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How can I have a peaceful separation?

Your partner and you have decided to separate. Regardless of whether you initiated the decision, were the responder or it was something you agreed upon jointly, endings are emotional and people’s feelings will vary each and every time.

Whatever your situation, be it friendly or bitter, the process can be amicable if you both make a conscious choice and effort to stay that way. The Separation Guide spoke with Tarnya Davis, and Heather Irvine-Rundle, both clinical psychologists on the NSW Central Coast who shared some key steps you can take for the best chance of an amicable separation:

1. Deal with emotions first

Separation is a time of great emotional pain and enormous change. An incredibly important step is to seek counselling from a neutral party which will support you to deal with the loss of a significant relationship. “It’s important to manage your own emotional reactions in the situation,” says Tarnya. “Investing in preparation is a good idea… people can hang on to these issues for a very very long time”. Learning coping strategies will help you to survive the transition, and working through these can help to put you in a better place to have a peaceful and amicable separation.
“If you can manage your own emotion and settle yourself… then sometimes that change results in the change to come”, says Tarnya. Heather adds “grief is the dream of what you thought you were going to have and it’s really important that you’re supported to grieve in that way”. Grieving that the future is going to be different, feeling hurt, dealing with feelings of anger or resentment are important issues you need to work through and resolve before you go down the path of having a peaceful divorce. “Saying to yourself, ‘when my emotions are in check, that’s the greatest gift I can give myself’ ”
Adds Heather “and then we need to move forward`.

2. Practice radical acceptance

If you’re the partner that was not the initiator of the separation, it may be very difficult to accept that the relationship is over. This can greatly affect your self esteem and sense of self worth. “When we look at it in our industry, we call this radical acceptance. What it means is that although we don’t want to, it takes a radical step to accept that this person isn’t going to be the person in our lives that we wanted. It’s radical to believe that we’re not going to grow old together. It’s radical to accept that there’s going to be a new mother or a new person who’s going to be around our children. And it’s called radical acceptance because it often is a big radical leap.”

3. Avoid speaking poorly about your former partner

“Especially if there are children involved” says Tarnya. Perhaps one of the crucial steps to ensuring you have a peaceful divorce, is making sure that you avoid any negative talk about your former partner. “A big part of what kids see and learn is how their parents might manage their difficult emotions around separation. Accepting that you have control over how you think, how you react and how you behave” show that it’s possible to have an amicable divorce. Learning to forgive, or putting your pain to the side while you deal with the practical aspects, can make the journey to a peaceful separation much easier. Primarily, “thinking about how children feel, and how they are coping with this very difficult time in their lives”. Think about your post-divorce relationship. What do you want it to look like? How will you get there? Your choices here will help the next part of your journey.

4. Put the children first, always

“The thing is, separation is probably one of the most traumatic and difficult times a family might go through”, says Tarnya. For the greatest peaceful transition, both of you should be prepared to share the major decisions about the welfare of your children and continue to communicate positively with one another in relation to the children’s lives. Be prepared to trial a few different arrangements and find one that works for both of you and the children. You can’t possibly know what will work best until you’ve given different arrangements a chance. One which ensures the children remain happy along the way.

5. Deal with losses of mutual friendships maturely

Often separating couples lose a group of friends and colleagues in the process of separating. “The shock of ‘this is what I’ve lost’ and the grief side of the change… can mean huge social changes, losing your partner as well as their extended family or having to move homes or changing your work situation” adds to discomfort within the situation. Avoid expecting your friends or colleagues to take sides, Tarnya suggests that sometimes “we can’t change something that we may think is unfair. But if it can’t be changed, continuing to rally against that only just causes you more pain and suffering”. Accepting what is and focusing on what you can control, letting friends know you want a peaceful separation and that you can both continue your own friendships if they choose to.

6. See if Guided Separation might be right for you

Getting divorced does not need to be the same as the movies. There is a better way. Guided Separation allows couples to engage with a legally-qualified Mediator to help them reach a fair agreement. Mediation is a process whereby an independent third party helps both parties to find a resolution that is mutually acceptable. To find out if a Mediator assisting you through Guided Separation might be right for your situation, take our free 3-minute Q&A here and know all your options.

Tarnya Davis is a clinical and forensic psychologist based in Newcastle, NSW and Heather is a Clinical Psychologist on the Central Coast, NSW. 

The Separation Guide aims to make separation and divorce simpler, more manageable and less stressful. To find out more about how one of our Network Members could support your separation, take our free 3-minute Q&A.

The information in our resources is general only. Consider getting in touch with a professional adviser if you need support with your legal, financial or wellbeing needs.