So your relationship is over – what happens now? Here’s how to survive a break-up and come out the other side, happier
It’s a sad fact that 42 percent of marriages in the UK end in divorce, with January 8th being dubbed ‘divorce day’ by lawyers, thanks to the spike in couples petitioning to end their marriages after the stress of Christmas. Coming to the decision to leave a relationship is never easy, as it’s not just emotional issues you need to consider, it’s practical ones as well, and the process can be distressing for everyone involved. That’s why we’ve called in the experts to show us that it is possible to have a healthy divorce, without putting too much strain on your children.
“Getting divorced can knock your confidence, and emotions will be running high,” says Nia Williams, life coach and founder of Miss Date Doctor (relationshipsmdd.com). “This means that it’s a great time to take up a new hobby, as this will keep you busy and you get to do something you enjoy. It’s also important to remember not to focus on the past and things you cannot control – focus on your internal actions and not the external behaviour of your ex-spouse.” As Nia explains, the ending of a marriage is an extremely traumatic experience for most. “The emotions you feel can be somewhat similar to the feelings experienced in the grieving process when someone passes away, but there is light at the end of the tunnel,” she tells us. “You can make the experience easier by implementing certain actions to soften the blow – for example, surrounding yourself with friends and family that love you, and not bottling up your emotions. If you need to cry, then cry, and if you need to talk about it, turn to a close pal for support. The process is life- changing and it may take time to adjust, which is why you must avoid name calling, revenge tactics and power struggles, as these things all make the process more painful.”
“Divorce is an emotional, financial and psychological wrecking ball, regardless of the length of a marriage, but it can be more challenging when children are involved,” says matrimonial consultant and relationship guru Sheela Mackintosh-Stewart (sheelamackintoshstewart.com). “The emotional strain of a split can have a huge impact on a little one who doesn’t understand what’s going on. They might grow up not seeing both of their parents every day, which can leave an impression on their life if not dealt with in the right way. Moreover, if a child is older during a divorce, they will see and remember more. Seven-year-olds will remember fights and watch arguments, and may think it’s their fault, so it’s important to protect them.
“The number one post break-up parenting rule is to avoid verbally trashing your ex in front of your kids. It’s easy to let slip criticisms and insults and to make sarcastic comments, but children have acute hearing and are always eager to pick up scraps of information. In my work, I see many parents who don’t realise how damaging their acts or words are to their children’s welfare, causing them pain they don’t deserve. Often, the comments are explicit, such as ‘we’re better off without him’, ‘your dad/ mum doesn’t love us, that’s why he/she left us’. Most children love and are loyal to both parents, so such comments make them feel caught in the middle. The golden rule is that if you can’t find anything good to say about your ex, then keep quiet. Anything you say should be factual reporting with no negative sting or innuendos. In this way, you will encourage your kids to think independently by giving clear, honest answers to their questions.
“It’s also important to encourage children to talk about their feelings and to take their views seriously. Always listen and do not judge. Don’t fob them off with untruths or pressure them to believe your side of the story.” Remember that they are used to being in a family and will find it hard to digest the demise of the marriage. “It’s important to note that some children will show emotion upon hearing the news of the break-up, and some may say they’re fine, but will be hurting internally,” Nia explains. “Let your children know you will support them through the process and that both parents will still be there for them 100 percent. If needed, family therapy is an option to get the children through the transition and avoid emotional turmoil and feelings of abandonment.”
It’s good to keep in mind that co-parenting is not a failure. “The failure is trying to make a love relationship work when it doesn’t and trying to stay in it for the sake of the kids,” says licensed psychotherapist Noel McDermott (noelmcdermott.net). “Children blame themselves for things that go wrong and, if you and the other person aren’t doing well, the kids will suffer. Role modelling healthy adult behaviours that accept the reality of the situation and work to minimise damage to each other, while taking responsibility for the family functioning through co-parenting, is a very positive life lesson to teach your children. Martyring yourself in a loveless or dysfunctional relationship is not a healthy model to give them.”
“In my professional experience, many couples who are considering divorce actually just need the right preventative help to overcome their strife,” says Sheela. “As a matrimonial consultant, I present and explore other options and weigh up all factors – the wellbeing of the children, practical arrangements, financial issues, marital issues – before even discussing divorce. From what I’ve seen, if there is a commitment on both sides to making a marriage work then things can get back on track with the right help and coaching.” Nia agrees, adding that you don’t need a divorce if you still love each other, and if you’re both willing to compromise and make changes by listening to the other party’s issues and qualms within the relationship. “It’s important to remember that no one is perfect, and certain habits and traits are part of a person’s character, so some changes you may want to make may simply not be realistic, but every individual case is different,” she explains. “The truth is that love is not enough to keep a marriage together – practicalities such as finances, communication, sex, upbringing, morals and values are all major factors in a marriage. In some cases, couples counselling can resolve the issues and shed light on problem areas within the relationship.”