The end of a marriage or significant relationship is undoubtedly one of life’s most difficult moments. Whatever the reason behind the divorce – and no matter how long you’ve been together – there’s no easy way to separate from a spouse. However, ensuring that you take care of yourself, talk to loved ones or counsellors and grieve properly are all ways to help you through this painful time.
While each marriage is different, there are steps everyone involved in a divorce can take to process their emotions and learn from the experience. We asked experts Denise Knowles, counsellor at charity Relate, and Christina Fraser, counsellor at Couple Works Relationship Counselling London, about the best ways to cope with divorce.
Talk to someone
“You don’t have to do retail therapy or hit the gym, but do take care to maintain some kind of social activity,” says Denise. “If you find yourself stressed or angry, you need to talk to people you can trust, whether that’s family, friends or a counsellor.”
“Looking after yourself and talking to people is so important,” says Christina. “People do neglect themselves dreadfully: ‘somebody’s neglected me, so I’m going to neglect myself’. Individual counselling or speaking to family and friends can be helpful. I see a lot of people who say, ‘I’ve bored all my family and friends, I need somewhere to talk’. They need somewhere to grieve, even the person who has instigated the split.”
Communicate with your children
“If you’ve got children, you’ve got to be prepared to talk to them. It’s very important that mum and dad sit down with the children together and explain what’s going on and what this means for them, using age-appropriate language of course,” says Denise. “It’s also important to maintain some kind of routine for children during this time of upheaval.”
“It’s vital to talk to them together,” agrees Christina. “Say as little as you need to say depending on their age, and never give false hope. Also never say anything negative about the other partner in front of the child, never use them as a go-between or to send messages. Always stay positive – you owe it to the relationship and your child.”
How to cope with affairs
“Nearly always it’s a couple issue,” says Christina. “People don’t usually look outside unless something is missing, and if something is missing for one it’s usually missing for both. If there’s a gap between you that’s big enough for someone else to get in, there has to be the gap there first.”
“I see this a lot after affairs, one person will say, ‘I can’t believe this, this has all changed’, and the couple will come for therapy. Many of them will look at why that happened and whether both of them can change the relationship – it will only work if both people are willing to look at making a change. The only way you can go back to a relationship is to look at what didn’t work well between you.”
Take as much time as you need to process the situation
“It’s like any bereavement,’ says Denise, “there’s a massive loss, especially if you’re the person who didn’t want the divorce. It might be that for a long time you feel angry and aggrieved, whereas someone who wanted the divorce might be over and done with it in a matter of months. Don’t feel pressured to get over it.”
“The important thing to do is to remember there was a lot of hope at some point, and the relationship was extremely meaningful, so avoid letting an ending eclipse what you had,” says Christina. “You shouldn’t dismiss what you had or your own part in all of it. I don’t think there’s an amount of time to get over it, it depends on how deep it was and how much hope there was. It can take up to two years.”
Click here for more information on Relate Counselling
Click here for more information on Couple Works Relationship Counselling