People who separate will often experience very strong emotions that will at times feel unmanageable. This is very similar to the grieving process where people feel deep feelings of loss and grief. They don’t know how to get through a break up. A separation is often compared to grief, and we all know that learning how to deal with grief is complicated. In a separation, much like in the grieving process, people often feel as though they have made some progress only to be triggered by an event that reminds them of their former partner, or a memory about the failed relationship. Feelings of loss and grief are clearly still present.
Elizabeth Kübler-Ross developed these five stages of grieving in her book on Death and Dying. These stages have since been widely used in the context of grieving the loss of a family or a relationship. As a result of the shock and other pressures that arise during the grieving process, adults who separate are likely to experience many if not all of the following emotional stages of loss and grief:
Partners will undoubtedly be at different places of loss and grief during the legal separation process. Knowing how to deal with grief and understanding that spouses are usually at different places will help you manage your expectations.
If you are the person who originally wanted the separation, chances are you are confident in what lies ahead. However, learning how to deal with grief for your spouse may prove to be much more difficult if they are in the denial stage. You want the legal separation to be concluded as soon as possible, because you are ready to move on and complete the grieving process and the legal process quickly.
If you are the person upon whom a separation is imposed, the grieving process is just starting and you will need a lot of time to adapt to the feelings of loss that are usually experienced. Unfortunately, the legal system will push you to embark on the legal separation process whether you are ready or not. You may find that things move too fast.
The fact that partners are at different places of detachment from the relationship will undoubtedly greatly impact the dynamic between the partners during negotiations.
For example, imagine that your partner is in the acceptance stage and you are in the depression stage. It will be hard for you to engage in discussions about, say, selling the house, when you are feeling so low.
Another example can be seen when a partner experiences deep sadness or depression. That person may not be capable of generating creative solutions to the issue of post-separation parenting without some external support.
Sometimes patience will be required because a legal separation often goes as fast as the slower of the two partners. This does not mean that one partner has to wait forever for the other person to be ready to take the next step in the legal separation. It does, however, mean that you must be mindful of the emotions of the two partners and that your strategies and expectations are set accordingly.
Unfortunately, how to deal with grief is not normally a main preoccupation of the court system and people are struggling to try to understand how to get through a break-up while being forced down the legal road. Fortunately, some legal systems such as collaborative law or mediation do take into account that parties may be struggling with the emotions of how to get through a break up.
In collaborative family law, for example, collaborative law lawyers are trained in interest-based negotiation. Interest-based negotiation allows collaborative law lawyers to focus their energies on their client’s mental state and how they are coping with the difficult question of how to get through a break-up. In fact, collaborative law is the only system where taking stock of the emotions of the clients is an integral part of the process. Mediation may also provide the space for strong emotions to be attended to, especially if clients hire collaborative family law lawyers to assist them during the mediation process. To understand some important differences between collaborative family law and mediation, please read my paper titled “Mediation in Ontario and Collaborative Family Law in Ontario – How are they different?”.
For more information please contact Nathalie Boutet.