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Posted by Lucy Woodward on 8th February 2022
Relationship breakdown and wellbeing

A factor that can often be overlooked during divorce or separation is the emotional impact, solicitor Lucy Woodward shares some ideas for looking after your relationship breakdown wellbeing.

There are many factors that are taken into consideration when getting divorced including where you’re going to live, when you will spend time with your children (if applicable) and if you’ll be sharing a pension. One factor that is often overlooked, in terms of its impact on you, is the emotional impact of the relationship breakdown.

Relationships take up an enormous part of our lives and with that, many memories both good and bad are shared. It is often the case that your (former) spouse was a friend, a cohabitee, dependent, travel companion and co-parent and someone who would have previously supported you in times of need.  When your spouse is no longer your ally, feelings of loneliness, abandonment and sometimes despair (or even  relief!)  can take over and it is important to understand that all these feelings are completely normal.

Divorce is like grief

It is often said that divorce is like a bereavement, and that adjusting to life after divorce may follow a similar pattern, depending on who decides to leave the relationship first.  At first it can be bewilderment, a state of denial that it can’t be happening which can give way to feelings of pain, anger, bargaining (if I did this or that) depression and after some time (sometimes quite a long time) acceptance. Opening up to possibilities for the future. The one who leaves may often be the person who has detached from the relationship first and will be much further ahead in their own “grieving” process, possibly already to the point of acceptance and keen to move on.

Whilst that grieving process varies from person to person, the fact that the relationship has come to an end means that making decisions in respect of your living arrangements, finances and children need to be considered, all at a time when you may not be feeling your best.  With the average divorce process taking upwards of one year, it is inevitable that throughout this time you will continue to have indirect contact with your former partner, especially of course if there are arrangements for children to be resolved making the process of separation and closure challenging.

It is important to understand that feeling sad, emotional, anxious or even depressed following the breakdown of a relationship is normal, in both men and woman, and addressing these feelings with your solicitor can really help.

When working with our clients we suggest these things are useful to consider: –

Remember why you’re Separating

Whilst the pain of a relationship breakdown can be difficult, consider the impact the relationship had on you (and potentially your children) at the time.  Recent studies from Ireland and the USA have found that negative social interactions and relationships, especially with partners/spouses, increase the risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation[1]. As well as this, research suggests that single people have better mental health outcomes than people who are unhappily married[2].

It is important to consider the reasons why you have chosen to separate and if it wasn’t your choice, consider why the relationship didn’t work.   A helpful book to help you work through this is “Necessary Endings” by Henry Cloud.

Although your focus may be upon the matters which made the relationship unsustainable, it can help to remember that for most there have been positives in that relationship and this can be helpful when you and your former spouse aim to stay amicable throughout the divorce process. Staying amicable, especially in respect of child arrangements, is an approach fully supported by the Family Law Company and referrals to mediation can be very successful. If you have children, whilst you will no longer be partners, you will always be parents together and you will both want to protect your children from conflict or divided loyalties.  Speak to your solicitor if you feel that a referral to mediation would benefit you.

Give yourself time

It takes time and it is important to allow yourself time to make the emotional adjustments. Friends can be an immense help but allow yourself time for the lows and the highs, they will become less intense over time.

Go easy on yourself. Although the time frame varies from person to person, the message is clear; there is almost always a healing process involved. A study in 2018 suggested that the average marriage is 12.5 years so there is much adjustment to do and it is important to accept that there may be an impact on your mental wellbeing for some time following separation.

Make positive choices for yourself

Remember that new sport you wanted to start? Or that hobby that your spouse would never get on board with? Now is the time to focus solely on you. Although happy relationships are great, there is always an element of compromise and with that, your own interests and feelings can sometimes take second place. Going through a separation is the ideal time to allow yourself to be number one and enjoy the independence that you may have lost, whilst compromising in a relationship.  Your friends and family may well tell you that they are getting the “old you” back, to their relief.

Tell your solicitor

If you’re struggling with the emotional aspect of your relationship breakdown, a good family lawyer can help and will provide you with both emotional and practical support. It is important to be honest with your solicitor about the way you’re feeling and this in turn will improve the service they will be able to provide.

There are also many mental health services available to you both locally and nationally. Ask your solicitor for a referral if you believe that this will help you.

Steps to help manage relationship breakdown wellbeing

Finally here are ten tips that we share with clients to help look after your relationship breakdown wellbeing:-

  1. Sleep – We have chemicals in our brain which transmit information and manage our moods and emotions. Without enough sleep we can start to feel depressed or anxious. Lack of sleep can even make us ill. Seek advice from your GP if you continue to have sleepless nights.
  2. Alcohol – People sometimes turn to drink when going through a difficult time. This is fine in moderation but don’t start to rely on it. Drink can make you feel more depressed and anxious and can make it harder to concentrate.
  3. Nourishment – Eating and drinking healthily is important to ensure wellbeing. The right diet provides the body with the correct nutrients. Certain deficiencies, such as iron and B12 vitamins can create a low mood.
  4. Exercise – You don’t need to be a sporty type to benefit from exercise. Just 30 minutes a day can be beneficial to your wellbeing.  Being active boosts the chemicals (endorphins) in your brain that help put you in a good mood and can eliminate anxiety, stress, tiredness and low moods.
  5. Social Interaction – Don’t isolate yourself as loneliness increases depression and anxiety. Instead, make the effort to socialise. Make time for friends, see family members and remember to talk to them whenever possible. It’s good to keep busy, so don’t avoid situations where you are around other people.
  6. Manage Stress – Stress is sometimes unavoidable but knowing how to cope with it is key. Try to avoid burying your head in the sand and tackle problems head on. Write down a list of the things you are stressed about and when you can, resolve them. This helps you realise that they are manageable.   If you find yourself waking up during the night or finding it hard to sleep because you are worrying about things, write them down and tell yourself you can deal with them in the morning.
  7. Do something for someone else – Doing something for someone else has been shown to have a positive impact on your wellbeing and can also help with your self-esteem. Helping others such as a friend, relative or even a charity, improves social support, distracts us from our own problems and allows us to engage in meaningful activity.  Remember that even the smallest changes can make a difference. Giving to others is one of the five evidence-based steps we can take to improve our mental wellbeing.
  8. Keep on learning – Learning a new skill can be useful. Even better, it can also improve our wellbeing. This doesn’t mean you need to go out and get a qualification or enrol on a course. There are different ways to bring learning to your life.
  9. Taking care of yourself – Make time to do the things you enjoy, whether that is going for a walk, reading, watching a film or even treating yourself to a massage. If we don’t spend any time doing the things we enjoy, we can become unhappy and irritable.  Explore new interests and activities as this can help you enjoy life in the here and-now, rather than dwelling on the past.
  10. Alternative Therapies/Advice – If you feel you are still struggling and you need extra support, try counselling or support groups. Stress levels can rise if you isolate yourself and this may reduce concentration, affect your work and relationships with friends and family. Support groups can be a big help as you can speak with others that are experiencing the same things as you.  Think about trying alternative therapies to ease tension and help with aches and pains.

It is important to look after your relationship breakdown wellbeing. Navigating your emotions during the divorce process is always going to be challenging but having the right family lawyer by your side will help you find the practical and emotional support you need.

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[1] Holt-Lunstad, J., Birmingham, W., & Jones, B.Q. (2008). Is There Something Unique about Marriage? The Relative Impact of Marital Status, Relationship Quality, and Network Social Support on Ambulatory Blood Pressure and Mental Health. Annals of Behavioural Medicine, 35, 239–244.
[2] ibid

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