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Divorce and endings

Author: Jackie Tasker
Published: Apr 1 2008

Relationship endings are difficult whether you're the one who's chosen to end it, or the one who's left behind.

However, for the one left behind the ending may be a shock, and unexpected.

Acceptance that the relationship is definitely over needs to happen before the recovery period can begin. This can be very difficult and will involve a period of questioning, blaming, analysing, and focusing on every detail of the relationship to try and understand what happened.

What went wrong?

Understanding why your relationship failed is the first step towards recovery. Many people get locked into questioning: Whose fault it is? What did I do wrong? How could they do that to me? This is understandable, but a more constructive approach is to focus on the relationship, rather than individual responsibility. It can be more helpful to think about these kind of questions:

? How were things when we first met?
? What attracted us to each other?
? What made our relationship good?
? How have we changed?
? What external factors have influenced our relationship?
? What has stopped us overcoming our differences?

Although the answers may be upsetting, the greater the understanding, the easier it'll be to let go and move on. During this time you'll experience many emotions, including anger, sadness, guilt, despair and confusion; you can expect good days and bad days.

Holding it together

On top of the emotional turmoil that accompanies the end of a relationship, there's a host of practical issues to address. These might include:

The children - providing support and time, access arrangements, childcare, telling the school, seeing in-laws, birthday and Christmas arrangements.

Money and property - who lives where, surviving on less income, managing the finances, who gets what in the home, pets.

Friends and family - telling parents/siblings/extended family members/friends, deciding how much to say and who should tell whom, maintaining friendships and relationships with in-laws.

Personal survival - which friends can support you practically and/or emotionally, how you'll create space to grieve, whether you might benefit from counselling, building relaxation into your schedule, treats can you reward yourself with when times are tough.

This last section is often the most neglected. After a relationship breakdown, many people find themselves struggling with feelings of low self-esteem and self-confidence, and with so many things to organise it can be easy to forget to give yourself time for your own feelings. Be gentle with yourself and gratefully receive all the support you can get from friends and family.

The children

This is undoubtedly one of the toughest times to be a parent, but your children need to know what's happening. You may think that hiding the severity of the situation protects them, but it actually leaves children feeling confused and may drive them away as they feel they can't trust you.

The amount of information you give them will depend on their ages, but they should be encouraged to ask as many questions as they need. Remember, you don't have to hide your feelings to reassure them that they're loved. In fact, sharing appropriately what you feel will help them make sense of their own emotions and feel OK about showing them.

Research increasingly shows the negative impact on children of separation, but the way it's handled is the key indicator of how well children adapt. You can get more help with this from Parentline Plus.

Moving on

It's normal to feel anxious and fearful when life's changing. But with more than two in five marriages ending in divorce, you're far from alone - there's an ever-expanding network of advice and support groups available.

Relate - Offers counselling for couples facing separation or divorce and information sessions to help parents manage the effect on children. Many centres also provide counselling for children affected by divorce. Website:

National Family Mediation - Provides details of local mediation services to help couples resolve practical difficulties with minimum conflict. Website:

Resolution - Offers details of solicitors who practise a constructive and conciliatory approach to the legalities. Website:

Citizens Advice - For advice on money, housing and legal issues. Website:

The pros and cons When people try to decide if their relationship's over, they often find themselves weighing up the pros and cons.

On the pros side they put all their partner's positive character traits, the happy memories and the advantages of being together.

On the cons they list all the things they don't like about their partner, the painful memories and the reasons why living together sometimes feels impossible.

The problem with this system is that they're never measuring like for like. For example, when listing personal qualities, how many negatives would it take to counteract being an excellent mother? And how many happy memories does it take to outweigh an affair?

Unfortunately, there's no formula and no conclusive tests when it comes to deciding whether your relationship's over. All you can do is ask yourself some difficult, soul-searching questions and see what the answers bring.

Is love enough?

Love means different things to different people and at different stages of their lives, so can it be relied on in the decision-making process? For example, one woman may spend years in an abusive relationship, saying "I love him," while another will walk away from a seemingly idyllic marriage because she's no longer "in love".

