Talk about the practical parts of their lives that will stay the same
- Children sometimes react with shock and it’s normal for young children to take time to absorb and understand the information. Tell them it’s okay to ask questions and be ready to answer them.
- Tell the children it’s ok to talk to other people, like grandparents, uncles or aunts, cousins, friends at school, or their Chaplain or guidance counsellor, or to call Kids Helpline, if they need to, and you will give them privacy to do this.
Questions you might be asked:
- Young children might ask if you’re separating because they did something wrong, like telling one parent they hated them, or not doing what they were told
- Children might ask if their parents stopped loving each-other, and if that happened, could they stop loving them.
- Children might ask if one parent has a new boy or girl-friend
- Children also ask about their house, school, friends, and the time they will spend with both of their parents.
Talk about what your children might ask, and how you will each answer their questions.
- Remember, you don’t have to provide an answer straight away. It’s okay to acknowledge the question your child asked, why they might ask it, and let them know you need to really think about that and answer them properly.
- You might say something like, “That’s a really good question, I understand why you want to know that. I need to think about it so I can give you a good answer.”
- In the meantime, consult a service, like Parentline, a counsellor, or an online parenting or separation service, and seek advice.
- Talk to each-other about what the children are saying, sometimes not doing this can make situations a lot worse
Author: Susan Tambling GradDipPsych, BA(Double Major Psychology)
Susan has been a Registered Psychologist since 2006 and a Family Report Writer since 2018. For almost 15 years, Susan has worked with families struggling with post-separation conflict.
To make an appointment with Susan Tambling, please use Online Booking or call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.