Separation and divorce
Taking the decision to end a relationship is difficult, no matter what your circumstances are. Not only are there a lot of deep-rooted emotions involved, there are often a lot of practicalities to consider, which can make it an especially difficult transition to make in life.
You might find yourself facing the prospect of becoming a single parent, moving out of a home that you love, and saying goodbye to a relationship that you once had high hopes for. Whatever the reasons for your separation, counselling can help you make a smoother transition into the next chapter of your life, helping you overcome the challenges you may face.
On this page, we’ll explore the common reasons for a relationship breakdown, the process of moving on from separation and how a professional can support you during this time.
When do couples decide to divorce?
There are many reasons why a couple may choose to separate but, ultimately, divorce and separation are admissions that a relationship no longer works. Despair and loss of love visit most relationships - a divorce is often used as a bid to leave the despair and disappointment behind.
If a couple cannot respect each other and loathing is their only link, they may be asked to consider a permanent separation. When there is abuse, violence or repeated betrayal present in the relationship then again, separation may be advised. Other reasons couples may decide to separate include after an affair, because of arguments or due to sexual problems.
For many couples, there can be an unbearable sense of failure and disappointment, and this can be explored in counselling. This can help to reduce bitterness and allow a way forward - together or individually.
The implications of divorce or separation
Some people say that separation from a long-term relationship is one of the toughest experiences to deal with. It can be difficult to simply ‘move on’.
Moving on can be particularly tough if you have to remain in contact with your ex-partner, for instance, if you have children together. You will likely still see or speak to one another, in order for the ‘parenting relationship’ to continue. Other situations such as living together can also drag the process out, making it harder for both parties to move on.
Below are some of the topics that can be discussed in a divorce or separation counselling session:
If children are involved
If you have children, you’ll need to make arrangements for looking after your children and share financial support for your children with your ex-partner. Agreeing about these things is separate from the legal paperwork that officially ends your relationship.
With all of these changes happening, separation can affect children in a multitude of ways. While you might think you know your child better than anyone, their feelings may not always be obvious, even to you. So how do you keep your child up to date without hurting their feelings?
Many children may feel a sense of loss. Their way of life has been altered and they hanker for the original family structure. They may have unspoken fears of being left alone; when a parent leaves they may feel that they may be left too.
- Counsellor Pam Custers discusses the impact of divorce on the rest of the family.
Try to put yourself in their shoes - it’s a traumatic event. An ideal world for them is both of their parents living together happily. The impact of separation can be reduced for children, however, by separating peacefully. For instance, cooperation when sorting out the finances, living arrangements and other legalities, can greatly reduce the emotional stress for yourself and for your children.
Many couples who are separating argue for one reason or another, whether it’s over belongings, children or money. It’s important to remember, though, that there is a difference between arguing and being assertive.
Counsellor and difficult relationships specialist Andrea Harrn gives her top 10 tips for assertiveness during divorce proceedings.
Being assertive will help you to approach divorce with a positive attitude that can help create an environment where all parties get their needs met. Trying to avoid aggression or seeking revenge can help you communicate better with your ex-partner. And, if you are able to make your own agreements between you, you can usually avoid going to court hearings, which can add yet more stress to the situation.
You can still stand up for yourself and to say how you feel when you need to, just remember that in the long run, arguments won’t be beneficial in helping you to move on.
Moving on after separation
Acceptance issues are quite prevalent in separation and divorce. It can be difficult, but you need to think of a way that you and your ex-partner can accept what’s happening with the intention of moving forward.
This is the very first stage of moving on. It says that there’s no going back - that you won’t be a loving, intimate couple again, and that your relationship is really over. This can give you both a great sense of relief.
With the help of a counsellor, you can address these feelings in a controlled space with the intention of moving on.
Starting a new journey
It can be hard to see it in a positive light at the outset, but the end of your relationship offers a new beginning. It can take a while, but you will find the motivation to start a new journey. Speaking with a professional may help you in a number of ways, including:
- Looking for new, long-term happiness.
