How to consciously uncouple

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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin did it, and so can you with our top tips for dealing with separation and divorce.

Divorce and separation is hell. Even at the best of times it’s a period of great anxiety, worry and confusion. But as with so many things in life, much of the separation process is a matter of perception and choice.

Do you choose to see a partner who’s destroyed your life and ‘wronged’ you? Or do you choose to see an opportunity to come to a harmonious understanding with the person who’s been so important in your life and your children’s lives?

We’ve listened to what dads going through separation and divorce have to say on this often painful issue, and here’s some of the advice that’s helped them separate with grace and dignity.

Keep a sense of humour

Whatever way you spin it, going through separation and divorce is nothing to laugh about. You may be tempted to pull up the emotional shutters and raise your defences, all with the countenance of a soldier marching to war. But finding the humour in the situation serves a valuable purpose. It safeguards you from your own self-pity, which can become all-consuming if left unchecked. This creates a space for you to shed some of the latent animosity you may feel towards your ex. In turn, you become easier to deal with, proceedings become more harmonious, and your kids get emotional reinforcement that ‘everything’s going to be okay.’

It isn’t over when the papers are signed

The emotional, familial and even spiritual aspects of separation don’t suddenly evaporate when the divorce is legally official. Long after the lawyers have packed their briefcases and moved on, the real work of the separation awaits you. You and your family have many deep shared roots, behaviours, arrangements, feelings, and traditions that are about to be upended. Without the distraction of legal proceedings, you’ll start to get a grip on where everything really stands. Take this as an opportunity for some open, collaborative discussion with your ex and with your children. Figure out together what steps can be taken to make the transition less disruptive on a more day to day basis.

Leave resentment at the front door

No matter how noble intentions are, sooner or later some grievances are going to come up. Anger can be therapeutic in its own place and time, but it becomes poisonous if left to fester and multiply. Of course these are emotional times and it’s healthy to need to unload. But you need to find an outlet for destructive emotions that protects your family from bearing the brunt. Therapy is one legitimate option and worth serious consideration, even if ‘you’re fine’.

Above all, resist the urge to complain about your ex in front of the kids.

Keep consistent boundaries with the kids

Many divorcing parents are surprised to find their kids become hostile, distant, and more willing to challenge their parents’ authority. You need to love your children without condition now more than ever, but that doesn’t mean they should be able to cross boundaries and get away with behaviour they shouldn’t.

These challenges may come in the form of something akin to ‘but mum said I can do this!’ You should define with your ex exactly what boundaries are to be set with the kids. Once there’s common consensus on this subject, you won’t need to worry about what your ex is letting your kids ‘get away with’ and harmonious relations can follow.

When you separate, you are separated

It seems obvious to point out, but it’s crucial that you come to terms with the fact that, everything said and done, your relationship as you knew it is over. That may be easier for some to contend with than others. A cheating spouse may get the middle finger and a prompt ‘sayonara’, while a 20-year marriage that just lost the ‘spark’ would be more akin to grieving the loss of a loved one. It’s easy to forget that in both of those instances, a relationship that was once a massive part of your life has ended.

Loss is loss, regardless of where sympathies lie, and of the way it all ended. ‘Consciously uncoupling’ is a healthy way of turning hardship into opportunity. But in the end, you’ll have to grieve, accept, and move on.

And for many that is perhaps the scariest – and most exciting – part of all.