Sometimes, you just know that a relationship has run its course. Its time to call it quits. You’ve tried therapy, you’ve talked (or tried to talk) about the best way forward, and the mutual conclusion is that everyone would be a lot happier if you go your separate ways. Or one decides its over and the other still hopes for better times, but it takes two to make a relationship.
The trouble is that while it can be a relatively straightforward process of decoupling when there is just two of you but if there are children involved you are going to be forever united in a task that requires both of you to be unselfish and putting the children first. Many couples find that really hard.
It is often too easy to use the children as weapons. They desperately want to please you both, so don’t object when they find themselves acting as go-betweens in a war between the two people they love more than anything in the world, or being forced to choose one over the other. In fact it is so easy to not think of them that their needs and wishes often get lost in the fallout of their parents relationship.
If its just the two of you it is a matter of closing joint bank accounts, dividing joint property and assets and trying to settle into a new single life, or moving quickly onto another relationship. If you find this hard then there are lawyers to help, and there are standard algorithms and models for how this should happen. Its up to you both how much grace and courtesy you display, or whether it dissolves into a degrading mud-sling. It only reflects on you and the damage to others is limited.
Its different when you have children. These little people are extremely vulnerable and sensitive to changes in their world, and are likely to have detected that there is something going on long before you realise they are aware. You may have noticed that they have started acting out or regressing or becoming difficult. But even if they haven’t the news that their parents are going to be living in different houses can be devastating and scary to them. Above all else they need to feel secure and safe. Which is why your priority is to ensure that their world continues to be as untouched as possible.
Working together to ensure that they feel safe will require some serious maturity from their primary carers. It’s not always good for the kids to be shuttled between two homes, which can be difficult for their parents to navigate. The solution is frequently age-specific, and the practicals will change over time.
To get this right, you need to really work hard to step aside from your anger, sadness and frustration. This is what is called Conscious Uncoupling, when you are able to separate your instincts and emotions and see things from and objective point of view.
Number one, you have to think of the kids and this means actually imagining their world and what it feels like to them. You may believe that its best and fairest for them to spend 50% of their time with each parent, but if they are only toddlers or under 5s, it is not necessarily so. So it takes a big leap to be able to really see things from the kids perspective, and to know and trust that things will change as time goes by.
Number two, with this maturity the two adults need to come to an agreement that they will not speak badly or try and influence the kids negatively about the other parent. This agreement will be a matter of trust because who knows what the kids are told when the other parent is absent, but poisoning the mind of a child towards the other parent will come back to bite you. When that child grows up and sees things from their own point of view, they will remember the poisoning and your relationship with them will eventually be the one that is soured.
Number three, you need to have agreements regarding money, maintenance, property and child access fully settled so both parties can feel, as much as possible, that its fair. Just because your relationship has broken down doesn’t mean that they cease to be parents with the responsibilities, obligations and joys that that brings. One day you will both be grandparents together – what is that going to look like if you are both still bickering and causing bad feeling ? There will be weddings and other family events that you will both attend, so the sooner you can come to an agreement on all the details as well as protocols for behaviour, the easier it will be for those around you including the children.
Number four, accept that your ex is never going to be your best friend again, and know that if you chose to there are many things that you could justifiably raise as points of contention, but Forgiveness is a powerful thing. If you can find it in you to let the past lie and wish your ex well, you will find that separating might indeed be the best thing you could do for each other and the children, and the rest of the two families too.
For more information and to get in touch with Annie, head to www.anniegurton.com