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Emerging from a long-term relationship via divorce or separation is rather like an unexpected rebirth
I’ve certainly no intention of glamorizing this here—divorce can be messy, painful, unforgiving, and like many experiences in life, nothing like you expect in reality.
You know that scrunched up, “what the hell is happening here” face a baby has when it’s born? Well, that’s been my expression on more occasions than I can recall. And a newborn’s big blinks when seeing daylight for the first time? It’s a bit like that too. I guess what I’m trying to illustrate here is the overwhelm.
Yes, coming out of a long-term marriage can be f*cking overwhelming.
I’m a pragmatic person, but nothing could have prepared me for this roller-coaster, and I type this while still on the ride—sort of as a mental “check-in.”
My knuckles may change the force of their grip, whiten sometimes, and other times relax; nevertheless, I’m still clinging on because I know the ride will eventually finish and when that happens, I can step off and heave a huge sigh of relief.
So, here’s what I’ve learned so far, and that I hope will be of benefit to you:
We must appreciate that the journey keeps changing, and we need to keep changing with it.
We may have expectations about how this is going to go, and we need to drop them. Guaranteed, the less expectation and resistance we have, the less we suffer. Breathe it out and go with the flow, consciously, whenever possible. That said, try to stay grounded and always protect your best interests.
Be aware we can experience an array of conflicting emotions.
Anything from happiness, to relief, to sadness, to being (quite simply) terrified. And in the early days, this can all happen within a 24-hour window. We need to acknowledge this and offer ourselves grace, since this is all part of the journey.
Stop fighting with the stuff we can’t control.
And find peace in the decisions we’ve made while trying to maintain a “bigger picture” perspective. Don’t get lost in the detail. Unnecessary overthinking against a backdrop of heightened emotion can be a bit of an explosive mix (I found out this out the hard way).
Keep calm and seek grounded views from close friends, particularly if you’re feeling slightly unhinged.
Select your “tribe,” your new family with care. True friends will stand by your side and accept the transitioning you in your many forms as you evolve through the process.
If children are involved (regardless of age), expect this to be the toughest part of all.
We need to consider differing perspectives, to be attentive, and to be available—even during those times we feel most like crawling under the nearest duvet and turning the lights off.
Separation from your children for the first time can be incredibly painful.
Respond to your personal needs: rest if rest is needed, keep busy if you need the occasional distraction. Find a way to use this time most effectively—a new hobby, study, building a home, reaching out to friends. Finding the positives is important, but so is recognizing that it’s okay to grieve in this time, in your own personal space.
Keep communication open and honest.
Conversations with your children should be age-appropriate. It’s important to remember that younger children see and take in so much more than we appreciate. Play is a great way to create the opportunity for a chat or gentle explanation, as well as serves as a vehicle for expression. Drawings of family, new homes, and your new family structure can offer opportunities for discussion, expression, and airing concerns with a younger child.
Open and honest communication is of paramount importance—equally, it’s important not to “off-load” or be negative about the other parent. It’s hard enough for a child, without them picking up on the tensions and bad feelings between their parents.
Expect the unexpected.
It’s okay to stumble occasionally (or even often). Separation can be a painful grieving process, even if sprouting from apparently amicable roots. We need to practice compassion—for ourselves and others. Time is genuinely in our corner, particularly if coupled with a wider awareness and appreciation of the bigger picture. Working from a place of gratitude helps massively. Being grateful for what we do have, as opposed to what we don’t, is the way to go.
Divorce or separation is exhausting and can leave us requiring extra care, in terms of our well-being. We need to ensure we eat, sleep, and rest, conserving our precious energy to invest into our new future. It’s never too early to visualize and prepare for what life is going to look like going forward.
Take back control.
Our finances, our work, our relationships, our happiness. We need to acknowledge that we oversee our own progress here, so own it and work with what we have in our hands. Define goals and start to feel excited about prospect of achieving them.
If we need help, we should reach out and ask for it. We can create new, extended family units by bringing friends into these units and genuinely appreciating them. We need to realize how far-reaching the effects of a breakup can be—relationships well beyond the one with your ex will start shifting. Naively, this was a shock for me because my whole focus was on the relationship itself finishing, not the larger ripple.
Every step forward is a massive and significant one. The moving and set-up of a new home, the creation of new routine, the settlement of any chaos. These are no small tasks, whatever they specifically look like for you.
Appreciate the positives, even the delightfully simple, understated parts of the process.
For me, it means having the equivalent of a snow angel’s worth of space in a ridiculously large bed, it’s wearing what I want, when I want, and speaking to whom I want, when I want. I now invest in me. And there’s extra confidence in my step. I mean, this a new chapter and I’m its author—how cool is that? Most importantly, I try to be the best mother I can be.
So, back to the roller-coaster. My knuckles aren’t quite as white and my grip is slowly relaxing. For those who have already finished and stepped off the ride: I salute you. ‘Cause until I jumped on, I had no idea how bumpy this particular ride can be. You, my friends, are awesome, and much stronger than you know.
And for the rest of you still riding, see you the other side.