By Stephanie Evans, Student Counsellor at The Eaves
Mental health professionals have long agreed that divorce is one of the most stressful life events a person can go through, second only to the death of a loved one*. Even when a relationship breakdown occurs relatively amicably, there are usually feelings of sadness and grief, and the legal process of divorce can exacerbate these.
In the UK, divorce has historically only been allowed when it can be shown that one party is ‘at fault’, (no-fault divorce will not be a possibility until April 2022). This requirement to list the ‘faults’ of your ex-partner, or conversely seeing your own ‘faults’ listed during the legal process, can throw up feelings that are hard to deal with.
Maybe you are feeling betrayed, or wondering whether you will ever be ready to enter another relationship. Perhaps you have children together with your ex, and are concerned about the effect the divorce may have on them. Maybe you are facing a change in your financial position or living situation due to the breakup. There are possibly questions about whether you should stay in touch with your ex-spouse, or whether you will be able to maintain relationships with in-laws to whom you may previously have been close. Your friends may find it difficult to know how to relate to you now that you are no longer part of the ‘couple’ they once knew.
For some people, divorce might signal a new-found freedom and can be an exciting opportunity for reinvention. However, alongside feelings of euphoria may come a sense of having ‘lost’ the person you once were, as well as apprehension about navigating the world as a newly single person. Even if you are not actively grieving your old relationship, your energy is likely to feel depleted and you might still go through periods where you wonder whether you should have broken up with your ex after all.
With all the questions and stress that divorce and separation bring, it seems little wonder that studies have shown that people going through divorce and separation are more at risk of developing depression, more at risk of experiencing anxiety, and more at risk of abusing alcohol**. Long-term stress has been shown to bring about an increased risk of severe physical illness, so it’s important to take care of yourself as you go through big life changes.
How to care for yourself during divorce and separation –
● Talk to the people who care about you and ask them for support. If you find that some friends are more interested in gossiping or taking sides, it may be wise to distance yourself from, or share less, with them, at least until you feel more able to deal with your own emotions. However, you may be surprised at how helpful many of your friends are able to be. If you have an HR Manager at work, make them aware of what is happening in your personal life.
● Look after your physical and mental health. Try to notice when stress is having an impact on you, and take steps to reduce it. Take a walk in the fresh air, treat yourself to a break in your favourite coffee shop, take some ‘time out’ with a good book, or make yourself a delicious meal. If you feel very wound up, taking a more physical exercise class may help. You could try punching a pillow in the privacy of your own room to release some of the tension you are feeling. You may find that yoga, pilates, or meditation is helpful. Even just taking some time out to have a warm bath might be relaxing.
● Take care of your finances. A financial advisor will be able to help you understand how the divorce will affect your financial situation, so that you can best plan for your future.
● Speak to your GP if you feel you might need additional support. They can signpost you to helpful support and treatments.
● Speak to a therapist or counsellor. You might choose to do this on a one-to-one basis, with your ex-spouse so that you can try to navigate your break-up as amicably as possible, or as a family if you have children together.
If you are experiencing the stress of divorce and separation, The Eaves can help. Our professionals see individuals of all ages, families, couples, and young people 12 hours a day, Monday to Saturday between 9am and 9pm. Please call 01483 917000 to speak to a member of the referrals team. You can also send us an enquiry via our website. Click here to find out more
*Holmes, T.H and Rahe, T.H. (1967). The Social Readjustment Rating Scale. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 11:213
**Richards, M., Hardy, R., & Wadsworth, M. (1997). The effects of divorce and separation on mental health in a national UK birth cohort. Psychological Medicine, 27(5), 1121-1128.