Looking after your emotional health and wellbeing during a separation is essential. Whether it’s the early days and you’re just starting to investigate your options, your partner told you that they’d like to break up, or you separated a while ago, your emotional wellbeing will likely be taking a hit.
It can be hard to get through the day and stay productive when you have so much on your mind and your life is in turmoil. It’s normal to feel a huge range of emotions, and there are some emotional stages you are likely to experience.
The stages of grief in separation and divorce
Separation is considered the second most stressful life event we can experience after the death of a spouse. It is no surprise that the stages of grief during separation are similar to the stages people go through in bereavement. You may go through some of these when you’re still together or all of them after you separate. And it’s important to respect that you may be on a different grief timeline than your partner.
Stage 1: Denial
This stage might be when the cracks start in your relationship, or you’re ‘going through the motions’ but don’t want to admit it. Or it may be that your partner has raised the possibility of separation and divorce, but you’re not willing to accept it. Denial is a natural mechanism that we use to protect ourselves from pain or loss. Your partner may push your separation forward even if you are in denial. Recognising this emotion and seeking help if you can’t get past it is important.
Stage 2: Anger
Anger is a natural emotion when we grieve. It is normal to feel anger towards an ex-partner. You may feel hatred, guilt, blame, or betrayal. Feelings of anger may extend to friends, family, in-laws or even your children. Some people may also be angry with you. This is the stage when things are most likely to escalate between you. To move past this stage, it’s important to allow yourself to feel emotions and find a way to express how you’re feeling without causing more conflict. Many people seek professional help to deal with these difficult emotions.
Stage 3: Bargaining
Bargaining can look like a need to gain control and find a solution to your situation. One partner may have that ‘if only’ feeling, and try to make it work. Couples often attempt reconciliation or couples counselling at this stage. Even if you know deep inside that separation is the right option, it’s common to give things another chance. While around 20% of couples do reconcile successfully, sometimes this stage is about putting off the inevitable.
Stage 4: Depression
At this stage, the realities of separation set in. It’s not uncommon to experience feelings of hopelessness, especially if attempts to make it work have failed. Remember, you are experiencing loss – sadness is normal. People often feel physically and mentally exhausted at this stage of the grieving process. Your eating and sleeping may be affected, and you might retreat socially. It’s easy to feel isolated at this stage, especially if you and your partner had the same circle of friends. Perhaps your family loved your ex, and you feel guilty. It’s important to know that you are not alone. Many have been down this path before you, and there is a way through. Speak to a professional if you feel you are struggling. Your GP is the place to start.
Stage 5: Acceptance
This is the last stage of grief. It is when you begin to feel at peace with your separation and divorce as you get into the rhythm of your new life. It’s when you rediscover yourself as an independent person and start living your ‘new normal.’ Acceptance doesn’t mean you stop feeling strong emotions about ending a significant relationship. You may still feel some negative emotions, but you can accept that you can move forward. This is the time that many couples feel they can progress their separation further in a calm and amicable manner.
You may experience some of these stages of grief again, but you’ve come through it, and you know that it will pass.
Seek help for your emotional health
Life goes on when we go through a breakup. This is especially true when there are children in a relationship. It’s not always possible to cope with it all by yourself.
Moving through these stages of grief is incredibly hard. Separation and divorce is a time when people who have never seen a counsellor or psychologist seek professional support.
Your doctor is the first person you can speak to if you are going through a difficult time. They can provide a mental health care plan to help you work through your challenges. They may refer you to an expert, like a psychologist, or suggest other types of mental health care that can support you. If you have a mental health care plan, you are eligible for a Medicare rebate on some or all of the cost of up to ten sessions with a mental health expert in a year.
Counsellors and psychologists
Many people find it beneficial to have some sessions with a psychologist or counsellor to help them deal with the emotional distress of separation. These sessions can help you deal with loss, give you a deeper understanding of yourself, and provide some strategies for dealing with interactions with your ex-partner.
A range of other strategies and practices can help in a time of emotional turmoil. Exercise, breath work, meditation and yoga are all used to increase mindfulness and alleviate stress.
Working through your grief with the help of mental health professionals and mindfulness practices can help you think more clearly about your needs. It means that when you deal with legal and financial professionals, you can focus on reaching an agreement that will be best for your future and not one based on emotional decision-making.
Take responsibility for what comes next
When you go through the grief of separation, be kind to yourself. It’s unusual for people to handle this complex life change without support. Start speaking with the right professionals and let your family and friends know how you are mentally and emotionally. Allow yourself the time to process the stages of grief.
And with time, you can tell yourself, ‘I’ve got this.’ You can start to take control and responsibility for what happens next. When you do this, you start making the changes you need for a positive future, rather than waiting for someone who may not be interested in your welfare or your journey to change for you.
The best person who can put your life on track is you.
If you are struggling and need immediate help, please reach out to one of these support services.
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.