Love can sometimes blind us to the reality of what we really have. And although it's difficult, we can choose to love someone and we can choose to stop loving them. As well as being a feeling, love is something we do.

Do you like your partner?

Before you can love someone, you have to like them.

If you enjoy being with your partner, agree with how they think and behave, and share the same dreams in life, you're doing well. If your partner is also someone whom you respect, trust and feel affection for, you have all the basics for love to grow.

Can you communicate?

All relationships hit problems at one time or another; the key to overcoming them is communication.

Within your relationship, there needs to be a genuine capacity for sharing and expressing your thoughts and feelings in a way that feels OK for you both. There also need to be ways to resolve conflict and for you both to address any unmet needs.

Is change possible?

If there's a particular issue that makes you want to leave, you first need to consider whether it's possible to make changes to resolve the problem.

Is the problem something you can let go, or is it fundamental to your happiness? If it's the former, you have to ask yourself if you can change; if it's the latter, can your partner do the changing?

If your partner doesn't agree that there's a problem, they won't change. If they do agree and are willing to change, you have to decide whether you believe they have the capacity to change.

Is it too late?

There's no doubt that some situations do get better with time. Even the most painful betrayals can become less significant if there's an ability to forgive and move on.

But if either you or your partner has been hanging on to a grudge for years and there's no indication that the pain has eased at all, you may decide it's too late for a resolution.

Another indication that it may be too late to save the relationship is if one of you has already started to develop a life that excludes the other. This might include a change in career or lifestyle, or starting another relationship that you don't want to end. If this is the case, then even though you haven't made a verbal decision to end the relationship, it may be that emotionally you've already left.

Deciding to end a relationship is extremely difficult and not a decision to be taken quickly or lightly. Many people find that talking through their thoughts and feelings with a counsellor can help.

Food for thought:

Does the good outweigh the bad?

Make a list of all the things you like about your partner versus things that could doom the relationship . Don't just see which list is longer. Instead decide which items are most important on each list and determine if you can live with the negatives.

Will you achieve long-term happiness? Picture yourself with this person one year from now, five years, ten years, fifty years. Do you foresee a future of happiness or constant heartache?

Is anybody else out there? Consider colleagues, friends, acquaintances, anyone in your circle of contacts. Do you deep down prefer one of these people over your current partner? Do you value the chance to meet someone new over sticking it out?

Does your partner put you first?

Does he or she at least treat you equally? If not, you may be in for disappointment down the road.

Do you ultimately trust your partner?

If you have major character questions and trust issues, this is a clear indication that the relationship either needs major work or should be ended.

Bond with other Singles

At any given time, you probably have a mix of friends in loving relationships as well as those searching for love. Don't be afraid to look-up single friends you haven't seen or spoken to in awhile and make plans for Friday and Saturday night. You'll stay busy on the weekend and maybe even rekindle an old friendship.

Start a social hobby

If there is a hobby or activity you have been meaning to try for the first time, or take-up again, this is your chance. Focus on activities that allow you to meet new and interesting people. Examples might include a cooking class, sports league, or bridge club.

Go easy on the next person you meet

Beware of continuing unfinished business with the next person you meet. If you didn't have a chance to truly close the door on your last relationship, don't project your open issues on the next unsuspecting soul. See the new person as a clean slate and allow the relationship to unfold with no connections to your past.

Don't sling shot your ex

It can be very tempting, particularly on lonely nights, to look up your ex or accept an invitation from your ex for a rekindle. The more you fall back on your old ways, the harder it will be to truly move on. Don't fall for the short term satisfaction of a night out or easy hook-up at the expense of stirring up all the hurt from the breakup.

Apply what you've learned

Take out a journal and write down everything that went well versus what could have been better in your relationship. Be honest since you're the only one looking at the entry. What could you do better next time? What positive traits did your ex possess that you should look for in the next relationship, or maybe even incorporate into your own style?

Talk about something else

Everyone goes through a period of venting to their friends and family about what went wrong and how your ex deserves to go straight to prison. It's okay to do a little venting, but spare your inner circle from an endless tirade for months at a time. Commit to yourself that the next time you call a close friend, you'll focus exclusively on them. This will help you get out of your head for a while and start feeling normal again.

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