Separation and Divorce – Why We Struggle With So Much Anxiety?

The ending of our committed couple relationship typically starts the gruelling and exhausting separation experience. Even when we separate well and communicate respectfully without too much acrimony, it still takes a lot out of us as we dismantle nearly every aspect of our former lives together to create two separate units.

There are many decisions we need to make concerning the day-to-day practicalities and functioning, financial aspects, as well as the complex emotional aspects resulting from having had our relationship end. Within this mix is also a great deal of uncertainty about how our lives will be in the future. For most of us in this situation, this uncertainty causes us to feel anxious.

What are we anxious about during our separation?

As a therapist who also works with separating couples, my clients’ have multiple anxieties stemming from their separation. These anxieties often wake them in the early hours of the morning.

Here are their top 3 – 

Anxiety about our financial future

We are often anxious about our children

We are also anxious about life without our partner

Will anyone find me interesting or attractive again?

In her book, The Mind-Strength Method: Four steps to curb anxiety, conquer worry & build resilience, Dr. Jodie Lowinger notes that we engage in certain ‘safety behaviours’ to eliminate uncertainty and achieve control. Despite being called ‘safety behaviours’, they are not offering any real safety, they offer us the illusion of safety in the face of uncertainty.

I’m sharing the 3 ‘safety behaviours’ that she describes that I often hear in my consulting room when people are separating. These are – 

Worry – When we repeatedly focus our attention on the problems, we end up feeling more anxious. Lowinger recognises how problematic this in and states that a “negative outcome is the inevitable part of worry – by the very nature of worry it is not a story with a happy ending… in its extreme form is called catastrophising.” (p.108)

Mind reading – This strategy is highly problematic, and we will never achieve certainty this way. When my clients attempt to read my mind, they are mostly so far off the mark. We need to ask people what they are thinking.

Over-checking and reassurance seeking – Lowinger notes that these 2 strategies do not work as neither will provide the certainty we seek as it does not exist. We may experience momentary relief, however, the anxiety will creep back in.

One of the biggest gifts we can give ourselves during our separation and divorce process is to learn to accept uncertainty. We need to surrender to uncertainty, otherwise, we will keep using ‘safety behaviours’ that provide no actual safety. There is no solution to uncertainty besides surrender. We need to develop helpful strategies that calms our anxiety down.

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