How to cope when going through a divorce or separation

The breakdown of a relationship can be one of the most stressful times in a person’s life. It is a significant loss, and will often be complicated by financial pressures, housing practicalities and whether or not children are involved.

Angelique Foran, Clinical Psychologist and Director of Supported Minds Psychology says that during a divorce or separation, it is common to experience a range of emotions, including sadness, loss, grief, anger and depression, as well as relief and loneliness.

“Your life changes so dramatically when you go through a divorce or separation,” Angelique says. “It’s not just the end of the relationship, but you will also be grieving the life you had, and all the future hopes and plans you had made.”

You may also find it hard to no longer identify as someone who is in a relationship. People who you were friends with may side with your partner, or you may not feel comfortable talking with them if they were people who you saw socially as a couple. Even if you want to remain on good terms with your partner, you may find that it is difficult to spend much time with them, at least in the beginning.

“It is an overwhelming time, and most people will find it difficult to adjust,” Angelique says. “Speaking with family and friends who are impartial, where possible, can help you to work through the upheaval.”

Angelique says it can take around two years from the separation or divorce for people to start feeling as though they have their life back on track.

“However, if you have feelings of sadness and depression that are lasting beyond around 6 months, then it could be a sign that you need some additional support from a psychologist,” Angelique says.

Depending on the situation, it can be useful to have a session where the psychologist meets with you and your partner together, and with children as well, if they are involved, to help everyone feel supported as you navigate this new space.

How to help children through this time

Each child will react to the separation or divorce of their parents in different ways. The age of the child will have a big impact on their understanding and reaction to the news.

“Younger children may not really understand the significance of the news,” Angelique says. “They may simply nod and then go off to play. Some children might feel depressed or upset by the news and may even think they are in some way to blame. If the child is older, especially adolescents, they may feel anger about the situation and towards their parents.”

Angelique says that one of the best ways to support children through your divorce or separation is to encourage positive relationships between both parents and the children.

“Don’t put children in the middle of your own dispute,” Angelique says. “You will obviously be going through your own difficulties, but having a mindset of ‘how can I be the best parent I can be’ during this time is something that will have lasting and ongoing benefits for your family.”

Separation anxiety is something that many children experience when their parents are separating or going through a divorce.

“We see it a lot with primary school-aged children, so it is something parents should be aware of. Quite often the child will end up sleeping in the same bed as the parent as a result.”

Some tips to help children manage the changes of a divorce or separation include:

  • Acknowledge their feelings and uncertainty
  • Have both parents available to answer any questions from children
  • Be respectful of the other parent
  • Be clear about expectations and schedules
  • Make time for fun with each parent
  • Try and keep them at the same school, and communicate with the school about changes in your situation so they can adjust accordingly.

Angelique says that parents can work together to create co-parenting arrangements that are truly supportive for their children.

“Some parents I work with have reached the point where they have breakfast as a family with the kids on the day they change over,” Angelique says. “This gives everyone a chance to talk about the week and share any important news, including any changes in expectations and schedules that might impact everyone.”

Beyond separation, Angelique says it’s important to know that individuals can create a new life and position themselves in a co-parenting arrangement that works well for everyone involved.

“It is possible for kids to have access to two, happy parents,” she says.

Additional support

Relationships Australia offers a wide range of services and support material to improve the quality of family and community relationships.

Members get priority access to psychology appointments

All Health Partners members get priority access to exclusively reserved psychology appointments with Supported Minds Psychology, either in-person or telehealth.

Plus, as a Health Partners member save $20 on individual psychology appointments.

Read more

Posted: Aug 21 2023


The information contained here is of a general nature and does not take into account your personal medical situation. The information is not a substitute for independent professional medical advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or used for therapeutic purposes. Should you require specific medical information, please seek advice from your healthcare practitioner. Health Partners does not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information provided. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them.

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