CARE TALK: Separation Anxiety

CARE TALK is a monthly advice column in Aurora Magazine where a registered psychologist offers answers to common questions around mental health and counselling.

Q I left my husband late last year due to many years of conflict. This decision was not easy because we have two young children. I thought that once I left, I would feel better but instead, I feel deep guilt and worry about my husband. It doesn’t make sense that he is barely coping as he did agree that we would never be able to work our differences out. This guilt is really bringing me down and I don’t know how to pull myself up and keep moving forward with the new life I wanted for me and my children. Where do I start?

A When you made the decision to leave your husband, I imagine you experienced a rollercoaster of emotions leading up to this time. Your grieving and worry about the past and the future started before you left as you weighed up the reasons, emotions and alternatives. However, for the other person, in this case your ex-husband, grieving began after you left and you may see significant signs of distress now. Usually the person who did not initiate the break-up (in this case your ex-husband) struggles to come to terms with the separation and may fall quite hard and seem unable to move forward.

However, it is important to create clear boundaries (as much as possible) for your new relationship with your ex-partner. If you feel you made the right decision in leaving him, it is important to remind yourself of this so that you don’t allow your guilt to create mixed messages or confusing situations with your ex-husband.

As a result of this separation, lots of things have changed and focusing on these changes and planning for them can make you feel more in control of your life. There are many choices you can make at this difficult time such as:

  • Survive – one day at a time
  • Learn new skills or brush up on old skills – do you need to learn anything new as a result of the separation?
  • Be there for your children
  • Be kind to yourself and look after your needs too
  • Don’t  get hooked into arguments with your ex-husband
  • Recover and rebuild your life, one day at a time.

As much as you need to spend time on making practical and financial decisions for your new life, it is just as important to look after yourself, emotionally. If you look after yourself, you will also be able to respond to your children’s emotional needs at this difficult time. If you have concerns about how your ex-husband is coping, talk to him first about your concerns. If, however, you are still worried, contact his friends or relatives to ensure he has support around him. His support person cannot be you as the nature of your relationship has drastically changed.

Some ways of looking after yourself may be:

  • Talk to trusted people about your situation and how you are feeling.
  • Stay engaged with your friends and continue to socialise.
  • Exercise is important – even a daily short walk.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Allow time for relaxation.
  • Limit alcohol intake.
  • Use your emotions in a productive way and immerse yourself in your daily routines including children, home and work.
  • Ask for help if you need it – from friends, family or a counsellor if you feel this will help.

I encourage you to take small, achievable steps towards your new life. You may also consider reading Women and Separation – Managing New Horizons by Beyond Blue and Relationships Australia. You can also download it here:

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Tanya Russell

Tanya Russell is CatholicCare's Assistant Director and a registered psychologist.

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