The choppy waters of Separation: How to separate well.
When a couple splits up, they may experience a mix of confusion, shock, guilt, frustration, grief, loss, resentment, anger, rejection, shame and relief. The circumstances of the breakup; who decides it’s over, whether there was infidelity, who leaves, who initiates the divorce or civil partnership dissolution, inevitably affect these feelings, and the way each individual behaves and reacts. In trying to manage these emotions and navigate the choppy waters of a separation, a soon to be ex-spouse or partner may become unpredictable and unreliable in the other’s eyes. Feelings of rejection and bitterness can induce a desire to ‘hurt back’, escalating anger and conflict, and making it impossible to reach decisions.
Even when both parties are agreed that their marriage is over, feelings of frustration, grief, and shame often surface, all of which can affect an individual’s capacity to absorb information, make decisions, and access support at the time when they most need to do so.
As a family lawyer, pragmatic and strategic legal advice is a fundamental part of my job, but understanding, and helping clients to understand, that this cocktail of emotions is normal plays a vital role. After a separation, each person is likely to have a unique and private narrative as to why the relationship broke down. Very rarely will those two narratives be the same. But and it is a positive ‘but‘ disagreements are a normal part of family life. The key is knowing how to disagree in a way that is constructive, rather than destructive: in other words, learning how to argue better.
Good communication, even in disagreement, is essential to a constructive relationship, both before and after any split, this is particularly important where children are involved. Knowing how to argue better can help manage conflict and avoid getting stuck in a vicious argumentative cycle. This improves the chances of co-operation and can unlock solutions that will help a separating couple move forwards.
Separation is inevitably difficult, emotional and often overwhelming, but there are ways in which the effect can be minimised. Having seen countless people through this time in their lives, we have gathered some simple tips that can be helpful to everyone:
- Take your time: Very rarely do decisions need to be rushed and so giving yourself an opportunity to reflect and consider is so important before making decisions;
- Take care of yourself – make sure that you have the support you need from professionals as well as friends. Counselling and therapy can be extremely beneficial during this time;
- Listen to advice: it is easier for your lawyer to see the situation from all perspectives, and having seen various scenarios play out in the past we are well placed to advise you as to the best strategy for keeping things stable;
- Think about long term implications of your decisions: the brief pleasure to be had from scoring points or causing difficulties for the other party, is likely to result in longer term damage;
- Communicating effectively: listening and thinking about the perspective of the other person and your children will help you to find solutions that work;
- Consider your priorities and what you want to achieve – take your time over this and make sure you have all the facts, and advice, you need to make this decision.
- Look to the future: This is an opportunity for change and new projects.
There are lots of important decisions to make during separation and so you need to be well informed and well advised. The highlight for us is always seeing our clients at the end of this difficult process, having found the right path and excited about the future. At the outset, people often worry that they won’t get there, but they do.
To find out how best to approach separation, or would like advice relating to another family or children matter, please contact one of our family solicitors who are available remotely