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Coping with family break-up, separation or divorce

Family break-ups, separation and divorce are highly stressful, and people often grieve over the loss of their former relationship and lives. However, the intense early feelings do ease with time, and most separated or divorced couples go on to lead fulfilling and happy lives.

When you have separated or divorced you will probably, at first, have very strong emotional and physical responses. You could:

You might also feel upset about losing:

  • your partner
  • your marriage or relationship
  • the amount of time you had with your children
  • contact with friends and relatives
  • your future plans
  • your lifestyle
  • financial security.

These responses to the stress of a break-up are all normal, regardless of whether you were in a heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual or intersex relationship.

Everyone and every situation is different so you will have your own response, especially if you experienced domestic violence or ongoing conflict in your relationship. Even if your partner was abusive, you may feel sad, angry and conflicted at the ending of the relationship.

The early emotions may be so intense you could feel as though you are not coping.

Here are some tips on how to deal with break-up, separation and divorce.

  • Make choices that give you control over your life - These choices might be accepting that it’s over, not being a victim, being positive for your children, learning new skills or making plans for the future.
  • Ask for help - People will want to help you, so don’t be afraid to ask. Talk to trusted family and friends or to your doctor, especially if your feelings are affecting your everyday activities.
  • Contact services for support and advice - There are many services that can help you through separation and divorce, such as counselling, family dispute resolution and family violence prevention. You can find a list of services on the Relationships Australia and Family Relationships Online websites, or call Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277.

If these feelings are not improving despite your having good support, or if you feel overwhelmed or depressed, then seek medical advice as soon as possible. If you or someone you know is at risk of harming themselves, call triple zero (000) immediately or go to the nearest hospital emergency department.

Last reviewed: December 2016

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