Making plans: A guide to parenting arrangements after separation or divorce

Section 1: What you may be feeling

While there are many practical and legal decisions you need to make after separation or divorce, you will also be feeling a range of emotions.

This section explains some of the things you may be feeling. To learn more about how your children may react to divorce or separation, consult Section 2: What your children may be feeling.

Relationships end for many reasons. No matter why your relationship ended, you may find separation difficult and emotional. At times, your emotions may be so strong that you find it hard to deal with legal issues.

Your life will change after separation or divorce. Some things may change right away. Other things may change later.

Separation and your emotions

Separation is the loss of an important relationship. And it probably isn't what you had planned for your life. As a result, you may be feeling many different emotions.

Strong emotions are natural. Your feelings may vary from anger, fear, jealously, anxiety, sadness, uncertainty, guilt, shame and loneliness to relief, excitement, hope and even happiness.

You may find that you swing from one emotion to another. Or, you may feel some emotions longer than others. This is normal.

Remember

Until you feel better, it's important to try to deal with your emotions in ways that set a good example for your children. This will help you and your children adjust to the changes in your life.

For example, even if you're angry, don't criticize your former partner in front of your children. Avoid sharing your emotions on social media that may be read by or shared with your children. Find other outlets for your anger, like physical activity or counselling.

Stages of Grief

Here are some of the things you may be feeling as you work through your grief. You may go through all of these stages or only some of them. You may go through them in a different order than listed here. Or you may move back and forth between the stages. Whatever you feel, it's important to know that these feelings generally won't last.

You and your former partner will likely go through these stages at different times. Usually, the partner who decides to end the relationship goes through them sooner because they started grieving earlier.

Denial

“This is just a temporary thing.”

“We aren't really getting a divorce.”

“They'll change their mind.”

Denial is a natural defence mechanism. We use it to protect ourselves from traumatic events in our lives. With time, denial can change to acceptance.

Anger

“This is all your fault.”

“I don't deserve this.”

“Things are better for you than they are for me.”

Anger is a normal reaction to the end of a very important relationship in your life. Sometimes, anger can help hide a sense of loss or disappointment about the end of your relationship.

Feeling angry is O.K. as long as it doesn't control your behaviour. If your anger is overwhelming, try asking others for help or doing an activity that you enjoy.

It's normal for one or both parents to feel anger towards the other. But you both have a responsibility to protect your children from anger and conflict. If you have threatened the other parent or are feeling violent towards the other parent, you need to get help. Speak with your doctor, a counsellor, an Elder or someone you trust. It's also important to get help if your anger is interfering with your ability to cope with your daily activities.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1 or your local police.

If you or your children have been abused or feel unsafe around the other parent, you need to put safety first and you may need to create a safety plan. You need to protect your children and yourself. If you are in immediate danger, call the police.

Bargaining

“If you stay, I'll try harder.”

“Why don't we just try again? I'll stop criticizing you.”

People who are separating sometimes make promises to try and save the relationship. These may include promises to:

  • spend less money
  • stop drinking or gambling
  • stop doing things the former partner finds annoying

Very often, these attempts at bargaining don't work. They can leave one or both of you feeling bad.

If you and the other parent genuinely want to reconcile, it’s a good idea to seek counselling. But be careful about what you say to your children about this. Your children may be confused if things appear to be going well but you later separate or divorce anyway.

Depression

“Nobody cares about me.”

“I feel so sad and lonely.”

“My family would be better off without me.”

It's very common for people to feel depressed after separation or divorce. Common signs of depression include:

  • sleeping too much or not sleeping at all
  • gaining or losing weight, eating less or more than usual
  • feeling more tired or extremely energetic without reason
  • experiencing physical symptoms such as frequent headaches and stomach upsets
  • having difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • feeling anxious, guilty, worthless, or hopeless
  • feeling isolated and detached from your life and the people around you
  • losing interest or pleasure in activities you usually enjoy
  • having constant negative thoughts, including thoughts of suicide

Most people who separate or divorce say these feelings fade with time. If you're feeling depressed, ask for help. You can speak with people like a mental health professional, a counsellor, your doctor, an Elder, or a religious adviser.

There's no shame in asking for help. It can help you be a better parent.

The Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868), Hope for Wellness Help Line for Indigenous peoples (1-855-242-3310), 1-866-APPELLE for Québec residents (1-866-277-3553), and the Canada Suicide Prevention Service (1-833-456-4566) all offer 24/7 support.

A quick Internet search for keywords such as “crisis line” or “distress centre” in your city or area can help you find services near you.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1 or your local police.

Acceptance

“I guess this is how things are going to be.”

“Our marriage is over, so it's time to move on.”

“I don't like it, but I am ready to accept it.”

Accepting the separation or divorce means that you realize it is happening and that it's not going to change. It doesn't always mean that you're happy about it. It means that you're ready to move on with your life. It's important that you accept the separation or divorce so you can work on building a new relationship with the other parent. Your new relationship will focus on what's best for your children.

Moving forward

You need to take care of yourself to be strong for your children and support them through the separation or divorce. Here a few tips:

  • Be patient with yourself. The first year after separation is often the hardest because there are so many changes and decisions to make. Some experts say that it can take two or three years to adjust to a separation or divorce.
  • Recognize that it's O.K. to have all these different feelings.
  • Reach out for support. Friends, family, and professionals, such as counsellors, can help.
  • Take care of your health. Try to eat well, sleep well, and get exercise.

Separation or divorce closes one chapter of your life, but it also begins another. This may be a chance for you to try something new. For example, you could try a new sport or join a social group.

Ask yourself: How am I coping with the separation or divorce?

It's important to think about how you're feeling and coping with the separation or divorce. Ask yourself the following questions to help you make sense of your emotions:

  • What am I feeling? Am I feeling anger, sadness, anxiety, joy, relief?
  • Am I grieving? What stage of the grieving process am I in?
  • What am I doing to cope with my emotions?
  • What else could I be doing to help myself cope? Could I talk to a friend, read, do volunteer work, join a choir, talk with a counselor or elder, join a support group, exercise, start a new hobby?
  • Where would I like to be in my life in a year? In five years? What do I need to do to get there?

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