Archive for Divorce and Separation

Coping with Grief and Loss

‘I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it when I sorry most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.’

Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote these words in response to the sudden death of his friend Arthur Hallam. But it does not need a death to trigger grief – the break up of a relationship; unrequited love; missed opportunities; the abuse of trust – each in their own way results in grief and loss. At Coupleworks helping our clients to begin to process these feelings is part of our work.

Almost 50 years ago Elizabeth Kubler Ross frustrated by the lack of studies on grief, and inspired by her work with terminally ill patients, described the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. She was also concerned to underline that not everyone who is grieving will go through all the stages and the stages may not be in that order. Everyone’s grief is his or her own and there is no right way of experiencing it, nor can you predict how intense it will be. However they remain a useful tool to help people see that what they are experiencing is normal and natural and accepting this can be very helpful.

The 5 stages of grief:

Denial: in this stage the individual is trying to deny their loss, they can’t believe it is happening to them, they feel as if it is a mistake. If the loss is sudden and unexpected then sometimes there may be numbness like waiting to wake up from a bad dream – all will be better tomorrow but it isn’t.

Anger: The intense reality of the pain can feel too much as the denial stage wears off, but a way of avoiding that pain is for the individual to look for someone to blame. It can be themselves for not doing something or being there or directing it to others.

Bargaining: Here the characteristic phrase is ‘If only….’ I had done this or been there then it might not have happened. This is a normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability, to feel as though despite what has happened we still have some control.

Depression: what is the point of going on? I can’t be bothered any more…. The feeling of sadness and pain just seems so overwhelming, and ordinary things that we enjoyed previously feel mundane.

Acceptance: this is the final stage and not everyone reaches it. It is the point of beginning to come through the grief – a gradual reinvesting of energy into life. There is an adjustment and acceptance that life can go on even without our loved one or those lost hopes.

Sometimes it can feel like the pain is never ending but time can heal and things may eventually become more bearable. We can find ways of living with the loss.

A few tips to help you cope and keep going….

1. Allow yourself to feel sad and express and release your feelings. Don’t be afraid to cry – it is better than bottling up your feelings.
2. Look after yourself – don’t forget to take exercise even if that is going for a walk.
3. Sleep if you can and have a regular bedtime.
4. Avoid drink and drugs that temporarily dull the pain – you will only feel worse afterwards.
5. Plan ahead for grief triggers such as anniversaries or special reminders.
6. Find support and don’t be afraid to talk to family and friends
7. Counselling can be helpful to talk your feelings through and have a space to share the pain.

And perhaps hold on to those words of Tennyson, however difficult it may be to believe them – still less to feel them. ‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all’

Sarah Fletcher

How to Cope when your Ex Moves on to a New Relationship

The American sitcom, Modern Family, makes separation and divorce look easy. The characters seamlessly move from one relationship to another, and the actors all appear to accept the ever-moving changes without seemingly registering any of them. Perhaps the clue here is the ‘the actors’. In real life, it’s not that simple!

I was speaking to a client about his ex-wife being in a new relationship. He told me how difficult it has been to see her so happy. What bothered him was her apparent ease at moving on and his fear was that she would have a new family and wipe out all the years they’d spent together. Feelings of anger at the way she finished their relationship quickly surfaced and he was left wounded and bruised by the whole experience.

When couple’s split up, there are endless issues to contend with. These range from the practical to the deeper emotions that surface – sooner or later. Many people find, that after the dust has settled and they finally feel more confident and secure within themselves that when their partners move on to new relationships, difficult feelings start to emerge all over again – sometimes far stronger than after the initial break-up.

When our partner moves into a new relationship, this is when we begin to feel that we’ve been left behind, and the narrative begins: “I will always be alone, and I hate him/her/ them”. When we focus on these thoughts, we forget to feel what’s really going on for us. Learning to stay with hurt and loss is how we heal and how we can then build our inner resources to let go and move forward.