- Gaining a positive mindset for the future.
- Becoming courageous in new endeavours.
A separation or divorce counsellor can help you through this tough time, with the aim of securing your long-term happiness.
Counsellor Sharon Kirby discusses how to move on after a relationship breakdown.
What is separation or divorce counselling?
Separation counselling can make some sense of what seems like a catastrophe. Affairs, betrayal and arguments are usually symptoms of deeper problems which have been in the relationship for some time. These might relate to communication problems or issues of trust which are unresolved.
As a couple, it can be helpful to gain closure on your lives together. Having an ‘ending’ can allow you to better understand what was good and what was less helpful in the relationship. Counselling can be an opportunity to explore the deeper problems, that either went unnoticed or felt impossible to deal with. This chance to minimise hurt and hostility can allow for a less bitter future.
Counselling can help address issues relating to separation and divorce by:
- Minimising the impact on children and other family members.
- Helping make sense of what has happened.
- Allowing for change and progression.
- Offering perspective and closure.
Divorce counselling works on the assumption that the relationship is at a stage where both people cannot continue in a romantic relationship together. This gives both people the opportunity to examine their relationship without the pressure to ‘fix’ it. Without this pressure, honesty and openness can often replace blame and anger.
Seeing a therapist after a divorce or separation or during the process of ending a relationship, can offer you a safe and nonjudgmental space to think at depth about your relationship, discuss the wide range of feelings and emotions you are experiencing, and gain some clarity of thought.
- Psychotherapist Joshua Miles
This more distant perspective offers the chance for both partners to better understand why the relationship didn't work out. Understanding how to move on is a valuable way to allow individuals to progress with their lives, rather than rolling the same issues over into new relationships.
How does it differ from couples counselling?
Separation counselling differs from couples counselling or marriage guidance, where the aim is for partners to seek to improve their relationship and find a way forward together. This type of counselling aims to resolve issues and improve communication in an intimate relationship.
Couples counselling works with both people in the relationship, however, sessions can start with one individual, working towards the involvement of the other partner.
Deciding to seek separation or divorce counselling
Often this type of counselling is undertaken in response to a crisis, either a letter from the partner’s solicitor, the discovery of an affair or the escalation of an argument. Some time might be needed for the dust to settle to allow the capacity to think about what has happened, rather than trying to make sense while one partner is still in shock.
If a partner is hesitant about their decision to divorce, counselling is an opportunity to unpack some of the problems in a structured and informed way. It can be an opportunity for both partners to ask each other questions about the relationship and notice any particular patterns that have led to problems.
When one partner has decided to leave and the other has not, the work has a ‘split agenda’ which requires an experienced couples counsellor. If the decision is made to separate, practical decisions may need to be considered. For example, channels of communication may need to be set up in regards to family, children and property.
When is the right time to seek separation or divorce counselling?
There is no wrong time to seek counselling. Talking about what has happened can only benefit your well-being and help you cope with what is to come. Some of the more common reasons for couples to seek counselling include:
- when you feel that you cannot continue living together
- when life changes leave one partner feeling excluded
- when communication has broken down
- when despair and bitterness are overwhelming
- after an affair
What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?
While there are no official rules and regulations in position which stipulate what level of training and experience a couple’s counsellor, marriage guidance counsellor or relationship counsellor needs, we do recommend that you check your therapist is experienced in the area for which you are seeking help.
Feel confident to ask your counsellor about their experience in working with separating couples. A diploma level qualification (or equivalent) in relationship counselling or a related topic will provide assurance and peace of mind that your counsellor has developed the necessary skills.
Another way to assure they have undergone specialist training is to check if they belong to a relevant professional organisation that represents couples counsellors. Bear in mind that some of the traditional couples counselling agencies operate within a religious framework. Be sure to check what the orientation is and that it fits with your own beliefs and needs.
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