I separated from my long term partner two years ago. I instigated the separation and wanted to move on with my life as swiftly as possible and thought I had. However I was taken by surprise on how sadness and loss can creep up on you when you’re least expecting it.
We had lived in a spacious house with our two teenage children. On our separation the house was sold and we each had to downsize. The ensuing disruption and upheaval of the move was stressful but I knew at the time it had to be done and thought it was all behind me.
My ex-partner had put some of his things into container storage. Recently he had to clear the container and asked if I wanted some shelves as he knew I was short of storage. When the door of the container opened the first thing in my line of vision was the set of empty shelves that once sat in the family home. In an instant I was in complete emotional overwhelm. A huge wave of sorrow hit me as memories flooded into my mind of the all the family belongings it stored and the life and times as a family.
After what seemed like an eternity but was actually only a minute or so I managed to compose myself and got on with the job in hand. So how did I do this?
As a divorce coach and family mediator I’m aware that divorce and separation is akin to bereavement. In 1969 a Swiss psychiatrist, Elizabeth Kubler Ross, identified five stages of loss on bereavement: denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance. These stages can occur in any order and often people experience them in a roller coaster effect. It is thought that most people experience at least two of them, returning to one or more several times before working through it .Events such as the one I experienced can trigger one of the stages again when it’s least expected.
I also know that people can get stuck in one or more of the stages but you don’t have to stay there unless you choose to. Over the last few decades findings in neuroscience have led coaches to develop tools and techniques that enable people to better manage their negative states and move through difficult times.
Here are my tips for how you can move on:
- Breathe. Take some slow deep breaths. Breathe in and out slowly for four breaths, concentrating on the sensation of the air coming in through your nose, filling your lungs and the sensation of expelling the air. Try to pause between each in and out breath. Imagine with each out breath that your hurt, sadness, pain, bitterness, anger or whatever negative feeling you are experiencing is being released.
- Develop emotional awareness. You can’t get rid of painful and difficult emotions they are a fact of life but you can manage them which reduces their intensity. The first step to managing your emotions is by learning to name the emotion you are experiencing. . Psychologists such as Paul Ekman identified a handful of key emotions: sadness, fear, anger, disgust and enjoyment which have different intensities. Sadness can include: disappointment or discouragement at one end of the scale, to despair and grief at the far end felt with great intensity. With awareness you can pause before you react and respond constructively.
- Accept negative emotions It’s okay to experience intense negative emotions during and after divorce and when you’re least expecting them to appear. Try not to suppress or deny them but acknowledge them, they are normal and to be expected. However if you find yourself stuck in one of the stages and can’t seem to shake off feelings of despair, anguish and helplessness seek the help of a counsellor or a therapist. It’s just as important to take care of our emotional and mental well-being as it is of our physical well-being.
- Practice Mindfulness. Mindfulness is about being in the present moment. With mindfulness you learn how to step back and observe your thoughts as they arise and it ‘allows you to catch negative thought patterns before they tip you into a downward spiral’ according to Mark Williams and Danny Penman in their book ‘Mindfulness a Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World’. With regular practice mindfulness helps you stay calmer, gain a different perspective and cultivate compassion for yourself and others. There are many excellent books on mindfulness, free apps to download and courses to help you practice mindfulness.
Grief is an important part of the divorce process and knowing about the stages of loss can help you through the process. Whether you’re the leaver or you’ve been left you‘ll probably experience some aspect of loss to varying degrees of intensity and possibly when you’re least expecting it. It’s perfectly normal and some will need time to work through the stages of loss but you can move through it and out to the other side. If you need support in moving through your divorce please contact me email@example.com
Jane Busby is a divorce coach www.janebusby.com and an accredited family mediator www.accordfamilymediation.co.uk
Monday 8th January was ‘Divorce Day’ named as such by some divorce lawyers who experience a high volume of enquiries after the strains of the festive season. If you are confronted with the shock of divorce this month or any other time, one of your immediate concerns might be: what should I do? You might be wondering, whether to engage a solicitor, what to do about finances or how to tell the children. In short you might be feeling like the proverbial rabbit blinking in the headlights, unsure of which way to turn. To help put your mind at rest I suggest the following before you do anything:
Pause for a while
Don’t make any decisions yet (unless there’s a risk of harm or assets are about to be disposed of). When faced with the stress of divorce, the thinking rational part of our brain is hijacked by the ‘flight or fight’ response of the emotional part of our brain. This makes it almost impossible to make rational decisions At such times we often says things in hurt or fury that we later regret and take actions without thinking through the consequences. Things can wait while you work out what’s the best way forward.
Talk things through
Talk things through with a trusted friend, counsellor or divorce coach so they can help you see the bigger picture and put things into perspective. Choose your trusted friends wisely. While some of your friends may have your best interests at heart their suggestions may not be the most helpful or realistic. Everyone’s situation is different so try not to be influenced by what someone else did in their divorce. Allow your solicitor to deal with the legal aspects but not the emotional aspects of your divorce. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t want to overburden family or friends use a divorce coach, who will guide and support you through the process and beyond.
