Unlike a death, separation and divorce tend to be an on-going process, so that the emotional upheaval that most people experience during separation and divorce doesn’t get resolved. During this process, feelings typically oscillate between sadness, anger, hurt, fear of an uncertain future, loneliness and a sense of failure. Unresolved emotional distress is grievous in and of itself, and it may also be a prelude to depression. Anxiety can also come into play, especially if the separation brings with it difficult life issues such as being forced to move and severe financial pressures.
Feelings of abandonment and isolation are common, and these feelings can become chronic, particularly if the situation does not change or improve for the person who is having greater difficulty adjusting to the separation. Parents also need to allow children to come to terms with the separation.
As with death, children often blame themselves for their parents’ separation. Adults must therefore make sure that children understand that they are in no way responsible for the marriage break-up and that indeed, there was nothing they could have done to prevent it from happening. At the same time, children need to be reassured that they are not losing the love and care of either parent. Parents need to talk openly about new living arrangements and children made to understand that both parents will continue to spend time with them and share in their lives, even if they do it on an individual basis. Parallel to grief, the breakup of a once-loving partnership, though painful, does not necessarily lead to depression or anxiety. But if symptoms become more entrenched, people should discuss their feelings frankly with their doctor.
Medical therapy, supportive counselling or various forms of psychotherapy can all help people adjust to their new life situation and resolve symptoms of depression and anxiety. And while often impossible to think of at the time, separation and divorce can represent an opportunity for people to brush off old dreams and make plans for a new and rewarding life.