At Coupleworks, we work with clients to try and normalise thoughts of loss and the difficult feelings that come with the end of a relationship. We work with clients to teach them that it is permissible to accept feelings that come up without judgment. It’s a process that takes time but, in my experience, clients do find their way out of the dark and start to make sense of the loss of the relationship and start to accept that their partner has moved on and so will they.

Tips on how to let go of relationships:

1. Allow yourself to feel whatever feelings that come up. These feelings can range from profound sadness to intense anger towards your partner.
2. Talk to people you trust: friends, parents or a therapist.
3. Go to couple’s therapy for a few sessions to put closure to the relationship and clarify any unresolved issues that might still be going on between the two of you.
4. Be kind to yourself and remind yourself that you won’t always feel the way you do now. There is a future.
5. Remember that your relationship was meaningful at one time, just because it’s over doesn’t mean it was a waste of time.
6. There is no time limit to how long it takes to get over a relationship.

Shirlee Kay

Couples and the UK-EU Divorce

After all the uncertainty over the past weeks and months we know now the UK has voted for a Divorce from our European neighbours.

The aftermath of this vote seems to be causing mayhem and anxiety amongst the political parties and stock markets around the world as everyone tries to come to terms with the biggest political decision made over the past 40 years. Millions of people are even signing a petition to reverse the Brexit decision.

Tensions are running high as Europe and the UK start to battle out how long the divorce will take and when the procedure for separation should start. Today Jean-Claude Juncker announces that “its not going to be an amicable divorce”.

Couples who come to Coupleworks are usually initially looking for ways to prevent separation and divorce and find a way of working through their difficulties. What we are witnessing being played out in front of us are parties who, as yet, have found no way of working through issues and building a future together.

However there are also couples who come into therapy recognising they have grown apart and reached the end of their relationship and are looking for ways of achieving an amicable divorce.

Here are some frequently asked questions that perhaps the political parties should have asked themselves before the vote to avoid one of the most bitterly fought political battles in living memory.

This is unknown territory – how do we start the process? Do we need a solicitor, or should we go to mediation?
How long will the process take?
What are the grounds for a divorce?
How much will it cost? Can we afford to break up?
How will we live and will everything have to be divided?
Do I need to move out?
Who gets the house and the pension?
What about the children and who will they live with and where?
How often will I see the children?
How do we prepare for divorce?
How do we tell the children?
What happens if we change our minds?
Sessions with a couples counsellor can provide personalised support to help and prepare clients emotionally through what can often be a long and painful ending process as they come to terms with the choices they have made.

Hopefully this country and our politicians in the weeks and months ahead will start to slow down and reflect on the best way forward for an amicable working Divorce rather than go into free-fall that seems to be happening today.

Dawn Kaffel


Reading the Sunday papers recently I was struck by how many articles there were dealing with endings. Whether it’s Boris Johnson ending his Mayorship, President Obama coming to the end of his term in office or the UK being uncertain about whether to end its long relationship with Europe.

This set me thinking about how couples often struggle with endings. It’s not easy
Shall we end it? Should we? Can we? are often questions I hear in my consulting room.

Ending a relationship is never easy no matter how many times it has happened. Often we get so caught up in the comfortable patterns of our lives that even when we know things aren’t working for us ending a relationship can be too much effort, take too much time and seem way too difficult and we can end up just treading water.

Ending a relationship can feel like bereavement and we will often avoid having to deal with painful feelings of sadness and loss by choosing to stay.

Here are some scenarios that suggest its time to end the relationship:

• Loosing trust and respect for each other

• Only one partner in the relationship wants to have a baby

• Couples that have been together since they were quite young and have grown up together, a degree of comfortableness and security sets in but the intimacy has been lost and often one partner wants to find that with a new partner

* Sexual attraction has disappeared

• No longer share the same values and dreams

• You don’t feel you are thought about in the same way

• Find yourselves making plans with friends and family rather than your significant other suggests you are starting to let go

• Has the fun and laughter gone out of the relationship?

