“Support During Separation” by Charmaine Roth published in Great Health Guide (April 2017). Like any other type of grief, the loss of a partner is a process that will take time to adjust to. If you know someone going through this difficult time the best thing you can give is support. Whether you are the support person or the person needing support, this will be somewhat of an emotional roller coaster for you both. Here are some tips to ease the transition.
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RELATIONSHIP: Support During Separation
written by Charmaine Roth
When people separate, a choice has been made. With any choice, there is a loss – no matter whose decision it is to leave. The consequence of any loss is grief. The loss is obviously felt greater for those who place more value on what has been lost – the partnership, a parent, family life, the shared dreams, the shared common language, the shared future and the shared history. The choice of one person impacts a whole family and the consequences are lifelong.
Like any other type of grief, the loss of a marriage is a process that will take time to come to terms with – it is like a death. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her defining work, identified five stages of grief. They are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages and the emotions associated with each stage are not linear – people go backwards and forwards through these stages as part of a grieving process. Separation after marriage is no different.
The best support you can give a friend or relative is to travel the emotional rollercoaster with them until it comes to a stop. This will be done in their own time and sometimes, as a support person, accept that you might be the target of anger and frustration. Supporting a friend through the emotional rollercoaster of separation is not an easy ride, so here are some tips to help you:
1. Respect their privacy: They may not feel like talking – just text or email to let them know that you are there – don’t take their withdrawal personally. People are very vulnerable at this time – just let them know you care and that you are there if needed.
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2. Listen: For some, the separation can be traumatic and the only way for some to process the trauma is to speak about it. Listen without blaming, answer questions as honestly as you can and if you want to support your friend, tolerate the same discussion repeatedly. It’s part of the process. Unwanted advice such as ‘get over it’ and ‘time to move on’ is not helpful. As stated earlier, this is a grieving process and needs its own time. Keep an eye on your friend’s emotional health and if you decide that they need professional help, go with them. Do not give advice unless it is asked for – don’t set yourself up to be able to be blamed for decisions your friend makes.
3. Make sure that your friend can trust you: Do not gossip or talk about the situation behind her back. Do not keep secrets – ask your friend if they want to know about their spouse and respect the answer. Don’t be the conduit between spouses – leave that to a professional counsellor.
4. Be the social secretary: There will always be a loss of friends with a separation. This is a very difficult reality. People are not ready to go out without their partners – It takes courage. Whilst your friend is gathering that courage, do the thinking for them. If you are going for a walk invite them along. Meet for a coffee during the day, invite them to your home with other guests you know they will be comfortable with. Also, ask your friend what works for them right now. If there are children involved, arrange playdates. Company always helps.
5. Empower your friend: Right now, your friend has taken a blow to self-esteem. Remind your friend of their strengths. Let them know that you admire how they are dealing with the situation – make sure they are looking after themselves as well as their children – it’s important that they hear positive messages about themselves.
6. Don’t hammer the spouse to make your friend feel better: Your friend is grieving because they have lost something that they value and care about. Even if you don’t understand it, respect their right to grieve who they have lost – no matter how badly they have been treated.
7. Don’t push someone to do something that they aren’t ready for: Quite often, in a separation, people think that its best if the grieving person starts dating again. Unless the person is ready, it won’t work. Put your own timeline aside and don’t place undue pressure on others to do what you think should be done – it is not your life.