The unraveling of a long-term love relationship, be it a breakup or divorce, is often an extremely painful experience that can leave us feeling shattered, lost, and overwhelmed. Despite the magnitude of such an event, divorce has become so commonplace (the current rate in north America sits at between 40 and 50%) that we have normalized the experience. Consequently, there is very little support for those going through it. Whether an event is considered “normal” or not has no bearing on the emotional impact to the individual experiencing it. It is for this reason we specialize in divorce recovery counselling at our practice.
The first few months after a separation often feel very intense and debilitating. The following are the most important factors to be aware of when navigating this complex experience:
Hold on Tight Through The Grief
Divorce is a deeply personal and transformative journey that invites a myriad of emotions such as loss, anger, sadness, relief, or even freedom. During the first few months after separation, you may feel like you’re on a roller coaster with your emotions rapidly fluctuating between high and low. As with any loss, you will cycle through times of feeling strong and like you are moving forward, only to then find yourself broken down like you haven’t made any progress at all.
Know that the highs and lows of the roller coaster will even out. Within a few weeks you will look back and see that you are no longer as tearful or hopeless. You will find yourself more able to engage in activities you enjoy and less preoccupied with thoughts of your ex. While the grief journey can take months or even years, your experience of it will change dramatically over time. At first you may feel like you have landed in the ICU, whereas years later it will feel more like walking with a limp.
Reach out for Support
Isolation can be a dangerous byproduct of divorce. Therefore, surrounding yourself with people who support, understand, and love you is essential. One of the biggest obstacles in reaching out for support can often be your own mindset. You might feel like you have to be strong, that you have to deal with your pain independently. While it’s important to recognize your inner strength, it’s equally important to acknowledge that everyone needs help at times. This is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of wisdom and self-care.
The first port of call when seeking support is often the people who already know and love you: your family and friends. Reach out to them, let them know you’re struggling, and don’t hesitate to ask for what you need, be it a listening ear, help with practical matters, or just some company on a lonely day. Often, people want to help but are unsure how; guiding them can be beneficial for everyone.
Consider joining support groups or seeking therapy to gain professional guidance and perspective. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with others who have gone through similar experiences is immensely helpful.
Find Healthy Coping Skills
In the midst of a crisis it can be easy to turn to ways of coping that numb the pain, such as drugs and alcohol. Although they may seem like a temporary escape from your feelings, they often exacerbate emotional pain, lead to addiction, and delay the healing process. Instead, adopting healthy coping mechanisms can help you manage your feelings, promote self-care, and aid in long-term recovery.
Healthier ways of dealing with your pain include journaling, physical activity, meditation, or taking up a new activity. When emotions feel intense in the moment, you can also try the following to help you through:
– 5-4-3-2-1 Technique: This sensory awareness exercise can help you focus on the present. You identify five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
– Breathing Exercises: Paying attention to your breath, such as inhaling for a count of four, holding for a count of four, exhaling for a count of four, and repeating, can help to ground you.
– Physical Grounding: This might involve touching various objects around you, like the chair you are sitting on or the ground beneath your feet. Noticing textu- res, temperatures, and other physical qualities can bring you back to the present.
– Progressive Muscle Relaxation: This involves sequentially tensing and relaxing different muscle groups. This technique not only redirects your focus but also promotes physical relaxation.
– Nature Connection: If you’re near a park or garden, pay attention to nature. What do you see? What do you hear? How does the air smell?
– Mantras: Repeating a mantra or positive affirmation can help centre your thoughts and shift your focus away from distress.
– Carry a Grounding Object: Keep a small object, such as a small rock, piece of cloth, or trinket, in your pocket. Touching it can help ground you when you start to feel overwhelmed.
– Visualization: Imagine a safe, comforting place or situation. Try to imagine it in as much detail as possible, including what it looks, sounds, smells, and feels like.
Set Boundaries with Your Ex
In the first few weeks and months after separating you are likely to need regular contact with your ex to discuss things like finances, childcare, a possible separation agreement and any other practicalities regarding the separation of your lives. Such interactions can be triggering and may also result in further conflict between you. If it is painful for you to communicate with your ex, set boundaries around what that communication looks like. You may decide that email is the only way you can tolerate connection, or that you would like a third party to read the emails for you. For those people where the conflict is low, phone calls and texts may be fine, but you may want to limit these to essential messages only.
You may be in a situation where having contact with your ex is the only thing you want because their absence feels unbearable. While it may be tempting to reach out, contact when in such a vulnerable state can be counterproductive and leave you on an emotional rollercoaster. Try, if possible, to limit contact and give you and your ex time to adjust to this huge transition in your lives.
Prioritize Self Care
Self-care has become a little cliche nowadays, however it can’t be underestimated. Making sure you are eating, getting outside, moving your body, and sleeping, will all help you keep your head above water during this time of emotional turmoil. You may want to initially have some time away from work, or you may find the distraction of work helpful. Think about what you have capacity for.
In the beginning you may struggle to engage in your usual daily activities but know that in time your motivation will increase and a desire to re-engage with your familiar lifestyle will return.
Self care isn’t only about looking after your physical needs; it is as much about your mental health. On any given day a great question to ask is, “what does my heart need today?”
If you are in the early stages of separating from your partner and need support to navigate the journey, you can book a free consultation with one of our counsellors to see if our services may be a good fit for you.