Are you supporting someone who is going through divorce and separation or experiencing it yourself? If so, then you’re probably familiar with just how painful and difficult such a time can be.
For a start, there’s the fact that relationship problems (communication difficulties, falling out of love or growing apart, continued arguing, disputes about finances, etc.) have probably been a source of sadness, worry or distress for quite some time.
Then, when the actual separation process begins, you’re likely to feel a range of new and difficult emotions. These raw and often confusing feelings can affect your emotional wellbeing, and, yes, even your physical health.
For example, you might have trouble sleeping, lose interest in the things you used to enjoy doing, not feel like being social or have trouble focussing while you’re at work.
It is also normal to feel uncertain about your future. This may take the form of thoughts like “will I end up alone” or concerns about your financial security, your social network, and how your situation will affect your relationship with children and family.
These unpleasant feelings are normal among many people who experiencing divorce. However, while the pain and distress that they bring can at times feel worse than the actual unhappy relationship from which you’ve separated, it’s important to realise that these feelings will likely pass and that your situation and outlook will probably improve.
7 ways to cope during separation
It is vital for your wellbeing that you take active steps to manage your self-care during this difficult time. Here are some ways to help you cope along the way.
1) Set boundaries with your ex
You may be able to control the amount of time, energy or even physical affection you devote to an ex-partner. This is one way to isolate yourself from further pain that comes from prolonging the emotional change. Although many people would like to ‘stay friends’ (and many separated couples do successfully manage that), the raw and difficult emotions of your current situation may mean it is not a realistic or healthy option for now.
2) Allow yourself some mourning
The feelings from a separation or divorce are very much about loss and grief. To move on therefore requires what amounts to a period of mourning.
You cannot change or control the things that are in the past. You may be surprised, however, by how much you can control how you respond to those thoughts.
Everyone has wandering thoughts which, throughout a marriage dissolution, can go to distressing places. Rather than trying to suppress or avoid them, acknowledge that those thoughts are occurring and think about how you respond to them.
3) Give it time
Re-evaluating your life and your priorities is a normal part of separation and divorce. This can be a valuable process, but it’s important to not get caught up in spending too much time dwelling on the past.
Moving on is the end goal. Therefore, getting angry or beating yourself up emotionally can get in the way of recovery. That means that some ‘soul searching’ is helpful and even necessary — but your feelings should include thoughts on how you can improve things and what your next steps will be.
4) Try to stay physically active
It may be easy to sink into binge-watching TV and ordering takeaway. While doing so may feel like it provides temporary relief, these activities tend to numb the pain, rather than address and help resolve its cause.
One thing that can help is physical activity. The mental health benefits of exercise are well-documented so if you’re not already physically active, now’s a good time to start.
Staying fit doesn’t mean pumping iron at the gym five times a week. Even a brisk walk during lunch break or after your commute home can help improve cardiovascular health, and with it, improve your outlook.
5) Stay off the grog
Like TV-binges and junk food, unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol and drugs may feel like they can provide relief, but ultimately will not make your problems go away. Therefore, consider more productive ways of dealing with those painful situations.
Is there a hobby you used to enjoy? Are there projects you’ve long put off or been meaning to do? Is there an item on your bucket list? These pursuits are much healthier alternatives to dealing with painful situations.
Even something as simple and relaxing as finally reading that book can be beneficial. Treat yourself (just as if you were getting over an illness) and try to get plenty of rest and relaxation, ideally while avoiding other sources of stress in your life.
6) Get busy
Part of letting go is learning to do things differently — and learning new things. Instead of dwelling on bitterness, anger or grief, think of new ways to stay connected with friends, family and acquaintances.
This may involve stepping outside of your comfort zone. It may feel daunting, but finding the time and confidence to pursue new social connections is a great way to move on and find your true self again.
7) Reach out
As mentioned, the negative feelings from a divorce or separation are essentially related to strong feelings of grief and loss. This means that talking about your thoughts and what you’re feeling can be an effective way to help you cope. Reaching out to a friend, family member or even a trusted co-worker can provide important support.
An NQ Connect counsellor can also help you talk about your worries or concerns. A counsellor is a trained professional (NQ Connect does not employ volunteers) who will listen and help you develop a strategy to cope and manage your worries. Counsellors can be reached 24 7 on 1300 059 625 or via free online counselling chat.
Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.