Psychological intern Catherine Radloff specializes in working with families. She shares some of her thoughts when it comes to the emotional side of a break up (for legal advice go to How to handle separation: The legal stuff). Here are some of her survival tips:
What to expect and how to protect yourself
It is important for women to recognize their various identities. E.g. you are not only a wife. You're also a mother/ teacher/ friend/ sister/ colleague/ businesswoman etc.
Know the five stages of loss (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) and expect them to reoccur. Eventually you will reach acceptance.
Therapy can help. Find the name of a good councilor or psychologist to talk to.
Keep a journal to ventilate and understand your emotions.
Expect to feel sadness and loss and allow yourself to mourn the death of your relationship.
But if you notice that after a few months your eating and/or sleeping patterns are still disturbed and you are experiencing a complete loss of enjoyment, your normal grief reaction might have become something more serious, and you should see a doctor or psychologist. Remember, clinical depression can't be cured by happy thoughts.
What to expect from your children and how to protect them
Look for signs of depression (often expressed as irritability or temper tantrums) in your kids.
Do not expose your children to the inevitable quarrels between you and your partner.
Allow your children to express their emotions. Don't give false reassurance or ignore their angry feelings.
Communicate with younger children through play. Children often don't have the verbal skills to express their feelings. You can help them for e.g. by having them draw their fears/ family/ worries, or use dolls for role play.
Your children will blame you for the separation. Don't take it personally.
Be consistent with discipline and attention. Your kids need stability.
Do not 'parentify' your children. Your kids should not be your support network. Remember, you are the parent.
Do not bad-mouth the other partner in front of the children. That's what friends are for. Children recover far better if the separation is amicable.
Let them know that the divorce is not their fault. Radloff says that especially young children get confused and it's not uncommon for them to talk about "our divorce" in therapy.
Expect manipulative behaviour. This is often geared towards creating situations where the parents are forced together. (I.e. Your teenaged daughter crying for her dad at night to get him to come to the house.)
Never ask your kids to spy. (E.g. What's Daddy's new house like?)
Don't burden children with financial worries. Children often experience tremendous anxiety around money issues.
Expect a marked drop in grades. Reassure them.
After separation children often think they don't have a family. Let them know that they'll always have a family – just a different one.
For more information on how to cope with a break up or divorce, go to How to handle separation.
Have you gone through a divorce? Would you like to share your tips and insights? What helped you get through it?