Leaving your partner isn't a decision most people take lightly. In fact, it usually takes considerable courage to turn your life upside down, walk away from financial security and the life you have built with another person. For most people separation is a step to a better life, free of destructive relational patterns.
A decision to separate might come long after the ship has gone down. The lead-up may resemble a long drawn out affair, with people hanging onto a bit of wreckage waiting to be rescued. Other endings are decisive and unhurried after the couple find that 'it just isn't working any more'. For many, the end is like a bolt out of the blue, often in response to a relationship crisis.
Relationships typically don't end at separation. Finances may still need sorting, arrangements for the children made and agreement as to how you and your ex-partner will act towards one another at family functions and social gatherings. Bitterness, anger, grief, anxiety and depression are some of the feelings which stop people from rebuilding their lives and/or developing necessary and workable post-separation relationships.
A close friend of mine made a decision to separate after living in a friendly but unfulfilling relationship for over twenty years. Six years later she still finds it enormously difficult to be in the same room as her ex-partner, who incidentally, did not want the relationship to end. Conversely, he finds it easy to be with his ex-partner, having moved on from a period of absolute devastation. My friend is still emotionally entwined with her ex-partner, while he has cut the ties that bound him to her.
Workable post-separation relationships depend on couples being able to untangle themselves emotionally from each other. Emotional entanglement makes it difficult to decide parenting arrangements, negotiate sharing assets and learn how to communicate in a civil manner.
As a result, children may have to live in a war, with each parent on opposing sides. Hard-earned money is frittered away on legal costs and the haunting of your body and mind by tortured emotions seems to go on forever. In fact, many people are so flooded by emotions they find it difficult to believe they are at war with their ex-partner, and if they do, can't stop themselves.
These emotional entanglements can always be justified: "He took a lot of money out of the business and I haven't got half of what I should have done"; "She is spending all my money on that rat she left me for". Such strongly held positions are often fuelled by unresolved emotions. For example, the hurt and rejection of being left or anger at someone who has turned down your invitations to intimacy year after year.
Untangling yourself emotionally after a separation is extremely difficult, especially if you didn't want it in the first place. Or, like my friend, who now believes her leaving was a mistake!
For many people, it takes about two years to complete the separation. However, some find it painful ten years later, while others do it quickly, or before they leave. We are all different; the way we were brought up, how we think about ourselves, and our relationship experiences and social circumstance influence how we go about separating from another person.
Invitations to deal with separation in unhelpful ways are rife at this difficult time. Overuse of alcohol, jumping into bed for comfort with someone you don't even like, acting like you're twenty when you are fifty and getting into a new relationship you know is wrong for you, are ways some people deal with the pain.
Steps for dealing with separation
Dealing well with separation is an important step towards rebuilding a new life and minimising the fallout for children.
1.Develop a separation plan, if possible with your partner. How to tell the children, separate the finances and communicate with each other are just a few of the things you need to consider.
2.Have a self-care regime in place-a regular time to go to the movies with friends, meditation, exercise etc.
3.Understand and manage your own feelings. Don't try and control your ex-partner, rather, focus on dealing with yourself.
4. Talk to a person you trust or seek counselling to manage the thoughts and feelings which accompany separation.
5. Have a parenting plan in place and be the best co-parents you can be in order to minimise trauma and anxiety for your children.
6. Don't talk negatively about your ex-partner to your children or share your burdens with them-they will only feel worse.
7. Keep an emotional distance from your partner. You may want to have them help you with a problem or talk to them about your feelings however, doing this will serve to continue the emotional connection.
8. Have authoritative chats with yourself. Give yourself clear helpful messages, for example, "you might be finding living on your own difficult, but you can do it".