How to cope when your marriage or long-term relationship ends

By psychologist Angie Willcocks

Many people seem to think the divorce rate is higher in mining relationships. I’ve got to say I’ve never seen evidence of this in research. But, given that about one in three Australian marriages ends in divorce, it’s likely that at least a few of you will be divorced, separated or thinking about leaving your partner.

The end of a marriage or long-term relationship is heart breaking, and one of the toughest challenges many people will ever face.

Of course most of us start our marriage (or de facto relationship) with a lot of love in our hearts and high hopes for the future. As time goes by, day-to-day life brings stresses like the mortgage, bills, pets, kids, nappies, sleepless nights, work, family and household chores … and this is all considered ‘normal’! Throw in a few unexpected events like a serious illness in the family, job loss, bad accident or infidelity, and it’s little wonder that about a third of marriages end.

Apparently, divorce rates peak at about eight years these days. Common reasons for ending a marriage are ‘falling out of love’, poor communication, ‘drifting apart’, different interests and expectations and one or the other person ‘changing’. Other reasons are infidelity, drug or alcohol problems and financial pressures.

Whatever the reason, the break-up of a marriage or long-term relationship is very stressful and an intensely emotional time, even if you’re the one who wants out. Take this old friend of mine who has just left her husband: the first time I saw her she was celebrating the end the marriage with a big grin, a glass of bubbly and excited plans for her future; the next time I saw her she told me she’d burst into tears in the supermarket and left without any shopping. Apparently, it had suddenly dawned on her that she didn’t know how to shop for herself and her ‘part-time’ kids. This friend’s emotional rollercoaster is to be expected, and we can expect that her ex-husband is on a rollercoaster of his own.

A whole range of emotions and symptoms are reported by recently separated men and women, including:

If you’re facing the end of a marriage or long-term relationship, it’s important to know that you’re not alone and support is available. It’s a tough time and here are some tips that might help you cope:

And now a word on the kids.

I can’t tell you how many times separating parents have told me that the kids either “don’t know what’s going on” or “don’t care”. I don’t think this is ever true. What I think is that the parents are understandably busy with their own emotions and kids have very different ways of showing grief. In reality, kids have a whole mix of emotions about the separation of their parents, from grief and panic to relief. Some parents just get too overwhelmed when they’re forced to consider the emotions of their children. Here are the tips I give to parents in this situation:

Click here for information on children and separation from Relationships Australia and here for info on divorce and finances.

Booklets on separation are also available on the Beyond Blue website, and here are some other numbers that may help:

And finally, please note that ending a relationship that is abusive or violent requires special planning and support. For help call the Domestic Violence Helpline in your state.
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