• Is the majority of the time spent together taken up with arguments and conflict

• A strong desire to be with someone else

• A future you once believed in with your partner is no longer there and brings into question why you chose to remain in a relationship with no long term investment

• Recognising your partner feels like a stranger

• Any kind of abusive or violent behaviour

Often the fear of being alone, feeling of failure and concerns about what other people may think are feelings that keep us in relationships far too long. It is far better to focus on whether you have given it your best, is it bringing the best out of me, am I getting what I need and to trust your instincts.

It is not easy to make these decisions. Working with an experienced couples therapist to explore some of these difficult and painful issues can help clarify whether the relationship can move forward or needs to end. Taking time out to end a relationship in a good way can really help future relationships.

To quote Ernest Agyemang Yeboah

When you begin, you envision a better end but, when you get to the end, you see the beginning better!

Dawn Kaffel

Counselling when considering Separation

Couples sometimes contact Coupleworks when they are facing the end of their relationship and have the wish to separate as amicably as possible, and with consideration and understanding.

Counselling can offer support when the grief at the thought of a break-up feels overwhelming and help is needed with managing difficult feelings. This is particularly true if the couple have experienced other significant and painful losses in their lives. Broken attachments can provoke great anxiety – and counselling offers the time and space to think about needs and how to tap resources of support.

Being part of a couple can define and strengthen a person’s identity and suddenly being alone requires a re-figuration and understanding of oneself: ‘Who am I now?’ If there are issues of low self-esteem and low self-worth this can feel a monumental task. When there has been a custom of sharing, now there may be an aching sense of loneliness and panic. It may be important to identify and uncover one’s inner resilience.

If the threat of the end of the relationship has come out of the blue, then a partner may have trouble accepting a future that is not the one that was anticipated. Feelings of well-being and certainty have been shaken to the core and plans will need adjusting. There may be financial implications, child-care issues, even the selling of the home. It can be difficult to grasp the extent of the upheaval – and challenging to find the confidence to face life alone.

If there have been childhood insecurities, or rejections, or abandonments, past memories can resurface and create a worry that this present loss just cannot be managed. Starting over, facing the unknown, can cause panic and dread – but talking to an impartial counsellor offers a chance to think more calmly. Family and friends can sometimes find it difficult to stand back, not take sides, and be detached from their own concerns.

When there are feelings of betrayal, bitterness and anger it may be important begin to understand how things have come about. There can be benefit from gaining an insight into the dynamics of the relationship, the patterns of behaviour, and the impulses and reactions of each partner. Untangling the confusion may alleviate feeling of helplessness and hopelessness and prevent getting stuck in recrimination and blame.

Kathy Rees

Separation – helpful hints for ending a relationship

Helpful hints for ending a relationship because …..
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Remember when you held me tight,
And you kissed me all through the night.
Think of all that we been through,
And breakin’ up is hard to do.

sang Neil Sedaka in the 1960s.

Ending is a timeless, painful issue and a hard one to face. There is no Good Way to finish a love affair.
Many different circumstances can cause one, or both of a couple to re-evaluate a relationship. Sometimes it can be a particular, seemingly insurmountable, issue, but sometimes the yawning gap just quietly sneaks up causing a mighty draft between the two of you.
Back in the day, there was the possibility that an ending could be just that  …. finality.
But now with social media feeds, there is every chance that an ex may show up from time to time, and sometimes apparently having all kinds of fun without you.

Try and have a face-to-face conversation, however painful.

Never, ever allow a relationship to end by text or email. Those cliches – ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ or ‘I just need some space’ are tired and confusing. The truth is that disappointment has overtaken hope and at least one of you now believes that there is no creative way forward together.

Treat each other with some respect and sensitivity if at all possible.

Anger is a useful way of exhibiting distancing behaviour and therefore a great defence (‘I wish I had never met you’ or ‘I’ve wasted the best years of my life’) and is a lot easier to manage than the underlying emotion which is usually great sadness.

Do avoid the ‘Lets be friends’ route. It is possible, but unlikely at this point and usually a lot easier once some time has passed to allow you to become separate individuals again.

