The parental unit is changing. The post-WWII dream of the nuclear family is fading into a worn past. Gender, race, and even the number of partners people choose are challenging what it means to be a family. Millennials are getting married less than their parents. “In 2018, 15 percent of young adults ages 25-34 live with an unmarried partner, up from 12 percent 10 years ago (ncbi.nim.nih.gov).” Co-habilitating is becoming a more familiar phrase. Despite how eclectic and diverse families have become, the quest for harmony at home mostly has not changed.
What happens when you can’t “do” a relationship anymore? The turmoil, the fighting, the fighting around your children, all of it seems suffocating, making you someone you are not. There are times when it is necessary to say good-bye. This means giving up so much, so you have to be prepared. You have to be ready to maybe live alone again, do the holidays without your partner, lose your partners family and friends if you have formed relationships, and even go back to the dating scene again (eek) no matter what age.
It will be hard. But by far the hardest part, will be how this affects your children. No matter how much you have fought and seemed miserable, your child still knows you and your partner as one unit. Breaking this unit and becoming two separate families will be very challenging and probably scary in the beginning. To make the most rational and best decision for you and your child, time must be spent weighing options and assessing potential consequences.
Should you even end it?
Before you separate you must ask yourself these key questions:
Have you exhausted all therapy options?
If you have given therapy a shot for a minimum of six months with no improvement, or have realized through therapy that you want out of the relationship, it may be time to consider separation. It may also be wise to consider a temporary separation to see if you can both fathom a separate world from each other. Many people, tired from fighting, have a rose-colored view of what a life without their desired partner will be.
Are you prepared to be alone?
You must be comfortable with being alone for a good chunk of time or less likely, for the rest of your life. Though the likelihood that you will never find another person to partner up with is rare, there is still a small possibility. Regardless, you will probably be alone for a good while after your split, unless you just jump into a relationship to not be alone, or are an extremely lucky person that immediately finds your soulmate. Humans are naturally social animals. Unfortunately, without a partner, you will have to work at meeting new people and keeping a healthy social life. If not, you could be at risk for depression. Do you have many common friends or have devoted your social life to your partner's friends or family? You must be willing to say goodbye to these relationships. Though some friends/family members might try to play the middle at first, it doesn’t matter the number of years you have known them, they were still associated with your partner first.
How will your children handle the separation?
This may be the most important part of your separation. You must consider the needs of your child along with your own. How will this divorce/separation affect your child (ren) emotionally? Can you handle being away from your child more often? If the household separates, you will most likely see your child less. This will be a huge adjustment and very hard on everyone involved. If your child is older and aware of the reality of your split, it will be emotionally tough. An open dialogue between partners and older children must be present to have a healthy separation. Younger children may not be completely cognitively aware but may manifest stress in other ways. A watchful eye on any deviation in or worsening behavior is necessary.
Do you have enough money to make it on your own?
Unfortunately, feelings and emotions don’t trump finances in our society. Do you have enough money to make it on your own? Unfortunately separations still largely affect women’s finances more negatively. ““The fraction of children living in single-parent households is the strongest negative correlate of upward income mobility,” according to one Harvard study. “Most women do not retain their pre-divorced income level and have a high potential to have low financial gains.”” There is child and spousal support but that usually only goes so far. Are you prepared to work harder and potentially have less money, at least temporarily?
If it can not be fixed, stay calm, be respectful.
If you have made a good effort in reconciling with no improvement, or are adamant in leaving your partner, there are certain steps to take to ensure a healthy, safe break up:
Talk, talk, talk if possible:
The best way to talk about your relationship and how to best separate is at a quiet, public location with some privacy. A quiet coffee shop or restaurant is ideal. This holds you both accountable from yelling and encourages a civil discussion.
If talking without yelling and fighting is impossible, have a trusted neutral family member sit with you or if you have the funds, hire a mediator/therapist. The same therapist that tried to heal your relationship can also act as a mediator to ensure a civil separation. If a civil and rational conversation is still not possible, a legal route will have to be taken.
Explain things in an honest way to your children if they are old enough to understand:
Do not try to completely shield your child from what is happening. Being open and honest will help your child deal with the breakup in a healthy manner. Explain to them that you both love them so much but you feel that both of you are better people and parents when you are separated. Tears are normal. Give your child space and time to heal. This is just one of many bumps in life, it's part of being human, and they will recover if you let emotions flow naturally and are calm and honest.
Check your ego
Please do not use a child as a weapon. It is a cliche that has been sadly used many times. Yes, it may feel good to go to court and win full custody of your child but is that what is good for them? Besides, having your child around constantly with no access to “me time,” might drive you crazy. If both parents are loving and reasonably responsible then try and agree on equality. If the custody is slightly skewed due to the child needing to live where they are close to their school or other reasons, then take that into account. Maybe give the parent who gets less time with them special days/holidays or longer vacations.
Try and stay close geographically.
Moving away not only may be illegal but stressful on your children. No matter how great of a job you have offered to you across the country, or even just 50 miles away, being physically far from each other will be tough on co-parenting. If you are struggling financially, talk to your partner and see if you can re-negotiate child support, at least until you can find a job closer. Or, if your ex-partner can be remote or change locations, move locations together. Whatever you can do to keep your child near BOTH his parents will most likely be the healthiest situation for your child.
Use a mediator or a court agreement to handle finances.
While many things can be handled with agreements and conversations, money is something that is, unfortunately, a hot button and contentious issue. Get agreements in writing, with signatures. If someone loses a job or even gets a raise, agree to come back and reconvene. The most important thing is for your child’s quality of life to not diminish drastically because of your split. Explain this to your partner, and no matter what resentment or anger they have towards you; how it will be better for your child if you are both financially comfortable.
Discuss boundaries on future partners around your children.
This is a huge issue that must be handled delicately. It is most likely that eventually, both of you will find other partners. The safest option, that will probably make both parties most comfortable, is meeting these new romantic interests BEFORE they interact with your children for an extended period. At the very least, these children should not be left alone with the new partner until there have been adult introductions. While this may seem strict, you wouldn't want your children around strangers, would you? That’s what this person is to your ex-partner and children. Precautions must be taken to avoid anxieties, and for everyone feeling safe and comfortable. If after a meeting, you feel like your ex-partner is creating false narratives about your new partner, ask your new partner to do a background check. Many websites do this for a nominal charge. Why this may seem extreme, your child’s safety is more important than a couple of awkward conversations. If your new partner is willing to accept your past and your children, they will see it as a small sacrifice.
Below are some situations that warrant professional help immediately:
- There is any abuse to you, from you, or any violence directed against your children/family members.
- -You are in danger of losing your temper and becoming verbally or physically abusive to any person(s).
- A level, fair head is very important in deciding and carrying out separation from your child’s parent. Trying to consistency see things from your child’s perspective is a good way to measure if you are doing things in their best interest. How you handle this conflict will teach your child how to handle future conflicts in their lives. The ego may want you to “win” but most likely this means your child will lose. Try and respect your ex-partner as someone who helped bring a beautiful life into this world. Your child is half this person and you need to work together to make a whole, co-parenting team.