An untangling can be heart-wrenching. As you experience the storm, here are some key points that might help.


Philippa Richardson

Pip is a Transactional Analysis psychotherapist and creates our service. Through her training and life experience - 3 families, 3 continents, 3 careers (law, marketing, psychology) - Pip has come to see how we all write our own life story.

Never has a subject been so written about, sung about, filmed, drawn and discussed.

Breakup. Divorce. It can rip our heart in two – one part for you and the other for them.

Opinions abound on what is a good relationship, what is a bad one, when to stay and when to leave. Separation one of the most intense changes we can go through. Yet every separation is an intensely personal experience – and so very difficult to make generalised comments or give advice. Everyone views and handles their separation differently.

What every separation has in common though, whatever the form and whether amicable or not – it brings up “stuff”. Psychological “stuff”. Our stuff. Their stuff. Past losses collapsing into this one. Pain, hope, loneliness, fear, despair.

The untangling of two lives – and of two minds, bodies, souls (if you once had that connection) – it’s the whole gamut. It’s no wonder we may avoid it, or put it off.

As you experience the storm, here are some key points that might help…

1. Emotions are normal and transient

A separation is a loss.

There is a very natural process attached to loss. You will experience “feelings” like guilt, confusion, humiliation – but these are thoughts, beliefs and judgements, rather than real emotions. In this complex process, it helps to know there are only four core emotions:

  • Fear

  • Anger

  • Sadness, and

  • Happiness (yes, there may be some positivity in the mix – hope, relief, optimism).

You are likely to experience them all, though not necessarily in that order, and most likely not in any sort of nice orderly fashion at all.  The emotions descend and hang persistently like fog or flash into us like lightening.

But eventually, they do all pass.

2. A relationship is a dynamic

There are always two parts – and it is not all your fault. Or theirs.

A separation is always a thing of two halves. Whether your role in the relationship (and therefore very likely in the parting too) is an active or passive one, a compliant one or an all-guns-blazing one – both parties play a part in its birth and its death.

For a relationship, and a separation, is a dynamic. It’s like a see-saw: it cannot exist and function, or dysfunction, without someone sitting on both ends.

That’s why trying to lay blame at one person’s feet is fruitless.

3. Power comes into play

We all have personal power. This applies in every relationship and every separation – regardless of who makes the final decision.

Power is not control. That is a key misconception. We cannot control others. We cannot control what they think, feel or how they behave. It is impossible.

This means we cannot control a separation as there are two elements (you and your ex) and we can only control one of them (ourselves). At times of stress people often abuse their power (paradoxically, often because they feel powerless) and try to control things, rather than being honest, straight-forward and solving the problem. It's driven by pain.

Power-plays manifest in various ways:

  • Avoidance & silent treatment – ignoring requests, emails, letters, forms, court processes

  • Manipulation – rather than asking directly for exactly what we want

  • Emotional blackmail – “You won’t see the children”, “You’ve ruined my life” etc

  • Verbal aggression – criticising and saying hurtful things; harsh tone of voice; shouting.

  • Harassment – unreasonable contact and disrespecting boundaries.

These rarely achieve the desired result in a separation. The result instead can be for one person to resort to the power of the court to resolve things.

Feeling, processing, and deep honesty with ourselves and our ex is the only way out of these power-plays. In the absence of that, a court process may be unavoidable. Yet we can be alive to when we are using or subject to any of the above so we can best get help through it.

4. There are reasons

One thing is true in every separation – there are reasons for it. On both sides. If you are the one being left, you may have to dig deep to find them – but if you want to find them, you will.

You have your experiences of the relationship and your partner will have theirs – whoever makes the final decision. Often our reasons, as well as the way we separate, reflect our usual personality and way of relating and living, just at their most intense.

Try writing down the reasons – your reasons to stay together or to part, and what you understand or imagine their reasons to be. You may see how different they are.

5. There are practical things that help

a) Look after your body – chemicals, sleep and food are key. Limit the alcohol and drugs. Sleep as much as you need. Eat good nutritional food.

b) Get some practical support – there will be boxes to shift, perhaps a new home to find, legalities and finances in a divorce. It won’t be easy and you deserve some help.

c) Get some emotional support – friends, family, networks and clubs. No one should go through it alone.

d) Get a therapist – when the time is right, there will be a lot to process and a lot to learn from a separation. Patterns you’ve repeated in your relationships, how you relate – and by understanding what went wrong we have more understanding for the next time.

For when the intensity subsides, that’s when the understanding can begin – of ourselves, our partner and what on earth happened.

This is a very real and very pure positive thing that can come from a separation. As Zsa Zsa Gabor once said:

“You never really know someone until you’ve divorced them.”

Zsa Zsa Gabor

This goes for ourselves as well as our partner. Any loss deeply impacts and changes us. It is painful but it can also help us understand our relationships and ourselves better – it teaches us.


So, although it can be hell, there is also a hell of a lot we can learn. As the luminous Nancy Friday said:

“Separation is not the end of love; it creates love.”

Nancy Friday

Through loss, we can learn to love – first ourselves and then others. And that’s one hell of a good thing we can take from the inferno of separation.