If you have loved, then never allow an ending to eclipse what you have had. It does no justice to either of you or your relationship.
The wonderful songwriter Carol King celebrates this in the poignant ‘It’s Too Late’ – singing, ‘Still, I’m glad for what we had and how I once loved you’

But before the final blow, take time to evaluate. Relationship counselling is not always driven by the need to remain a couple, and insights can facilitate a less painful and more creative ending.
Sometimes it also becomes apparent that with time and kindness, people will come to realise that a little work can help them to understand the reasons underlying what has changed and to find a different and better way forward together.

Christina Fraser

Counselling could have helped

It’s a couple thing. What happens when a partner decides they no longer want to be in the relationship. Were the signs not clear enough?
Scotland, it’s been a long and historic union – when did you decide that you no longer felt that your needs we’re being met? And did you not talk about this clearly? Or did we not listen early enough?
All relationships need to feel safe, and partners need to feel appreciated. Why did we not sit down and discuss this rationally before the divorce lawyers were called in.
Anger and blame are sometimes easier to express than the quiet sadness and feelings of loss that accompany the pain of possible separation.
Our identities are entwined. After we abandon the cliches of our individual profiles (please don’t mention heather, bagpipes, beefeaters or bulldogs) our DNAs are mingled. Some of us even live in each other’s countries.
You say you want to leave us, but instead of explaining how good we are together, maybe some of us have been telling you how much you will lose, and even suggesting that you won’t get a fair share of our combined family assets.
We’ll all get through, but many of us won’t get what we desire here. It could even be 49% of us. Change brings losses, but we should have talked about this much earlier.
Better together? Who knows, but by exposing our feelings so vehemently for these past weeks at least we all know that this is important. The opposite of love is not hate, the opposite is apathy – we are neighbours forever, so together or apart, please let’s stay friends.

Christina Fraser

Silver Splitters

So much attention is directed to smoothing the jagged effects on children caught up in family separations that it can be harder to assess the effects on grown up ‘children’.
Divorce among the over 60s has tripled in the past 20 years, and the wider effects can cause substantial and often unseen ripples.
Parents matter, and they matter for longer than is often realised.
Suddenly the map of the wider family has to be redrawn, and the sons and daughters in their 30s can easily feel erased from the new systems
It can be tough to see those staid and predictable parents now attaching to new partners and becoming less available as they find links and the energy of different hopes. No longer are they just ‘there’ but now they may be engaging with an adolescent sense of fun and freedom.
As their kids grow up, these newer parental couplings become connected with to youthful optimism and their children will be excluded from this.
Sharing may have been a lifelong challenge with siblings, but with family groups shifting and reforming there may well be an unexpected group of extra family members now inextricably attached and causing refresh rivalries. What happens to the only child suddenly caught up in a stepfamily of several siblings.
Whose grandchildren will feel most favoured – what will happen to the established holiday rituals – and let’s not even begin to think of the unmentionable ‘inheritance’
These are some of the future concerns, but there is also the past. A mysterious place where assumptions are made and patterns of couples are internalised.
When parents divorce in their 60s, this will mean that children may start to question their own past. Unpicking family life and looking for clues can be a painful business. The children of later divorces may wonder if the parents ‘stayed together for the sake of the kids’.
That can feel like quite a guilt inducing burden.
Families need to engage and talk, and parents should feel free enough to look out for their own happiness but also to stay sensitive to the fact that the children may look like Grown Ups but there is a small child in us all. Happiness is Love. Let’s be careful with it.

