When to end a relationship: a survivors guide to separation.

When to end relationship and start the separation process is a big question that drives many couples to couples counselling. Most couples facing difficulties over a prolonged period of time seek couples counselling as a last ditch attempt to turn things around and have everything ridding on a series of sessions or often one session that may determine the outcome of their relationship and everything that goes with it. The big ticket items that are associated with separation are sharing of children, potentially seeing a lot less or a lot more of them, selling / shifting house and home, dividing the assets and shared processions, loosing certain friends, pain, lots of emotional stress, anxiety, anger, bitterness and unresolved conflict.

Separation is never easy and the process can go terribly wrong but there are many things we can do to help avoid unnecessary pain. Acceptance that you are separating and having a willingness to do the best you can to help the process and acting with integrity are at the top of the list.

Once a decision to separate is made making contact with the Family Court co-ordinator to file for separation and to access resources and support services is a good idea. If children are involved then resources to help “Putting Children First” and doing a course to gain insight into what that means and how to do it is highly recommended. As parents and adults we often are so absorbed in our own issues and pain that children’s needs are often not considered and accommodated and gaining some insight into how to minimize harm and trauma for children is critical.

Managing children and assets with minimal chance of further conflict is so important for yourself and everyone involved. Finding a lawyer who is family focused and is working to ensure that contentious issues are minimized and not exacerbated is also critical. Getting good legal advice as to your rights and entitlements regarding property, assets and care of children does need to be done and finding a solicitor or family lawyer who can manage your entitlements and rights tactfully and delicately is crucial.

If children are involved, parental agreements and orders can be drafted by your family lawyer or a good separation / divorce coach. A good divorce and separation coach can be seen in conjunction to your family lawyer to help get practical things involved with separation sorted out further. They can also help you source experts that will help you through the legalities if needed.

The Family Court can also make mediation and or counselling services available to you. There are now costs associated with some of these services. If you don’t want to wait or don’t want to be allocated a counsellor or a mediator by the Family Court you may want to choose your own specialist support people to assist you manage the process. Dealing with unresolved issues, conflict and differences can be managed by an experienced and qualified relationship / marriage counsellor as can individual issues around anger, separation anxiety, loss and grief, maintaining support and connection and managing uncertainty.

Making big decisions and mediating agreements in a highly stressed and emotionally vulnerable state is not ideal. Making decisions and getting to agreement on important issues like property and assets in common, and or childcare arrangements is important. Breakdowns in this process can be very lengthy and extremely financially and emotionally draining to sort out. Lengthy arguments over entitlements ideally can be resolved through mediation with skilled family lawyers involved, to assist couples sort through the legal entitlements and to make decisions of this nature. If mediation breaks down the end result will be a potentially lengthy and costly court process where a judge will make decisions about what is fair and just.

If decisions about child care are unresolved and the mater is lodged in the family court, once again it will be a lengthy and costly process at the end of which a Judge will make a decision about what is best for your children. Children are the most vulnerable as they have so little say and control of the process and are often enticed to take sides and choose one parent over the other. Getting a judgement does not address what is fueling the hurt and anger and will often entrench the positions couples take and enhance the bitterness they experience. External judgments set parties up so that one wins and one looses. In reality both parties loose as do children. You stand to loose money and lots of it, as well as integrity, dignity, sleep and joy and these disputes can be drawn out over years. The only ones guaranteed to benefit from an embroiled legal process are lawyers. Getting your thinking “right” and processing things further through counselling and or mediation is the ideal. Counselling and Restorative Mediation can often help address and resolve the hurt and anger that gets in the way and often fuels distorted, unrealistic unsubstantiated views of personal entitlement and undermines the ability to see your ex partner as a sound or good or at least an adequate or safe parent.

The reality is that two people’s experiences and readiness to let go of a relationship are never the same. One party has usually made the decision on average two years prior to informing their partner that they intend to leave the relationship. By the time they do there is often so little invested in the relationship that all that is left is diving up the procession’s, getting child care arrangement in place and moving on.

Sounds relatively simple but so many things can complicate this process and many of these things are emotionally based such as shock, dismay, and a sense of overwhelming helplessness with what’s happening. Latter these feelings can be replaced with resistance to change, anger, resentment and at times sabotaging the process or revenge. Unanswered questions, hurt from being betrayed or mislead, seeing your partner with someone else, not being able to have access to your children are all things that can push us to our known limits of being able to cope and often beyond. Separation is a crazy making time and no one gets through it untouched.

Separation ranks second only to death of a loved one as life’s stressful experiences. There is a huge difference between intellectually going through the motions of separation and actually doing it and experiencing it. Our relationship with what was once familiar and safe is gone and in many ways it is like a death of a life we once knew and cherished. Separation brings about an end of our hopes our dreams and means a total change and readjustment to life and requires a rebuilding of our lives and all this takes time. If we “do it right” we do come out of the process alive and ready to live life and love life again.

A wise man once told me that “There is no way to speed up the separation process but there are lots of ways to slow it down”. Holding on to something that the other person has let go of is a futile and energy sapping act and eventually we need to accept that the relationship is over. Acceptance that the relationship that the over is an empowering place to arrive at as it can often stimulate us into taking decisive action to create stability and some form of predictability back into our lives. Acceptance of “what is” is the key to re-experiencing peace and happiness.

Ultimately acceptance means letting go of the stories that you have made your separation to mean about yourself, your ex partner and your future life. The difficulty is that it takes time for the deficit stories of what we have made separation to mean to be challenged and changed or just accepted for what they are; Stories. It takes time to gain a different perspective, to take responsibility for what didn’t work, to gather evidence that life can be good again if not better than it was. If you have separated it means that the relationship didn’t work and that means you are now in a position to create new relationship/s that do work if you choose to do so.

When we do come to terms with the separation, we can experience renewed freedom. Freedom to recreate, to re experience and to redefine. Freedom to have a renewed relationship with our children, our friends and family. Separation can be seen as an opportunity to have a renewed relationship with ourselves and with life itself.

Chris Caruana (B.A., MCoun, NZAC)
Couples Counsellor
271 Kepa Rd, Mission Bay,
Auckland 1071, New Zealand
027 3187593