About Divorce/Separation

10 Immediate Tips

Research indicates that divorce and separation is the 2nd most stressful thing that people can encounter in life (the first being loss of a close loved one). It is a time when people are called on for their best ability to manage conflict and change, while being under a tremendous amount of emotional pressure, anger, fear and grief. If you and/or your partner are beginning the process of divorce/separation, below are ten immediate tips, taken from current research and reflective suggestions of people that have completed the process.

  1. Safety First
    If you fear for the safety of yourself or any of your family members, get professional and legal assistance immediately. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at: 1-800-799-SAFE. The Portland area Domestic Violence Resource Center is at: (503) 469-8620. You can find further domestic violence resources on the Divorce Resources page.
  2. Pre-Separation Counseling
    The emotional pain and resulting anger/depression from a separation is compounded when it comes as a surprise to one of the parties. Both of you will be served by the opportunity to process the thoughts and emotions around both the decision to separate and the loss of hopes and dreams for this relationship/family. This is something you would most effectively do with the support of a counselor or other professional specializing in assisting couples with separation. This hard work will enable both of you to navigate the many difficult decisions about restructuring your lives and families with more clarity. People inevitably have an intense need to reflect and learn from relationships that ended, as part of a healing process that supports them in moving forward and re-defining themselves. Consider doing this work ahead of time, to prevent the wounds from growing deeper and the healing process from lasting longer.
  3. Attend to Your Health
    Due to the stress and multitude of serious decisions, this is a time when people are highly prone to accidents and picking up addictive substance habits. By heightening your awareness and care for your diet, exercise, and sleep, you can protect your mental, physical, and emotional strength for when it's needed.
  4. Focus on Your Children
    If you have children, beware that parental separation is traumatic for them, whether or not they express it outwardly. They will likely experience anything from intense guilt (blaming themselves) to rage and blaming one/both parents, to fears of abandonment. It is a time when your children need you the most, yet a time when parents typically have less to give as they are focused on restructuring their lives amidst grief and uncertainty. Because of this, it is often a high-risk time for children in terms of susceptibility to violence, drugs, and sexual promiscuity. This transition period is the most important parenting you will do in their life. By giving them the security and reassurance of extra attention and care, and maintaining the continuity of household rules and daily structure, you can support them and minimize the risks of this challenging time.
  5. Build Your Support Network
    Support and acceptance by other people are essential for your well being during such big changes in your life. Your true independence will rely on the inter-dependence of a supportive community. This is the time to reach out and ask for support of listening and giving you feedback, of caring, and reassurance from individuals who have gone through a divorce/separation process. Be thoughtful of how you get support from certain friends and family members who might feel torn into taking sides or afraid to see you go through such a big life change.
  6. Gather Information
    The uncertainty of the divorce/separation process and the overwhelming number of decisions and changes-to-come add to the stress and anxiety of this time. Yet, there are many resources available to assist you in understanding and identifying the decisions, investigating what professional support and process you want to use, and clarifying your goals and values for supporting your family through this transition. Now is the time to get informed. See Divorce Resources for more info.
  7. Watch Your Language Around Your Children
    While it is important to discuss upcoming family changes with your children, there are ways to have these discussions that help or hurt their psychological and emotional well-being, (which depends on their age and development.) While it easily happens when parents are hurting, it is extremely damaging to children when they are put in the middle of conflict between the parents (such as encouraging them to blame one of their parents or using them to pass information about adult needs and decisions). Children consider themselves as part of each of their parents, and in bad-mouthing the other parent, parents un-knowingly are asking children to dislike or distrust a part of themselves. The parents that handle this dynamic well develop ground rules and agreements between them earlier in the separation process, clarifying how they will talk to the children about each other and family decisions.
  8. Chill Out on New Intimate Relationships
    Many people seek physical intimacy with new people as a way to support them in ending a previous relationship and a way to cope with the stress, fear, loss, and unmet intimacy needs. However, this can negatively affect the separation process by inflaming the other person's anger and feelings of hurt/betrayal, thereby reducing their ability and willingness to negotiate fair and workable outcomes for children/pet care, property and financial matters. This is especially true if you are still sharing a household. Furthermore, when children witness a parent's quick transition to another relationship it can contribute to the child's fears and ability to adjust. Therefore, exercising a degree of patience and consideration in regards to developing new intimate relationships may be one of the best ways to protect your future and the future of your family members.
  9. Take No Significant Financial Actions
    Until it is negotiated between you both, your attorneys, or settled in court, both your assets and liabilities can be considered jointly owned. Therefore, people are advised to discuss and be in mutual agreement before making any financial decisions that affect you both, including those related to credit cards, loans, taxes, etc.
  10. Short-Term Decisions and Agreements
    The crisis of separation can stimulate a healthy fear and caution of making long-term, permanent decisions. Many people find it helpful to focus on short-term agreements to provide some space, experience, and clarity before making decisions that will affect their family and finances for many years to come. The process of identifying and prioritizing "what do we need to figure out right now" can also help alleviate stress.