Relationship separation and divorce are among the toughest life experiences people can face. Losing a relationship is a very painful experience, even if the relationship is not a good one. The loss experienced in a separation of any kind is rarely easy to deal with.
Separation brings with it the emotional rollercoaster that comes with all grief and loss. You may experience a vast range of emotions including frustration, powerlessness, anger, denial, confusion and even relief.
These feelings can lead to practical difficulties such as loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, difficulties at work and social withdrawal. While these are painful and distressing, these feeling are normal and with time, their impact will lessen.
Despite all the tough times this change can bring about, it’s important to remember that life will get back to normal, although “normal” may look and feel different from what you’re used to, or had hoped for. A new ‘normal’ will settle in, where it will be possible to continue on living a fulfilling and happy life.
Managing the loss of relationship separation
The loss we experience when a relationship breaks down is not only about the loss of a partner and their company. There may be losses of social networks, financial losses and importantly, the loss of dreams and ideas: ideas about who you are, your place in the world, and how you thought your life was going to look in the future. This loss of ideas can be the hardest thing to cope with.
A breakup also brings uncertainty about the future. What will life be like without your partner? Will you find someone else? Will you end up alone? These unknowns can often seem worse than being in an unhappy relationship, which is one of the many reasons we sometimes hold on to something that is not working.
Ways to cope with relationship separation
There are things you can do to get through this difficult adjustment. In times of emotional crisis like relationship separation and divorce, there are opportunities to grow and learn. Think of this period in your life as a time-out, a time for sowing the seeds for new growth and reinventing yourself.
- Establish boundaries. This is about protecting yourself from further pain that can come from prolonging the change. These boundaries may include limiting the time, energy and physical affection you give to your ex-partner. Although many people would like to ‘stay friends’, this is often a difficult task and may not be realistic or healthy, at least in the early stages.
- Go easy on yourself. This post gives some advice on how to take care of yourself after separation
- Allow yourself time. Its valuable to take some space to reflect on things and re-evaluate your life, but balance is key – be careful not to spend too much time dwelling on the past. Give it some time – a good guide is to allow yourself at least one year of evaluation, growth and recovery. Remember that moving on is the end goal – getting stuck in hurtful feelings can prevent you from healing and moving forward. While some introspection is necessary and helpful, try to include some thoughts and actions to take that can improve things.
- Watch your thinking. Being as positive as you can be in your thinking and life choices will help your recovery and allow you to build a strong, healthy life post-separation.
- Look after yourself physically: maintaining routines can give a strong sense of comfort and normality. Eat healthily and exercise regularly. Avoid unhealthy coping strategies such as drinking or drugs to numb the pain. Treat yourself like you’re getting over a sickness. Get plenty of rest, reduce other sources of stress in your life, and reduce your workload.
- Don’t let your lifestyle stagnate: Here’s some tips on how to stay connected. This life change is an opportunity to take a new direction, perhaps in an area you have been interested in but never had the time to pursue.
- Grow your connections. This post gives some great tips on ‘finding your people’
- Reach out for support. Like many other tough times, it’s really important to have some support from those who care about you. It is critical to seek out help and support from professionals, friends and family – trying to ‘tough it out’ on your own can put you at great risk of depression and other mental and physical health problems. It can also help to write things down to give your feelings a space to vent.
It’s really important to know the difference between a normal reaction to a breakup and depression – if you don’t feel any forward momentum after taking some time to heal, you may be suffering from depression. It is particularly important to speak to a professional if you are struggling to maintain your normal routine, unable to get out of bed, or have thoughts of harming yourself.
Here are some helpful links for coping with relationship separation:
If you need to talk to someone, give one of our MensLine Australia counsellors a call on 1300 78 99 78 or register for online chat.