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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Sommerville

Coping with Separation or Divorce

Updated: Sep 28, 2019

It's a stressful experience - but what's 'normal'?

A relationship breakdown is likely to be one of the most stressful times that you will ever experience. This is regardless of whether you were the one to end the relationship or whether you are the one trying to adjust to the news that your relationship is over. Many people describe a divorce or separation as being as difficult as dealing with the death of a loved one.

It is normal to feel stressed, upset and down when dealing with a relationship breakdown. There are many different emotions that can be experienced, including shock, denial, pain, guilt and anger. These feelings are very normal and can be part of the steps in processing that a separation has occurred. The concern about these emotions is if you feel, at any time, that you just can't cope. Another concern is if, a few months after the separation, these emotions are becoming stronger or more consuming for you.

If that is your situation, there is the possibility you may be experiencing depression. Depression, left untreated, can impact negatively on you, your children and your work. It can also impair your ability to make good decisions about your family and your future.

Do I need help? What should I do?

Separation is a time when you need to be able to think clearly. You need to be strong in yourself to ensure that you are entering into arrangements which are in the best interests of yourself and your family - both in relation to arrangements for children and financial arrangements - as may be appropriate for your situation. It can be a confronting and scary time, as you may be having to plan for a future which is vastly different from the one you were expecting to live.

Many people find that although they are very sad, emotional and stressed upon their relationship breaking down, they still feel able to cope with the separation itself. It can be later on, if contested Family Court proceedings are needed that stress levels may increase to an unmanageable level.

It is always hoped that contested Family Court proceedings will not be needed to resolve your post-separation matters, but if they are, be prepared for your stress level to increase dramatically.

If at any time during or after a separation you find you are not coping on your own with your feelings or your stress, it is extremely important that you know there is help available to you and it is entirely appropriate that you seek help as soon as you can.

If you do recognise you are not coping, you may find that talking to friends and family can help. The difficulty in talking to friends and family though, is that it may not be appropriate to discuss Family Court proceedings with them. There is also always a risk that the matters being discussed could be shared with others - including getting back to your former partner.

Suggestions to navigate your separation

  • Put the kids first - the paramount consideration in a separation should be what will be in the kids' best interests. It is really easy to become engaged in a fight with your former partner over insignificant matters, which may unintentionally affect and involve your kids. This is the last thing you want to happen. Your kids should be shielded from your relationship breakdown as much as possible.

  • Keep control of your emotions - think first, act later. It's easy to fly off the handle in negative situations and have a knee-jerk reaction - especially when provoked by the other side. When anything negative is placed before you, making you angry or upset, put it down for a while and come back to it later on. Take the time for some deep breaths. Think about whether the issue is worth arguing over. Sometimes responding to your former partner's insults only makes them think they're getting to you and encourages more fighting. Most of the time, it's not worth the response - especially if it isn't over a meaningful matter. Some things are not worth wasting your time and energy fighting about. This is especially if you are trying to co-parent with the other party and don't want the kids exposed to more negativity.

  • Be kind to yourself - take time to re-evaluate your life and think about things. This may be your opportunity to make changes to your life to improve your future and do things you always wanted to do, but couldn't. Whilst you adjust to your new 'normal', stay in touch with family and friends; try to maintain regular sleep and eating routines. Exercise is good for you. Try not to drink too much alcohol - it generally makes you feel worse. Don't be too hard on yourself and don't be afraid to ask for help.

  • Try to co-operate and speak respectfully to the ex - although it is extremely difficult at first, try to keep the lines of communication open with your former partner. Trying to amicably negotiate a property settlement or arrangements for the children is worthwhile - as long as it doesn't expose you to the risk of harm, abuse or violence. Try to keep communications civil and polite - they might be frosty, but they shouldn't be abusive, threatening or offensive. Always remember that any communications with your former partner (by email, text message, Facebook or other social media) could be included as evidence in Family Court documents - so keep communications nice!

  • Get assistance - don't struggle alone - there are a multitude of services available to help support you through this difficult process:

Relationships Australia - provides a broad range of services, including counselling and Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) mediations for both property and parenting matters.

Family Relationships Online - provide information and advice about separation and how to cope.

Lifeline - provide advice and support to anyone experiencing relationship problems, including crisis support chat.

Your doctor - your doctor can prescribe a mental health plan for you to enable you to receive Medicare bulk-billed/reduced-fee counselling.

MensLine Australia - a telephone and online counselling service for men with family and relationship problems.

Your lawyer - seeing a lawyer and obtaining good legal advice early on in your separation can be extremely useful and help reduce stress. Good legal advice can inform you as to your rights and responsibilities during the separation process, as well as helping you decide what is fair and reasonable.

If you're going through hell, keep going - Winston Churchill

Whilst you are going through a separation or divorce, it's important to remember that it often takes time to recover from the life changes you're experiencing. It is usual to have to adjust to many changes - both emotionally and financially. It is perfectly normal for it to take months to adjust to your new situation.

Whilst you are in that adjustment period, make sure you look after yourself and your children (whether they be two legged or furry ones). It will take time for you to recover and adjust to your 'new normal'.

Make sure that you surround yourself with people who care for you and that you get good advice - in relation to your physical health, your mental health and your legal situation. And keep in mind, as Winston Churchill once said, "if you're going through hell, keep going". It won't last forever.

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