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The New Normal after Separation
Do you want to know an unexpected finding from the Framingham Heart Study, a research project that has been conducted over six decades? Happiness is contagious and the secret may very well be in our connections. Social relationships correlate positively with happiness. That is, if your friend is happy, that increases your probability by 15%.
If you've recently separated from your partner, this can be a lonely time for you. Although your marriage may be over, your relationship with your children, family and friends will go on. It's important for them to know that you are grateful they're in your life and that you will be there for them as well. What follows are 7 easy to use tips so you can begin to reconnect with others and to yourself:
1. Take one step at a time. You can do it, just as you have with other turning points in your life. The strength that has guided you in the past will ultimately surface and help you through this process. Even in the midst of confusion, begin by putting one foot slowly in front of the other. And don't try to rush anything.
2. Your children may feel more vulnerable. They may still hope that you will reconcile, especially if the separation is recent. Following the breakup and with the reality of the situation settling in, they could blame you and feel frustrated or angry. Be patient and make yourself available to listen carefully to their reactions to the changes. Consider seeing a family therapist as they sort it all out.
3. Make room for your own feelings. Take quiet moments by yourself or spend time talking with close friends. Accept that you feel fragile, perhaps anxious or even depressed. Recognize that this is normal for the present circumstances. Let go of resentments and find meaning in the life you are now building with your children. Try to get caught up in the anticipation of this chapter.
4. It is a time for new beginnings. In the past, perhaps you repeated rituals together as a family - reading books at bedtime, weekend barbeques or holidays with relatives from both sides. But now it will be different. Keep your expectations realistic and continue the routines that are familiar and important. At the same time, experiment with your children about how to make special times more meaningful now in different ways.
5. Realize there will be difficult firsts and you don't have to do it alone. If money or time is an issue, keep your lives simple and engage the support of others. Time together with those who love you is most important. So don't hesitate to let family or friends help out. And include your children's grandparents. It's important for the kids to know that they still have the love of an extended family.
6. Accept that, in the beginning, stress may be a constant companion. All the major responsibilities falling squarely on your shoulders may leave you feeling exhausted. Take care of you in ways that are fun and relaxing. That may mean spending more time with friends, taking a mental health day off work, reducing stress through meditation, yoga, journaling or exercise.
7. Reach out to others who are alone. Getting outside yourself will put your situation more into perspective. Bake brownies with the kids and take them to the neighborhood fire station or invite an aging relative or a single co-worker over for dinner. Take gently used toys to a local children's hospital or volunteer at a convalescent home. Give it some thought - the possibilities are endless.
Of course, giving up the security of old habits may leave you feeling unmoored. But you may have no choice at this point. Focus on what is still at the center of your life ? your family, friends who are there for you, your work, activities that bring you joy. Recognize that there is no one right way to feel and act now. You have the freedom to generate a whole new you. Why not seize that opportunity and make good use of it?
© Her Mentor Center, 2011
Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. and Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. are family relationship experts with a 4-step model for change. Whether you're coping with stress, acting out teenagers, aging parents, boomerang kids or difficult daughters-in-law, we have the solutions for you. Visit our website, http://www.HerMentorCenter.com to discover practical tips for dealing with parents growing older & children growing up and to learn about our ebook, "Taking Control of Stress in a Financial Storm." Log on to our blog, http://www.NourishingRelationships.blogspot.com and sign up for our free newsletter, Stepping Stones, and complimentary ebook, "Courage and Lessons Learned."