You probably never thought you would find yourself ending your marriage, but here you are. With a flood of emotions - fear, anxiety, grief, anger, possibly relief - you wonder, "how can I get myself and my kids (if you have them) through the initial separation, let alone a divorce?" Despite the roller coaster of emotions that you are experiencing (that's the bad news), the good news is that you can navigate your separation and make the transition as smooth as possible.
As you do so, keep these things in mind
- Breath. Often. And, above all else, be kind to yourself. By doing that, you will be able to take care of others. Compassion and kindness towards yourself not only is a healthy choice; it also demonstrates to your family that self-respect and kindness starts at home (with yourself) and, despite the turbulent time that lies ahead, you can allow yourself to treat yourself nicely. We are that important.
- Consider mediation. Divorce certainly doesn't have to mean war (though many couples unfortunately find themselves at war). Mediation is a great opportunity to design your own divorce settlement. It allows you to create an agreement with each person where they are able to use their voice and express how they feel. It benefits each person's emotional satisfaction and demonstrates that, even though they are no longer a family in the way they were before, each person's needs - especially those of their children – can be met. This path also allows for better communication and cooperation as both parents start their new relationship as co-parents.
- Explore outside help. I have helped and continue to help hundreds of people – both together and separately – navigate their new landscape called separation. An outside, objective viewpoint helps people look at their situation with a different set of eyes and create a new narrative for their future. Therapy often provides greater clarity and insight. It also provides a safe space where they can express all of their emotions so they can make rational decisions moving forward that aren't overly emotional (which many come to regret later in the process).
- Anticipate changes in the community. It's not uncommon for divorcing couples (or at least one of them) to have to leave the community of friends, family, and/or colleagues they have shared their life with up until this point. That is another major life transition that adds another layer of both adjustments and emotions. You must recognize that with a separation/divorce some of the friendships may be lost along the way and that possibly, like the marriage, they were never mean to be forever. I often share the cliché that people come into your lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Friends may also feel like they have to take sides. This can be a little dicey at times, but not expecting them to take sides or talking negatively about your soon-to-be ex will help decrease the tension and get you get back on your feet sooner.
- Create new traditions. This is something to consider as a work in progress. When a family is defined differently, some things will remain the same, other things will change. Your narrative will be different and how you navigate in your new family will also change. However, that doesn't have to be something negative. Parents (individually) can start to create new traditions and use a time of change as an opportunity - not a challenge.
- Help your children. For children there are several things that parents can do to create a smooth transition. Here are a few key things to keep in mind:
- Children do better when they are able to maintain an individual relationship with each parent.
- Children do better when their parents get along and keep their conflict between them away from their children.
- Children do better when neither parent puts the children in the middle – especially emotionally or using their child/children as a sounding board or emotional support.
- Children do better when both parents sit down with them and explain the situation and what it means to be separated, what it will look like, where they will be living.
- Children do better when there is consistency in their lives. There should be consistency across both homes to the best of the parents' abilities and they know what things will stay the same (bedroom, school, friends).
- Children take their cues from parents (called social referencing). They will look to you (kids are keen observers and looking for guidance) to help them feel better and understand it will all be ok. Present a strong front - even if inside it doesn't always feel that way. That doesn't mean fake your feelings, but choose your moments to share and disclose, with caution.
Separation is a time of upheaval, but keeping these things in mind as your family changes will help everyone navigate this major life transition. Eventually, you will find yourself on the other side - and feeling optimistic about your future and your family!
Dr. Kristin Davin (AKA "Dr. D") is a Divorce Mediator and Clinical Psychologist practicing in New York City. Her approach is based upon Cognitive Behavior Therapy combined with Solution Focused Therapy. You can learn more at www.kristindavin.com.