lonely women sat on a couch

How to cope with relationship separation and divorce

Separation is an emotional rollercoaster full of grief and loss. You may experience a vast range of emotions including frustration, powerlessness, anger, denial, confusion and even relief.

Relationship separation and divorce are among the toughest life experiences people can face. Even if the relationship is not a good one, losing it may still be a very painful experience. The loss experienced in a separation of any kind is rarely easy to deal with.


“Relationship separation and divorce are among the toughest life experiences people can face.”


Separation brings with it the emotional rollercoaster that comes with all grief and loss. You may experience a vast range of emotions including frustration, powerlessness, anger, denial, confusion and even relief.

These feelings can lead to practical difficulties such as loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, difficulties at work and social withdrawal. While these are painful and distressing, these feelings are normal and with time, their impact will lessen.

Despite all the tough times this change can bring about, it’s important to remember that life will get back to normal, although ‘normal’ may look and feel different from what you’re used to or had hoped for. A new ‘normal’ will settle in, where it will be possible to continue on living a fulfilling and happy life.


Managing the loss of relationship separation

The loss we experience when a relationship breaks down is not only about the loss of a partner and their company. There may be losses of social networks, financial losses and the loss of dreams and ideas: ideas about who you are, your place in the world, and how you thought your life was going to look in the future. This loss of ideas can be the hardest thing to cope with.

A breakup also brings uncertainty about the future. What will life be like without your partner? Will you find someone else? Will you end up alone? These unknowns can often seem worse than being in an unhappy relationship, which is one of the many reasons we sometimes hold on to something that is not working.


Tips to cope with relationship separation

There are things you can do to get through this difficult adjustment. In times of emotional crisis like relationship separation and divorce, there are opportunities to grow and learn. Think of this period in your life as a chance for sowing the seeds for new growth and reinventing yourself.

  • Establish boundaries. This is about protecting yourself from further pain that can come from prolonging the change. These boundaries may include limiting the time, energy and physical affection you give to your ex-partner. Although many people would like to ‘stay friends’, this is often a difficult task and may not be realistic or healthy, at least in the early stages.
  • Go easy on yourself because you’ve been through a lot.
  • Allow yourself time. It’s valuable to take some space to reflect on things and re-evaluate your life, but balance is key – be careful not to spend too much time dwelling on the past. Give it some time for you to grow and recover. Remember that moving on is the end goal – getting stuck in hurtful feelings can prevent you from healing and moving forward.  While some introspection is necessary and helpful, try to include some thoughts and actions to take that can improve things.
  • Watch your thinking. Being as positive as you can be in your thinking and life choices will help your recovery and allow you to build a strong, healthy life post-separation.
  • Look after yourself physically. Maintaining routines can give a strong sense of comfort and normality. Eat healthily and exercise regularly. Avoid unhealthy coping strategies such as drinking or drugs to numb the pain. Treat yourself like you’re getting over a sickness. Get plenty of rest, reduce other sources of stress in your life, and reduce your workload.
  • Don’t let your lifestyle stagnate. A life change is an opportunity to take a new direction, perhaps in an area you have been interested in but never had the time to pursue.
  • Grow your connections and meet new people.
  • Reach out for support. Like many other tough times, it’s important to have a strong support network from those who care about you. It is critical to seek out help and support from professionals, friends and family – trying to ‘tough it out’ on your own can put you at mental and physical health problems. It can also help to write things down to give your feelings a space to vent.

It’s really important to know the difference between a normal reaction to a breakup and depression – if you don’t feel any forward momentum after taking some time to heal, you might want to go and see your GP for a chat and a check up. It is particularly important to speak to a professional if you are struggling to maintain your normal routine, unable to get out of bed, or have thoughts of harming yourself.

The most important thing is to take what you’ve learnt from the relationship and apply it to your next one. Have a look at these tips for creating positive relationships.


If you’ve been feeling down for more than a few days and feel that things aren’t getting better call Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

If it is an emergency, dial 000.