Published on December 30, 2022

Deciding to end a relationship is a complex and difficult process and is not arrived at easily. Equally being told your relationship is at an end, is often a shocking and emotionally traumatic event. So is it over?

It is common for those leaving and for those being left, to experience similar feelings despite how it might look on the outside. Depending what has been happening in the relationship, and every couple relationship is unique, the ending might feel inevitable and expected or a complete surprise.

Some might describe the initial event as if they were in or witnessing a car crash. Life speeds up and thoughts run away turning life upside down. Others might say it’s like everything is in slow motion and they are devastated.

There are however, certain processes that occur to couples when a relationship is over, both experience LOSS and both are ‘pushed’ into a period of UNCERTAINTY.

“So, is it really over?”, “I can’t believe it’s over”, “I didn’t see it coming”, “Why didn’t you tell me you were this unhappy?”, “I’ll do anything, lets just try again”. “I tried to tell you, you wouldn’t listen”, “You know we haven’t been happy”, “We’ve been arguing for ages, you just storm off”.

As a therapist I hear these questions again and again from couples who are about to, or have already separated. Coming to terms with losing someone whom you thought you would be with forever, is one of the most difficult journeys a mum or dad can take. Knowing that you will never again be the love his/ her life, that they no longer ‘want’ you and they have already found someone, or will go on to find someone who will have what you no longer have, is one of the hardest things to acknowledge. How long it takes to accept and move on depends on the individual.

Mums and dads often find it difficult to separate their couple relationship feelings from their parenting feelings, and it is this dichotomy that invariably gets in the way of allowing continued relationships with the children, for the non-residential parent.

So lets talk about the two processes you will both have in common. Loss and living with uncertainty.

The Loss Cycle

Whether you are a mum or a dad, whether you have initiated the separation or not, there is one process that you will both go through, loss.

It is the same process that you might go through if a loved one dies and it is common for one of you to be at a different stage than the other.

Imagine this, you are in a relationship, it’s been good, then ok and now it’s not working. You can’t talk to each other, you might feel unloved, criticised, disrespected, not wanted or needed, taken advantage of. Maybe you feel like something is going on but are afraid to ask. You’ve tried to talk but got no-where. Sound familiar?

When issues like this occur in a relationship, if they are not resolved then each of you begins to exhibit different behaviour. Sometimes its subtle, sometimes its obvious.

Usually for one person the loss cycle begins, there are 5 stages;

Denial/shock,  Anger,  Bargaining,  Depression/sadness,  Acceptance.

As one person begins to make their way through the 5 stages, the relationship may continue to deteriorate. After a time, there is often a catalyst that will enforce a major change. Commonly when this occurs the relationship has ended for one person. The mum or dad is at stage 5 and accepts that for them, it is over.

Then comes the car crash for the other person and they begin their journey through the loss cycle. No wonder it’s difficult for them to accept that it’s ended.

Uncertainty

Once this has happened both mum and dad are thrown into a period of uncertainty.

Identities are changing from couple to single, from mum and dad together as a family unit, to mum with children and dad with children. Depending on circumstances and who decides to leave the family home, there are many questions that arise during this time.

“Will we have to sell our home?”, “I haven’t worked since we had children, how will we manage financially?”, “What will our friends and family think?”, “How much will. Divorce cost?”, “Will I cope on my own?”.

There seems to be so much to sort out both practically and emotionally and it comes at a time when at least one of you will be “all over the place” emotionally, due to the loss you are experiencing. This can make decision making seem impossible.

“Who wants to agree the practicalities of legal issues and more importantly organising the children when they are devastated, angry and confused by loss?” It can turn otherwise rational, clear-thinking mums and dads into what appears to be belligerent, stubborn, unreasonable people.

Being honest with yourself about the relationship whilst you are emotionally upset is, for many extremely hard. It is important when struggling to accept that a relationship is over to get some help. There are many professionals out there who can help you on this journey.

Adele Ballantyne is a contributor to the 3rd edition of ‘Separation With Children 101’ (Bath Publishing, 2023).

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The Early Days Of Separation

Humans are designed to cope with many onslaughts, but change continues to prove extremely challenging. How you manage the early days of separation or divorce has the potential to set the tone for the rest of the process.

When couples separate, they are often thrown into a period of uncertainty. Identities are changing from couple to single, from mum and dad together as a family unit to mum with children and dad with children. Depending on the circumstances and who decides to leave the family home, there are many questions that arise during the early days of separation. “Will we have to sell our home?” “I haven’t worked since we had children – how will we manage financially?” “What will our friends and family think?” “How much will divorce cost?”
“Will I cope on my own?” There seems to be so much to sort out both practically and emotionally and it comes at a time when at least one of you will be ‘all over the place’ emotionally due to the loss you are experiencing. This can make decision-making seem impossible. Who wants to agree the practicalities of legal issues and more importantly organise the children when they are devastated, angry and confused by loss? It can turn otherwise rational, clear-thinking mums and dads into what appears to be belligerent, stubborn, unreasonable people.

Take Your Time!

In those early days of separation or divorce, take your time if you can. Seek support from friends, family and professionals. Try not to make any big decisions too quickly.
Bear in mind that communication problems with your ex and all the pressures on family life you are now experiencing, like for many separating couples, will get better with time. It’s important to recognise that you and your ex will more than likely be in very different emotional places at the moment; different stress levels and anxieties will be making communication difficult. Taking the time to sometimes do nothing, to not react, give things a day or two, can prove very useful techniques.
What you have to remember is that if you have children, your ex is always going to be part of your life. That can be hard to take on board when you are feeling hurt and angry. If you can find a way to communicate with each other that focuses on the children, you will all benefit in the years to come.

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