The New Normal after Separation

Do you want to know an unexpected finding from the Framingham Heart Study that has been conducted over six decades? Happiness is contagious and the secret may very well be in the connection. Social relationships correlate positively with happiness. If your friend becomes happy, that increases your probability by 15%.

If you’ve recently separated from your partner, this can be a lonely time. But although your marriage may be over, your relationship with your children, family and friends goes on. It’s important for them to know that you are grateful they’re in your life and that you will be there for them. What follows are 7 helpful tips so you can begin to reconnect with others and to yourself:

1. Take one step at a time. You can do it, as you have with other turning points in your life. The strength that has guided you in the past will ultimately surface and help you through this process. Even in the midst of confusion, begin by putting one foot slowly in front of the other. Don’t try to rush anything.

2. Following the breakup of the family, your children may feel more vulnerable. If the separation is recent, perhaps they still hope that you will reconcile. Or if the reality of the situation is just setting in, they could blame you and feel frustrated or angry. Be patient and available to listen carefully to their reactions to the family changes. Consider seeing a family therapist as they sort it all out.

3. Make room for your own feelings, in quiet moments by yourself or with close friends. Accept that you feel fragile, perhaps anxious or even depressed. Recognize that this is normal for the present circumstances. Let go of resentments and find meaning in the life you are now building with your children. Try to get caught up in the anticipation of this new chapter.

4. It is a time for new beginnings. In the past, you may have repeated rituals together as a family – perhaps reading books at bedtime, weekend barbeques or holidays with relatives from both sides. But now it will be different. Keep your expectations realistic and continue the routines that are familiar and important. At the same time, experiment with your children about how to make special times more meaningful now.

5. Realize there will be difficult firsts and you don’t have to do it all alone. If money or time is an issue, keep your lives as simple as possible and engage the support of others. Being together with those who love you is most important. So don’t hesitate to let family or friends help out. And include your children’s grandparents. It’s important for the kids to know that they still have the love of an extended family.

6. All the major responsibilities falling squarely on your shoulders may leave you feeling exhausted and stressed. Take care of you. Pamper yourself in whatever ways are most pleasurable to you. That may mean spending more time with friends, taking a mental health day from work or reducing the stress through meditation or exercise.

7. Reaching out to others who are alone will put your situation more into perspective. Bake brownies with the kids and take them to the neighborhood fire station or invite an aging relative or a single co-worker over for dinner. Take gently used toys to a local children’s hospital or volunteer at a convalescent home. Give it some thought – the possibilities are endless.

Of course, giving up the security of old habits may leave you feeling unmoored. But you may have no choice at this point. Focus on what is still at the center of your life – your family, friends who are there for you, your work, activities that bring you joy. Recognize that there is no one right way to feel and act now. You have the freedom to generate a whole new you. Seize that opportunity and make good use of it.

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