The answer is largely affected by a few different variables but the main one being: how far through the grieving process you and your spouse are. The grieving process will impact on your ability to communicate with each other in a constructive way. It will impact on your ability to concentrate, focus and look at the bigger picture – at least in some phases.
The decision to end a relationship is a huge and emotional decision (I don’t need to tell you that!). It can be a period that is deeply upsetting, chaotic and filled with a variety of emotions. It is a decision that is not made lightly or easily, and usually the decision is made as a result of a number of different factors or events.
In some cases, the decision can take many years to make. In other cases, it can be a relatively quick decision.
The decision once made can take time to act on and communicate to your spouse. You may wait for the “right” time, for an event to occur or pass, or it may be an incident that acts as the “final straw”.
In any event, most likely, there were a variety of stages you passed through in making the decision to end your relationship.
Generally speaking, we pass through five different stages of grief with the end of a relationship. We all move through the stages in different orders and there is no timeframe for how long we will visit each stage. Indeed, we may revisit each stage more than once at different times throughout the process. There may not be a smooth transition from one stage to another and you may notice there is no clear beginning or end to a stage.
Commonly, those stages are:
- Denial and shock: in this stage you will likely experience confusion and disbelief that your relationship that you invested so much time and energy has ended. You may still hold hope that reconciliation is possible and so you may try and avoid making any decisions.
- Anger & frustration. You will probably pass through this stage a few times and you will probably vent about your ex – past fights, differences in parenting style or differences in views about finances.. or just life in general, including – if you were the one to end the relationship, and the reasons why – there will likely be anger Just let yourself move through it.
- Bargaining. In this stage you will probably look for options and try and repair or undo any damage you think has been caused to your life and/or relationship. The bargaining stage is a bit like a last-ditch effort to come to terms with the decision to separate.
- Depression. It’s normal to feel a great sadness at the end of your relationship. Whether the decision is yours or not, you have invested a lot of time and energy into your relationship. The sadness may become debilitating and be your constant companion for a few weeks or months (sometimes shorter or longer). Everyone experiences this stage and it can often co-exist with the other stages you pass though. Let yourself feel sad. Let yourself cry. If the emotions become more than you can handle, seek professional help from a trained counselor or psychologist.
- Acceptance. At this stage you will start to feel a sense of calm and feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel as the realization of the inevitable comes. It will become easier to make decisions. Even in acceptance, it is common to experience negative emotions like anger – but you will feel a level of comfort with those feelings, know they are not around for long, and you will be ready to focus on the future.
If you were the one to end your relationship, whether you think your spouse has been expecting “it” or not, more than likely, the actual conversation about your relationship ending will trigger the start of the grieving process for them. They will then transition through these stages in some order which may or may not be the same order you experienced.
How they transition through these stages will likely effect how the more practical discussion about separating unfold.
Knowing and understanding about this process doesn’t make the emotions go away, but may help you understand what is happening for you and your spouse. The pace your separation unfolds will depend on how you and your spouse transition through these stages. And how well you understand and/or communicate with each other.
For many families, the pathways to finalising your separation are similar – Private. Respectful. Dignified.
It is difficult to achieve a positive outcome by forcing someone to be at the same point in the grieving process as you are, if you have only just told them you want to separate. Be patient. Give them time to process the “stuff “. Just as, undoubtedly, you have had the time to process the “stuff”. Everyone processes things differently, and in a different order.
The time it takes to sort everything out will depend on the two of you. Be patient with yourself.
Megan Sweetlove is a divorce lawyer and the owner of Sweetlove Family Law. Based in Crafers in the Adelaide Hills and also with consulting rooms just outside Adelaide CBD, Megan has worked with families who are experiencing separation and divorce for the past 10 years and is committed to assisting her clients find respectful outcomes to their separation, away from the Court process and with a focus on having a healthy future.
If you or someone you know needs assistance during divorce you can organise a complimentary 20 minute phone appointment with Megan here.
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