Separation – dealing with emotions

Dealing with Emotions after Separation

While each of us is different and separation can affect us quite differently, there are some common experiences that you might face.

New Roles

Your relationship as partners has come to an end and you may be unfamiliar with the ways of the person you’re now dealing with.  You’re still very connected in some fundamental ways – children who still need both their parents, assets and financial arrangements in common, perhaps a home you still think of as your safe haven and shared personal possessions with their histories of relationship.

You may have been used to receiving companionship, approval and emotional support from your former partner and now that is no longer available.  It’s not unusual for all those things to be suddenly going to another person instead of you, if your partner has found someone else prior to leaving, and that can be a bitter thing to accept.

At first, you may feel angry and unwilling to cooperate in making new arrangements. You may also hope that this is not the end and put your own focus on relationship repair, while the other person is starting to move away from you emotionally.

To minimise distress to all family members there is an immediate need to:

• Establish new ground rules
• Re-define your needs and your expectations of each other
• Find new ways of communicating

If you have been the primary carer of children, you might find yourself thrust into the position of having to rejoin the work force.  And if you have been the major breadwinner, you might need to quickly acquire homemaking and nurturing skills you haven’t needed before.

Dealing with Stress

Separation can cause anxiety and depression that may only diminish with time.  Sleep disruption and other physiological changes are common.  You have lost the central structure to your life, your life partner and probably your strongest ally.  You may feel alone and overwhelmed by chaos and uncertainty.

The effects of separation, particularly one you were not expecting, can be physical, emotional and mental in nature.  You might experience a period of hoping that the change is temporary and that your partner will return.

If that doesn’t happen, you may look for someone to blame and experience anger focused at those who you feel have let you down or are responsible for your loss.

It is a challenge to keep children out of the conflict between the adults but they need to be kept safe from the business of their parents while separation is unfolding.

Friends and family members may be helpful as confidantes but remember that most cannot help taking sides in their concern for your well being.  Get help from neutral experts like your GP or a psychologist, so that you do not rush into legal adversarial processes that can further harm trust and put at risk your stressed financial resources.

No matter who made the final decision to leave the relationship, each of you is in a crisis and struggling to deal with new circumstances.  Accepting this can lead you to have some compassion for each other.

Mediation can help you to listen to each other and identify what you need to resolve.

Telling Children about Separation

Parents are prone to telling themselves that children are resilient and best served by parents who are fulfilled, e.g., happy parent = happy children.  The reality is that children are vulnerable and really only want their home to be secure, with their parents there for them.

When you tell your children of your separation, they are likely to begin a period of anxiety in which they may feel afraid of abandonment, of having caused your troubles or of being responsible for negotiating a peace between you.  They grieve for the loss of a family structure they knew and relied upon.

So how you tell them is great importance.  They will need reassurances, many times over, from both of you.

Weave it into your conversations with them that:
• They are loved and wanted by each of you
• That they have not caused the separation
• That they will be supported and provided for by both of you
• That each of you will help them to spend time with the other parent

Unless the other parent poses some sort of threat to the well being of your children, promote a close relationship with the other parent.  They need to spend time with each of you and each of you needs co-parenting support from the other.

Children suffer when their parents fight over them or anything to do with the separation.  They are aware of the atmosphere between you, so do what you can to co-parent in a collaborative way.  Don’t encourage them to take sides, carry tales or cut off contact.

They need to know as quickly as possible what the new shape of things will be and what rules apply.

• What’s going to happen – who stays where and what school do we go to now?
• What’s going to change – where is the other parent going to live and with whom?
• Who’s in charge – what if I don’t like it?

Children need to know that their parents will still be making the big decisions together and that the routines can be kept steady for them.  Try to arrange regular times when they can count on spending time with each of you.  Agree on a schedule and then share it with the children.  Listen to their needs and wishes and let that information inform your decision making but ensure that it is still the parenting team that is making the decisions that best suit the needs of the children.

Don’t ask them to choose one of you over the other or score points for your children’s affections and approval.

Abuse and Violence

In cases of abuse and violence, it may not serve the children’s best interests for the children to spend any time with one of their parents.  If you have concerns, get expert advice as quickly as possible, to protect them.

Tips for Reducing Conflict

Don’t:

Criticise: e.g., “You’re never there for the kids”.
Threaten:  e.g., “If I can’t see the kids, I won’t pay child support”.
Exaggerate:  e.g., “You’re always late picking them up”.
Sling abuse:  e.g., “You’re just a bitch”.
Make messengers of your children:  e.g., “You tell your father to….

Do:

Flag concerns:  e.g., “This pick-up time isn’t working for me”.
Invite problem solving:  e.g., “What else could we do?”
Acknowledge emotions:  e.g., “I see that you’re angry.  How could we….
Listen:  e.g., “What would work better for you?”
Validate:  e.g., “I know they’re in good hands when they’re with you.”

Use mediation for issues that can’t be resolved without going into unhelpful patterns.

Rosalin can be contacted on 0424 002 640.

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