Self-care during separation and divorce

From relief and a new-found sense of freedom to utter devastation and confusion, the end of a relationship provokes a vast range of emotions.

Wherever you fall on that spectrum, grief and loss are universal experiences at the end of a relationship.

Social scientists tell us that the impact of divorce can affect our IQ and that it is the second most stressful life event a person can experience, second only to death of a spouse.

It’s no wonder then that you may be feeling anger, confusion, guilt, shame, helplessness, resentment and loneliness – even if you’re the one that decided to end the relationship. The emotional turmoil going on internally for you right now might also bring on other difficulties including physical symptoms of heightened or chronic stress – including loss of sleep or appetite, lack of motivation, isolation, withdrawal, forgetfulness, weight loss or gain, misuse of alcohol or other substances and other destructive behaviours.

So how do you climb out of the pit of despair and prevent the emotional and mental anguish from setting up permanent residence in your life? Unfortunately there’s no express elevator from the bottom of the post-divorce mountain up to the top of ‘sunshine days’ again. In my time as a family lawyer (and having gone through a tricky break-up myself) it’s a rare person that makes this climb through separation and divorce unaffected.

Everyone’s experience is individual, and there is no one roadmap to take you to brighter days. but are some strategies you may find useful:

Get the basics right – ensure that you are prioritising your physical health because the recovery days after separation and divorce will be much, much harder if you’re navigating them exhausted or in poor health. Adequate sleep, healthy diet, regular movement of your body and exercising restraint with alcohol or other substances is key. If you’re struggling in these areas, see your General Practitioner for guidance.

Seek professional therapeutic help. A counsellor, therapist or psychologist can support you to develop positive coping skills and strategies to assist you to navigate the acute phase after the break-up happens and then the adjustment phase of your break-up experience.

Friends, family and well-meaning people in our lives can be great to ‘download’ to and of course form a key part of our practical and emotional support networks moving forward after divorce. Be mindful though that while they are well meaning, they may also have had a relationship with your former partner and are processing a level of loss too. They might not be able to be objective when providing you with guidance.

Professional therapeutic support is readily accessible these days – whether it is via your Employer Assistance Program, through a Mental Health Care Plan from your General Practitioner or by accessing a community organisation. Accessing confidential assistance from a skilled and trained professional is an essential to steer you to a place of acceptance.

Don’t rush. Give yourself, and your ex, time to process to the change in direction your life is now taking. Try to stay in your normal routines as much as possible in the early stages, if you can. Accept that the separation process – including legal aspects – will take some time. Talk to us about your individual situation – as early as possible – and we can give some guidance about expected timeframes that are relevant to your situation.

Commonly, people want to get the big decisions that come with separation and divorce ‘over with’ as quickly as possible, including sorting out care of their children, and dividing finances and property. Making long-term decisions when you’re not sleeping or eating well, or where you may be feeling tidal wave surges of emotions still is not a great idea. Even if you do make those changes fast, it won’t necessarily help you to leap-frog over the healing process. The realisation of poor choices early on, might come back to bite later.

Focus on the big picture and don’t lose hope. It’s easy to ruminate on the past, to blame, or to glorify what could have (or should have) been. A helpful way to look towards the future is toput your energy into rebuilding your new life, rather than into the past, or embroiled in conflict with your ex. You could return to doing things that you enjoyed that you may have sacrificed in the past in your relationship – whether it be eating certain foods once again, taking control of the Netflix algorithm or redecorating your home.

A good self-care routine can also help you to better navigate the emotional rollercoaster that can follow separation. Whether it’s time outdoors, meditation, enjoying a hobby or journaling to set some positive goals – self-care is the antidote to stress. It can help you to quell those raging feelings of uncertainty and panic. Remind yourself that this phase of your life, when you are hurting, is not permanent. You will find a ‘new normal’ and your emotional turmoil will ease off.

Take legal advice as early as possible. Apart from making a real difference to the outcomes you may achieve when it comes from the legal issues that need to be addressed in your separation or divorce, getting early legal advice can help to diminish those feelings of sheer overwhelm while you’re living with uncertainty. You don’t have to let your mind race with thoughts of ‘what if’ when even a single discussion with a specialist family lawyer can help put your mind at rest. It’s confidential to speak with us, we don’t tell anyone unless or until you ask us to.

Knowledge is power. Don’t stay in the dark or rely on the internet for legal advice during a life crisis like divorce and separation. Friends and family may mean well in sharing what their neighbour’s, sister’s cousin did during their divorce – but remember that there is no textbook formula for divorce and separation. Each family is unique, and the solutions should be tailored to fit them. 

A specialist family lawyer will listen to you, explain the law as it applies to your situation and then outline the process and legal steps that lie ahead for you. At Parker Coles Curtis, we have a devoted team of lawyers practising solely in family law. We’ll work with you to develop a plan to move things forward, when the time is right for you, with care and compassion. Call us today for a free, no-obligation 15-minute introductory chat.