Christina Fraser

Tips for Separated Parents

  • Remember what you once had, and try to separate this from where you are now. We often get the relationship we needed at that time. You are now different people. Remember what was good about the other.
  • Never discuss or criticise an ex partner in front of your children. Remember that you are co-parents for life. Respect each other in this situation. Children need to believe they are loved and strongly attached to both of you, even if you are no longer attached to each other.
  • Never use children as messengers. Find a way to communicate and sort out the information that affects childcare. Organise a way to review the necessary arrangements around education, health and your children’s individual future needs.
  • Pick your battles. Don’t focus on details that are historic to your past relationship, but may not be so relevant ongoing. It may be better to relinquish blame and criticism in order to get a point across and get your voice heard. Think of how best to get what you want without it sounding like a complaint.
  • If you need to express difficult feelings, find someone else outside the family. Your children should not hear criticisms. As long as the ex partner is the focus of rage and disappointment, you are still staying attached to them.
  • Remember: the opposite of love is not hate – the opposite of love is apathy

Christina Fraser

What makes us return to a partner, after separation, even if we know it’s not right?

  • If it is very soon after the break-up, it may be that the grief and loss feel overwhelming and unmanageable. This may be particularly true if we have experienced other significant losses in our lives. A panic that we are unable to cope with the sadness, grief and loneliness means we rush back into the security of being part of a couple.
  • It can be that we have suffered insecurities in childhood, or experienced distressing rejections or abandonments. We would prefer to be in a relationship, even if there are difficulties, rather than let that pain resurface.
  • We can fear that we lack the resilience to face life as a single person. We worry that, alone, we cannot manage social situations, or handle finances, or deal with the challenge of being a single parent. We might bargain that accepting the problems in a relationship is a price worth paying.
  • It can be hard, sometimes, to believe that we deserve a different kind of relationship. If we have issues of low self-esteem or a weak sense of identity, it can mean we accept half-measures and are grateful for any attention – however meagre or negative. Feeling ‘not-good-enough’, means we can settle for ‘second-best’ (or, at worst, something destructive or even damaging).
  • We dread that time is running out, that we may not find another partner, or that we might lose the opportunity to have a child.
  • We can repress our own unhappiness rather than contemplate dismantling a relationship which has big emotional investment and commitment. It feels unbearable to face the acute distress of our partner or children. We fear our potential to cause destruction. We are overwhelmed by guilt; with the responsibility of splintering the couple or family. We feel such shame that we patch up the relationship in order to avoid criticism and condemnation from family members, friends, community, or church.
  • Working with a relationship counsellor offers the opportunity to explore our needs and emotions more calmly. It can be a relief to untangle our confused, often unconscious, and often contradictory, impulses. What is being suppressed and avoided?
  • We may choose to stay. Counselling can then help reveal and clarify the dynamics of the relationship. We can be stuck in damaging patterns of behaviour and need to contemplate the changes required. As we address the issues, we can begin to take responsibility for our own role in the difficulties. How can we respond differently?
  • However, if the decision is to separate, counselling can help us manage the disorientating feelings of loss and our fears for the future. Alternative support networks and resources will need to be identified and established. New boundaries and terms of relating will need negotiating. With support, by examining our worst fears, by identifying our best hopes, and by establishing our strengths, a decision to move on and start again, will be more sustainable.

Divorce and Separation in Later Years

Divorce and separation in later years.
Recently there have been articles and discussions highlighting a new issue arising in families which happens more frequently than in previous generations. This could be due to increased levels of energy in later years gained from better diets and attention to health and well being. It could also be due to wider discussion bringing issues into the open, which were hitherto either taboo or only mentioned behind closed doors.

It will take years of research, discussion and theory to know why this is but we are beginning to see older couples separating and divorcing. In previous years they might have battled on and stuck together for fear of social disapproval and exclusion if they took a different route.

Psychologically, the families of the older generation making this choice also bear the brunt of the split. Middle generation couples today take on stresses and lives, which fill their existence to the brim and the added responsibility of visiting and caring for parents who now live apart becomes yet another strain and anxiety.

The decision to part and go their separate ways often only suits one member of the couple. This leaves the other one with loss, failure and abandonment issues, sometimes with a sense of ‘what is the point’? This in turn causes worry and concern for the adult children and when older, the grandchildren.

There are so many difficult issues, which will arise from this new pattern, and it would be helpful to have more input from people with experience of this family dynamic.

Clare Ireland