5 Things Parents Should Do After Separating From a Partner
So, your world was just rocked by the end of a marriage. Divorce is imminent, only you're not quite there yet—you're stuck in the odd underbelly of the in-between world that is separation. You're confused, hurt, emotional, anxious, and scared of what lies ahead.
This is totally normal. You're entering a completely unplanned world that is full of unknowns. There really is no way to brace yourself for what a separation will feel like but there are ways to ensure you make choices that will benefit you, your children, and the future of your co-parenting relationship as you charge forth into uncoupling.
Most clients I work with who are transitioning from married life to untying the knot are grasping at straws for what to do next. Here are the five things I recommend all parents do after a separation; things that will very often take the fear out of all the unknowns that come with the divorce process.
Educate yourself on the legal process of divorce.
Maybe you and your soon-to-be ex are going to let things cool down before you file for divorce, or maybe one of you is ready to get the show on the road. Either way, knowledge is power and if you aren't an attorney who is already familiar with the legalities associated with the divorce process, it's time to put your Elle Woods pants on and hit the books. Or start Googling (here is a great place to start). Or better yet, get a recommendation for a good attorney or mediator and consult with them about the best way to handle your personal situation.
There is no one-size fits all approach to divorce, and there are so many options that are available to you. While some couples choose to forego the legal route and handle things on their own, I've always found that it's best to ask for help when it comes to something you know nothing about—and when kids are involved, you'll want to know as much as you can so that you can make decisions that are truly in their best interests.
Talk to your kids—and read to them—about divorce.
There are very healthy ways to talk to your children about divorce, and using age-appropriate books are a great tool. When you and your ex-spouse feel comfortable to have the conversation with the kids, remember to plan what you will say in advance so that you're both on the same page, and speak to them as a family. Develop a narrative that doesn't assign blame, but rather takes a "we" approach that doesn't put the children in a position to think one parent has been wronged by the other. Be honest and clear, not vague and confusing. Kids need answers and boundaries now so they are not left with hope that there will be a reconciliation down the road.
Check out this list of the best divorce books for kids to use as a supplement to your conversations.
Set boundaries to separate yourself emotionally.
While the physical separation that comes at the end of a marriage is a tangible next step, the emotional separation is often harder to grasp and far less defined. You have been emotionally connected and co-dependent on your spouse for so long that untying yourself emotionally can understandably take more work than you anticipated. One way that I advise clients to learn to separate themselves from seeking approval, looking for validation, or remaining emotionally connected to a spouse is by learning to declare, not ask. An example of this would be keeping your soon-to-be-ex on a need-to-know basis, and saying things like, "I am going to start looking at new apartments," instead of asking, "Can I start looking for new apartments?"
This sets the boundary that says, "I am gaining my independence now, and you don't have access to all parts of my life anymore." It's a hard one to enforce, but the sooner you're able to cut ties emotionally, the cleaner your divorce process will be.
Get comfortable asking for help and establish your village.
Single parenthood is a whole sport in itself that someone forgot to add to the Olympics. You couldn't train for the Olympics on your own, and you are much better off asking for help to "train" or get comfortable with single parenthood. Don't be shy—call on your closest friends and family members to help you deal with your new reality, both emotionally and physically, and to establish your village. When you begin reaching out for help and start to see who is willing to let you lean on them, who is checking in on you, and who offers you a listening ear, make them your permanent village people!
Find a support group, coach, or therapist to add to that mix and you are golden.
Fall in love with you again.
Not many people realize this, but while ending a marriage may be the death of a relationship, it is also very much rife with opportunity. The best opportunity I found in my experience with divorce was being able to reconnect with myself—all of me, the good and bad. I got back to doing what I loved most which were things I never really got around to doing in my marriage for one reason or another. I committed to working out regularly, weekly dinners or coffee dates with my friends, and one-on-one time with all of the Netflix shows I had been dying to binge. I used my alone time to write and read more, something that really served to heal me, and something I recommend to everyone I work with. I healed all of the broken parts of me that came to the surface in my first marriage with the help of an amazing therapist. I made myself a priority for the first time in a long time, and I don't regret any minute of that.
When all else fails, remember that this too shall pass, and you can make it anywhere by simply putting one foot in front of the other, taking each day at a time, and not driving yourself mad with "what ifs." Come visit me over at Moms Moving On if you're looking for additional divorce and co-parenting support and to join our membership community.
Michelle Dempsey-Multack is a mother, writer, certified divorce specialist, speaker, marketing expert, and fierce girl-gang enthusiast. A native New Yorker, Michelle now resides in Miami with her 4-year-old daughter, Bella, her husband Spencer, a beautiful step-daughter, and a very needy cat.
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