Marriages and long-term relationships don't always survive the strain of modern living, claim relationship experts from Relate. But there's some good news. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest there were 101,055 opposite sex couples getting a divorce in England and Wales during 2015, which is 9.1% fewer than in 2014 and a massive 34% fewer than in 2003.
"We have been witnessing a steady decline in divorce rates over recent years and it is encouraging to see that this is continuing," says Relate chief executive Chris Sherwood. "As a society, commitment is clearly important to us and marriage can be a good way of demonstrating that commitment if that is what both people want. Whether you are married, cohabiting or living apart, we know that strong and healthy relationships are good for our mental health and wellbeing."
Despite this downturn in the number couples getting a divorce, there is still a need for support. A Relate report published in 2016 recorded that 2.87 million people in the UK were in 'distressed' relationships, with almost 1 in 5 couples arguing regularly or considering separating.
Indeed, along with bereavement, moving home, losing your job and being affected by a major illness, divorce and separation are regularly cited as top causes of stress, depression and anxiety (for some people it may be the most stressful event they will ever experience). And no wonder. The end of a long-term relationship can make you doubt your own identity and your ability to cope alone. It can also bring up feelings from past relationship break-ups, which may put a serious dent in your self-esteem.
Most experts agree that people going through a break-up typically experience feelings of overwhelming sadness or grief, not just when their relationship ends but for some time to come too. Many also experience waves of other strong emotions such as anger, guilt, fear, worry and blame, plus – depending on the situation – feelings of relief or even exhilaration. And if you have children, their emotions are usually challenged too.
Working on your resilience can help if you're considering or going through a divorce or separation. That's because being resilient helps you to turn negative life events into positive ones. While nobody would ever suggest that going through a break-up could ever be easy, here are some things you could do that may help you while you're dealing with divorce or separation:
Seek divorce advice and information
Going through a separation or divorce can be particularly daunting if you're in the dark about what's going to happen. Get as much information about the process as you can, as it will help you to feel more in control of the situation. A good place to start is Gov.uk/divorce.
Reconnect with family and friends
We all have people we tend to rely on when life gets tough. These are the people who, no matter what, are always there for us when we need support.
If the trauma of recent events has made you feel isolated, try to reconnect with the individuals who make you feel better about yourself – especially friends and family members who have been through a break-up themselves and know what you're going through. Read more in How to keep in touch with friends. And when you feel the time is right, try getting out and about more and connecting with new people (if you're getting older, we have lots of tips in our article Making friends in later life).
Talking about your feelings can help you to cope with what you're going through. But if you prefer to confide in people you don't know, try those who are trained to listen, such as Samaritans, or look for a nearby support group for people in your situation.
Be kind to yourself
Take some time to do something that's purely for you, advise Relate experts. Think about what you enjoy such as a long walk, a soak in the bath, spending time on a hobby or other interest, reading a good book or watching your favourite film.
Also try to devote some time to thinking positively about yourself. Relate recommends writing down something nice about yourself before going to bed each night for a week. Then during the following week, write down 1 thing you did well that day. Also remember to eat as healthily as possible and get plenty of rest and sleep whenever you can.
Seek out the positives
The saying 'every cloud has a silver lining' may not seem appropriate when you're going through a divorce or separation – indeed, it may even sound offensive. But it really can help to try and find the positives among what may seem like an utterly negative situation.
These positives may not be obvious at first – or perhaps all the positives look like they apply to your ex-partner rather than yourself. But keep trying. Remember: if you choose to respond to your situation positively rather than negatively, it may help you to move on with your life sooner rather than later.
Manage your fears
In her book How to have a Healthy Divorce, Relate counsellor Paula Hall describes an activity to help people manage their fears and worries. Here's how the activity goes:
- Draw 4 columns – the headings for these columns should be 'Fears', 'Probability of it happening', 'My power to avoid' and 'Impact on my life'.
- Rate your fears from 1 - 10 in each column (1 being the least you worry about and 10 being the most).
- Step back and take a look at your chart. Then compare each fear and rate how likely each is to happen and the real impact each may have on you. Completing these steps may help you to rationalise your fears and to priorities, which will affect you most and which you can most easily control.
Get help for depression
Going through a divorce or separation is a grieving process. But sometimes this can lead to divorce depression. It's perfectly normal to feel depressed in such situations – at least for a while. But if you feel constantly low for more than 6 months and you experience other symptoms such as lack of energy, appetite changing, sleeping difficulties, lack of concentration or physical restlessness, it's a good idea to speak to your GP.
If you're facing relationship problems we offer free and confidential emotional support, including counselling and couples counselling. Why not find out how our trained counsellors can help by calling us any day, any time on 0800 017 6163? You can also chat to an advisor online using our 24-hour live chat available for ICAEW members, ACA students and their families.