Take legal advice at an early stage. Your solicitor is there to help and give you confidential advice. They won’t start court proceedings or contact your ex without your permission. Once you have their advice you will feel more secure about what you can reasonably expect. You don’t have to act on their advice immediately (unless matters become urgent) take your time and consider matters carefully. Choose a solicitor by recommendation if possible and one that specialises and is experienced in family law. Don’t feel you have to stay with a solicitor if you don’t have rapport with them.
See a mediator for a mediation information meeting. A mediator gives you information on your options and explains the different ways you can resolve matters so you don’t have to rely solely on the legal route to sort issues saving costs and time. The mediator helps you have a conversation with your ex and negotiate a settlement in relation to finances and or children. Once you’ve had your information meeting there’s no obligation to start mediation but you know it’s an option. A mediator can help at any stage, whether it’s to sort the immediate situation or a longer term solution.
Think things through before you tell the children
Your children will feel more secure if you tell them after you’ve both had time to think about what the future arrangements will look like. Don’t confide in the children about your woes or berate your ex, they don’t need or want to know exactly why your relationship has not worked out, even if you feel your ex is at fault. Children do need to know they can enjoy a relationship with each of you and do not have to take sides.
Look after your self
When faced with the shock of divorce stress hormones can suppress your immune system. Make sure you eat as healthily as you can, get enough sleep, fresh air and exercise. If you’re not used to regular exercise even a short walk can have a wonderfully calming effect, physical activity can take your mind away from troubling thoughts. If you experience intense negative feelings, take four or five deep breaths, pause between each in and out breathe, imagining with each outbreath that your sadness, frustration or anger is being dissipated into the air
There will be much to think about and do in the coming months but don’t feel you have to take immediate action or make instant decisions. Take stock, take your time, get as much information as you can on your options. You’ll feel more secure in the knowledge of what to expect and what you can do. When the time is right you can make an informed decision on which route is best for you.
Jane Busby is a divorce coach and family mediator. For information on how Jane can help contact firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s that time of year again, Christmas is approaching. Already the shops have Christmas cards on display, the major supermarkets have their Christmas TV adverts and Christmas offers abound. For many it’s a special time of year as families and friends get together and celebrate. But the run up to Christmas can be an emotive time of year for separated parents.
As a family mediator and divorce coach I have heard many parents say ‘I can’t possibly be without my children at Christmas, it just wouldn’t be the same … so they’re staying with me…’ or they’ll concede to the other parent times when they can see the children throughout the year but on condition they only have the children every Christmas.
It’s a difficult and stressful time when you are separating or have separated from your ex and Christmas can highlight the loneliness and loss of divorce. However many separated parents are focused on their emotional needs at Christmas rather than their children’s. Parents are fearful about being on their own but unaware of how difficult it is for their children to only see one parent.
The following are my tips to help parents focus on the needs of their children and make Christmas plans that work for everyone.
- What do the children want? Depending on the age of the children and the circumstances surrounding the separation, children usually want to see both their parents at Christmas. Children will miss the parent they are not with but may not tell the other parent. Some are worried about upsetting a parent or don’t wish to appear disloyal and some feel a responsibility to look after a parent, especially older children. Try to find out what your children would like rather than assume what is best for them.
- Consider alternating or sharing Christmas. Some parents manage to spend Christmas Day together for the ‘sake of the children’ but this isn’t always possible or the best thing to do, especially if being ‘together’ creates a tense and uncomfortable atmosphere. For older children alternating Christmas is often the best solution. For younger children, twelve months is far too long to wait to spend Christmas with the other parent. Therefore consider sharing Christmas. For example, with one parent on Christmas Eve to Christmas morning and the other parent from Christmas afternoon to Boxing Day morning and maybe swop over the following year.
- Don’t leave Christmas arrangements to the last minute. Allow plenty of time to negotiate this issue. Ideally this would need to be raised at least a couple of months in advance by say October. Let your ex-partner have the dates and times you would like. Respond promptly to requests from your ex, don’t leave them waiting for your reply wondering if you are ignoring them. If you can’t give a full reply, respond with an acknowledgement and that you’ll come back to them as soon as you can.
- Consult each other about presents. Consider letting the other parent know what you intend to buy or what the children want, to avoid duplication or unsuitable presents. While it’s good for children have special items in each home, it’s essential they feel able to take items between homes. This reinforces feelings of being at ‘home’ at either Mum’s or Dad’s place. Following separation financial constraints can make present buying difficult. Try to agree a budget on presents to save bitterness on both sides, and so your children don’t feel awkward if they’ve received an expensive gift from one parent they know will upset the other parent.
- Get help if you can’t reach agreement. If you are not able to agree matters between yourselves, consider getting help from a family mediator. A mediator will help you negotiate the arrangements and ensure you stay focused on the children’s needs. Christmas arrangements are often a stand-alone issue that parents bring to mediation even if other arrangements have been sorted.
What children want can be different to what their parents want at Christmas. Take a step back and reflect before you make plans and consider: is this really what the children want, do the arrangements meet their emotional needs?
Jane Busby is a divorce coach www.janebusby.com and family mediator www.accordfamilymediation.co.uk For more information contact email@example.com