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Adjusting to Separation and the Divorce Process

No one gets married with the expectation of divorce. For most people, marital separation and divorce brings about a cascade of psychological and social changes. These includes changes to one’s living environment, access to children, social network, and finances. There is also need to adjust one’s expectations for the future, while processing a rich tapestry of difficult emotions.

The emotional rollercoaster follows the stages of grief that are typically observed after the death of a loved one, including: denial, anger, guilt, depression, and finally acceptance and hope.

How you feel is likely to shift and change through the separation process. As difficult as the present may seem, take solace in the knowledge that your pain will ease as you can begin to put pieces of your life back together and move forward.

Understandably, emotions run high throughout the divorce process, which can narrow our perspective and inhibit our more rational thought processes, leading to unhelpful and destructive behaviours that prolong the adjustment period and jeopardise an amicable outcome.

Consequently, it is important to keep one’s emotions and thoughts in-check. Avoid short-sighted decisions that are driven by emotion. Take time to reflect and consider what a fair outcome would look like for both you and your former spouse. Accept that some compromise will be necessary. Keep an eye on the big picture and remember what is really important, both now and in the long-term.

A major challenge when going through the divorce process is the loss of control. During a divorce, we are subject to legal processes and systems. It can be overwhelming, especially if one has little prior experience with the legal system. You can maintain some sense of control by maintaining engagement in activities that can help to buffer against stress and other negative emotions.

Maintain balance.

The divorce process can dominate our thoughts at the expense of other areas, such as our professional purist, friendships, and recreational interests. Prioritising activities that provide a sense of enjoyment or achievement, such as a sport, hobby or interest, is one way we can take control over how we feel. Even though these activities may have lost much of their appeal post-separation, we know that maintaining balance is vital to preserving our wellbeing and bolstering resilience during difficult times.

It’s okay not to be okay.

Recognising that we’re struggling to cope is the first step towards getting help. Develop your professional support team to help guide you through the divorce process. For many, this will include legal representatives, a GP, and a psychologist or counsellor.

Respond, don’t react.

Although there may be a temptation to “even the score,” it’s important to maintain perspective and accept that compromise is necessary to reaching an amicable outcome. When communicating with your former spouse, apply the B-I-F-F acronym. Keep communications Brief, Informative, Firm, but Friendly. If emotions are running high during interactions with your partner and you feel unable to maintain composure, consider establishing a dedicated email address and limiting communication to written forms.

Written by Dr James Champion, Director & Clinical Psychologist at MindTree Psychology.

About Dr James Champion

James is a registered Clinical Psychologist and Fellow of the Australian College of Clinical Psychologists (FCCLP). He holds a PhD and Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology, complemented with over 12 years’ experience delivering focused psychological interventions in both hospital and private practice settings. James works with adults and adolescents (14+ years) to achieve greater self-understanding and relief from psychological distress. His main area of specialisation is the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders. James also assists clients to adjust to life changes (e.g., loss and bereavement, chronic illness, and unemployment), overcome addictive behaviours and substance abuse problems, and resolve issues concerning interpersonal relationships.

About MindTree Psychology

Evidence-based psychology for mental health, wellbeing, and personal development

Located in Mermaid Beach, on the corner of Seabeach Avenue and the Gold Coast Highway, MindTree Psychology provides effective and compassionate counselling and psychological services that are individualised to each client’s unique needs.

Our Gold Coast Psychologists are committed to helping others improve their mental wellbeing, overcome challenges, and live happier, healthier, and more productive lives. We engage with children, adults, and families to work through a broad range of issues, including depression, anxiety, grief, anger, relationship difficulties, substance dependence, and trauma.

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