Five steps to initiate and survive a divorce

By Liz Paul, Psychotherapist & Counsellor

After years of fighting, neglect and disagreements, you and your partner finally agree on one thing:  the best decision is for the two of you to no longer be a couple.

You’re relieved because it means an end to the daily conflict.  It means an end to the tension, to the anxiety, to the wasted years.

The decision to divorce can also result in feelings of euphoria.  Finally you can get on with your life. You can start fresh and build the life you want.  Your way.  It can be a time for you to dream, to plan, and to enjoy a whole pile of ‘me’ time.

But I’m afraid divorce is not that easy for most people.

There’s the fear of the unknown: what lays ahead for you and your family. For some, it’s the fear of maybe never finding anybody else, and important questions like how will we manage financially and how will this affect the kids?

Understand, it is going to be an incredibly painful process and emotions will be frayed and conflict easily ignited. This process will likely take at least 12 months. Here are five essential tips to help you get through the tough patches and come out the other side stronger, happier and more confident.

  1. Understand there is no way to announce to your partner that you want a divorce without causing pain or feeling pain. Pick a time of the week when your partner isn’t under too much pressure to attend to other responsibilities like picking children up from sporting activities. You may need to find temporary accommodation that night or week until you are both in a space to discuss the next step.
  1. If you are the one who has made the decision to definitely break up then you need a plan of action around living arrangements: who will move out and when. If you have children, who is going to be the primary carer and what arrangement is going to be least disruptive for them? You will both need your own space to grieve, and being separated in the same house doesn’t generally work as the feelings of isolation and loneliness that often precede breaking up only get worse as you are still in one another’s face, magnifying the angst within both of you. Resentment and flare-ups increase which in the long run will decrease the likelihood of eventually becoming amicable ex’s. Being amicable will pay off dividends eventually, as your mental health and your children’s psycho-social development will benefit. Acrimony can cause pain which sometimes lasts a life-time and unfortunately we only get one of these.
  1. Try not to over-react to what seems like inappropriate behaviours your partner may be displaying. Such as increasing face book presence, updating photos and status, leaving cryptic messages for friends. Be mindful when using social media as ‘comments’ and ‘likes’ can be quickly misconstrued, these little things can create so much hurt and unnecessary anger sometimes creating damage that is irreparable and quite often regretted later. If you are the person who made the decision to have a break, remember your partner is probably confused and shocked, often feeling betrayed. Try not to react, try to be empathetic and with time these behaviours will settle down.
  1. Take time to discuss what you are going to tell your children, what you are going to tell family and friends and how much contact you are both going to have with each other during the separation. Some ground rules need to be established, such as if you do not have children how much contact should you have with each other. In fact, if there are no children it would probably be best to cease all contact. With children, contact needs to be well planned, as children need the security of a definite routine. This certainty will help ease their anxieties. At all times be aware of the impact an unhealthy relationship will have on your children. Children will carry your pain, try to be mindful of this. The best case scenario is when both parents are able to sit down with their children and tell them about the separation, together alleviate any concerns about it being about them and reinforce your love for them.
  1. Lastly, try not to get too far ahead of yourself. Trying to cross the bridges before you come to them such as who will have the children at Christmas, Easter etc will only increase your anxiety. It really is best to take things one day at a time. Work through your feelings with a good friend or therapist – time and talking to someone you trust really does heal. It is just hard to see the sunshine when you are in the middle of a storm. Start to look ahead, write down some short term goals – and find ways to be kind to yourself.

What are the issues for which most people seek assistance?

  • Relationship break-ups
  • Constantly fighting with your partner
  • Loss of intimacy with your partner
  • Communication problems with your partner or child
  • Difficulty parenting toddlers or teens
  • Pre-marriage counselling
  • A child misbehaving
  • Eating disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Family counselling
  • Wanting to separate from their partner amicably
  • Helping the children cope after a relationship break-up
  • Trouble staying in relationships
  • HSC stress for students and their families
  • Relationship commitment issues
  • Problems at work
  • Couple counselling
  • Difficulties with step-children
  • Sexual difficulties
  • Problems with in-laws
  • Substance addiction
  • Facing major life changes
  • Making new life choices
  • Relationship counselling