The emotional journey
Divorce and separation are some of the most stressful life events you can go through. Even if you have accepted that your relationship is over, it can still be a difficult and emotional time. Most people find that ending a relationship has an effect on their well-being.
Understanding your emotional journey after a divorce or separation is important. You and your ex-partner could be at different stages on your journey. If you can recognise how you are feeling, this may help you to find the support that you need.
The change curve is a way for you to work out where you are on your emotional journey. You can use it during any key personal change in your life.
The stages are:
1. Shock and surprise – even where your relationship has been ‘rocky’ the decision to end it may still come as a shock
2. Denial – carrying on as if nothing has happened
3. Frustration and anger – you may continue to blame others for an extended period
4. Depression – a period where everything seems pointless
5. Experimentation – where you may try out new activities in social life, work, learning. You may now start to emotionally move away from each other
6. Decisions – new activities are kept or dropped depending on whether they work for you
7. Integration – your emotional attachment to your ex-partner has changed and you can both move on with your new lives
If you were the one to make the decision to end the relationship; then you may have already have gone through some of the earlier stages. You may already be at the experimental or decision stage, but your ex-partner may only be at the start of their journey. Try to realise that this difference in emotional state could cause friction. They may be upset that you are not experiencing the same emotions as them.
When separation is recent you can see from the curve that you could both be in different places. This can make collaboration with your ex-partner difficult, leading to conflict and is often the reason why you may not be able to agree on things.
Everything you are both feeling is completely normal.
Being able to recognising where your ex is on their journey may help you to understand their actions. It may have been clear to you that the relationship was not working. Yet they may have been completely contented and are now feeling shock and anger. Or visa versa.
There is no magic time line for how long it takes you to get through each stage. The shock stage may last longer for you than for other couples where the separation was mutual. You can sometimes even find yourself going backwards along this curve.
Children also go through this process – which we often forget. How they progress through it will depend on the level of parental support they get.
But also other factors like their
- number of brothers & sisters
- relationship to each parent
- self-esteem levels
Conflict is normal in relationships but you should try to manage it well. Research shows that when conflict is frequent, intense and poorly resolved it can be harmful to your child’s life chances.
Realize that everyone could be a different stage on this journey. This may then help you to understand the actions of your ex-partner and your children. It can also help you understand the effects that your actions may have on them.
Your emotional well-being is important. Just talking things through with someone you trust can really help you.
These people could include:
• friends and family
• a local support group
• your GP
• a trusted professional (e.g. a health visitor)
There are other pages in our ‘health’ topic that will build on this information. Coping in the early days, gives details about the 3 separation tasks that most people experience. All of our pages link to specialist organisations who can offer extended support during this difficult time.
Where can I go next?
Gingerbread - looking after your emotional health
A factsheet from Gingerbread that focuses on the wellbeing of parents, ideas to help improve how you feel, boost your confidence and manage difficult situations.
The Parent Connection
Created by One Plus One, the Parent Connection helps parents who are either going through separation or who are struggling with issues associated with parenting after parting.
Centre for Separated Families - what you might expect
Learn more about how you might experience separation, from The Centre for Separated Families, a national charity that works with everyone affected by family separation.
Relate - counselling and mediation
Relate's counselling and mediation services and programmes to help you deal with the effects of a break-up.