The decorations have been stowed away in the loft, and the Christmas leftovers have been fashioned into various curries, soups and sandwiches. As our attempts at playing festive happy families come to a close, the cracks that have developed over the days, weeks and months become unavoidable, causing us to re-evaluate our most intimate relationships.
For many of us, the beginning of a new year signals a desire to start afresh and may even imbue us with the confidence to make seismic shifts in our personal and professional lives. It’s no wonder January typically sees a surge in separations and divorces, with some couples realising that no amount of relationship survival tips will reignite the spark.
With the introduction of the no-fault divorce and the subsequent sociocultural shift in how we view relationship breakups, it’s no longer a novelty to end on good terms, but how do you separate amicably, and what does an amicable separation look like?
What does amicable separation mean?
When Gwenyth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced their ‘conscious uncoupling’ back in 2014, it made for an abrupt departure from the scandalous separations modelled in the media and, thus, proved to be provocative.
Traditional depictions of post-breakup behaviour involved airing dirty laundry, taking scissors to your ex’s clothes, debuting a dramatic hairstyle or penning scathing songs for the world to hear. This high-profile ‘uncoupling’ contradicted the age-old assumption that divorce was a messy, complex process that always ended in tears.
Amicable separation is becoming increasingly popular as it encourages both parties to work together to achieve the most favourable outcome. The approach often involves compromise, honouring open communication and respecting opposing viewpoints. Whilst it requires patience, it’s an excellent option for couples with children and shared business ventures or those hoping to deter curtain-twitching gossip mongers. So, how do we achieve it?
Research collaborative family law
Collaborative family law takes a softer, more measured approach to divorce, helping you resolve family issues out of court so you can gain closure and move on with your lives. You set the agenda, which means you get to prioritise the issues that matter most, like protecting joint businesses, dividing up assets, and making childcare arrangements.
Since the courts aren’t involved, the collaborative process is less costly, less contentious and often involves far less emotional labour – making it an ideal option for parents and those who want a fuss-free, equitable resolution. Guided by a non-confrontational approach, both parties attend informal meetings with specialist collaborative lawyers trained to diffuse disputes and offer rational advice.
I became a member of The Collaborative Family Law Group in the West Midlands after experiencing my own turbulent divorce proceedings caused by over-zealous solicitors who created conflict and charged a lot of money in the process! As a collaborative therapist, I work with families navigating this transitional period to help them process their emotions and communicate effectively.
Avoid playing the blame game
It’s tempting to point the finger in the heat of the moment but let’s face it, nothing good comes from portioning off blame. You should instead both take responsibility for the roles you played in the relationship and its subsequent dissolution.
I often ask clients in this position to write down the successes, disappointments and lessons they learned from their relationship. This exercise encourages them to appreciate the good they brought to one another’s lives before contemplating what they can do to avoid making the same mistakes again.
By putting grievances aside and engaging in healthy communication, you’ll avoid endless games of ‘he said, she said’ and be able to think far more clearly.
Let go of resentment towards your ex
Blame typically walks hand-in-hand with resentment, and the two combined create quite the toxic cocktail. Holding onto resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
Heartbreak and rejection can make us combative and more likely to go on the attack as a means of inflicting pain. Threats, ultimatums and acts of revenge won’t change the outcome of the separation, but they will likely hinder your healing process and cause further hurt.
That’s not to say you have to pretend everything is hunky-dory. You’re well within your rights to harbour complex feelings towards your ex, but it’s best to vent to your pals over drinks and a rousing performance of divorcee classic ‘I Will Survive’ instead of lashing out on social media.
Show gratitude for your relationship
Take inspiration from Ariana Grande’s ‘thank u, next’ by expressing gratitude for your past relationship and everything it taught you. Say thank you for the good times, the children, the lessons learned, and the life experiences before going your separate ways.
By acknowledging your gratitude, you pave the way for emotional healing and are better equipped to establish your non-negotiables for future relationships.
Even if you’ve separated through difficult circumstances, make space for the sadness and the joy. Take ownership of your feelings, however complex, and acknowledge the lessons to be found within each.
Create stability for your children
If you’ve got children together, you need to maintain levels of civility that may make you feel as if you should be next in line for a sainthood. It’s important to avoid venting to your children or attempting to score points against your ex because that will only confuse matters.
Stability is hugely important, and knowing how to tell the kids you’re getting a divorce can be a minefield. Break the news as a team and be there to reassure them, hold space for their emotions, and answer any questions they have. Make it clear that you love them and will be there to guide them, comfort them and play active parental roles in their lives.
Take time to consider how you can best prioritise the wellbeing of your children. Where will they live? What childcare arrangements are appropriate? What schedule works best? Remember that the landscape of your lives will look different weeks, months, and years down the line. Things might currently be a little difficult or awkward, but there will likely come a time when you can pop in for a cuppa or enjoy shared celebrations and family days out without a care. I’ve worked with countless blended families who have made it work.
Lean on your support network
Embrace the support of your loved ones during your hour of need. Talk to trusted friends about how you’re feeling. Allow well-meaning family members to fill your fridge with nourishing meals you can bung in the oven. Discuss the process with a confidant to free up headspace.
Don’t forget to set clear boundaries with your support network, however. Have a conversation early on where you explain how they can support you as you navigate this significant life event. That might look like delivering a delicious cottage pie once a week (but forgoing the side helping of snark) or allowing you to share your feelings freely (without bombarding you with solutions).
Remember: The only opinions that matter are yours and your ex-partner’s. Take everything else with a pinch of salt!
Talk to a relationship therapist
Sometimes you need to talk to someone who doesn’t have an emotional attachment for some impartial, professional support and advice, which is why it can be hugely helpful to attend therapy during the divorce process.
I’ve facilitated countless family therapy and relationship therapy sessions online and in person for those impacted by separation or divorce, offering a safe space for people to decompress from the high levels of stress and big emotions that can rise to the surface during relationship breakups.
I tailor our time together to suit your needs, whether you’re after a family therapy session overseen by my gentle therapy dogs or an hour spent with just Mum and Dad to help you figure out how to reconfigure your family unit. Read my post on how to get the most out of your therapy sessions for more advice.
Build your future
When the rug is pulled from under you, the future can feel wildly uncertain. You might grieve for your past life. Whilst reflection has its upsides, it can also be akin to picking a scab.
The idea of rediscovering and redefining yourself may be daunting, especially if you’ve been in an unhappy relationship for years, but it might just be the making of you! Embrace this transitional period and focus on cultivating joy and excitement for the newfound freedoms afforded to you.
Use this time to contemplate the path you want to take and challenge yourself to do things you wouldn’t have done before. My sons were young when their father and I divorced. Whilst they were with him every other weekend, I made the most of my spare time by studying for a degree in Psychology. That degree then led to further qualifications, and here I am 25+ years down the line with a long-standing, fulfilling career as a psychotherapist. There are no limits to what you can achieve!
Relationship breakups are never easy, but by finding acceptance, setting boundaries and embracing collaboration, we gain much-needed perspective and can begin to focus on the future.
Brighter days are up ahead – how will you spend them?!
I’m Carla Devereux, an experienced psychotherapist and hypnotherapist helping couples and individuals explore challenging emotions, behaviours and deep-rooted issues with an integrated therapeutic approach. Book your therapy session by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 0121 745 9044.