Splitting up or staying together?

Problems in a relationship doesn’t have to mean it will end

How to be honest about what’s happening and what can help

Small niggles that were ignored at first can develop into big problems

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Problems in a relationship doesn’t have to mean it will end. Talking to an organisation like Family Lives, a charity that provides non-judgmental support and advice to anyone experiencing issues in their family life, can help you share your feelings, and decide whether the relationship can be saved. If a split is inevitable or has already happened, Family Lives can help you think about what’s best for the whole family such as trying mediation.

Relate counsellor Denise Knowles says:
“It’s not uncommon for couples who are experiencing difficulties in their relationship to consider splitting up as their only choice. Some may feel they’ve exhausted all the options, while for others it may be the first thing they consider. However, splitting up might not be the only choice. Before taking this step, it’s important to talk honestly and openly about feelings, needs, disappointments and fears.”

Ask yourself 

  • What is it that I’m really not happy about?
  • What have I or my partner been doing to contribute to this situation? 

Many couples doing this can discover when their relationship began to deteriorate and the small niggles that were ignored at first and developed into big problems.  Common trigger points that put a strain on relationships are:

  • Money
  • Unemployment
  • New baby
  • Changing roles
  • Children leaving home
  • Sex

Parents ask Family Lives questions like:

“We’re separating and know our children need to see both of us, but we don’t know where to start.”

“My husband has been cheating on me and we’re separating. Should I encourage him to have a relationship with our baby daughter or ask him to stay away?”

It can be difficult to continue a relationship with your partner after a break-up. You may be feeling angry, hurt, unfairly treated or humiliated; but you owe it to your children for both of you to be fully involved in their lives whether or not you stay together. It’s a big responsibility: Getting it right will mean your children will grow up to be happier, more well-balanced people. 

What can help?

  • Listen to your children’s concerns. Don’t say they’re wrong or they don’t understand. They’re entitled to their feelings and should be able to express them
  • Don’t criticise the other parent, however justified you feel. Your child knows they are part of that person too, so they’ll take your criticism to heart
  • Remember your children need both of you
  • Reassure your child that the break-up was not their fault
  • Be patient and loving. It may be difficult for your child to talk about their feelings, so don’t force them. Give lots of cuddles and reassurance. Understand that any ‘acting up’ may be coming from these feelings
  • Be honest about what is happening. Hiding the fact that you are separating may shake your child’s trust in you
  • Encourage frequent contact with their other parent in some form: visits, by phone, email or letter
  • Keep contacting arrangements once they have been agreed to avoid unnecessary extra hurt.
  • Mediation - It’s important to sort out details of contact arrangements, residency and money early on. This is where conflict often starts. How you talk and act with your child’s other parent is all-important. If you are finding this difficult, Family Lives can help you tackle this with increased confidence.

For further help, try local mediation services, such as National Family Mediation. Other members of the family may want to help but this can sometimes make things more complicated. A trained mediator helps you manage this in a more straightforward way.

If you're separating or divorcing from your partner, family mediation may be able to help you make arrangements for children and finances. Legal Aid may be available for family mediation depending on your personal circumstances.  

Parents also ask Family Lives questions about handling children’s distress, like:

“My ex says the children cry and act up before and after visits. Maybe it would be best if I just left them alone?”

“I’m separated and my 12-year-old son is threatening to leave home if I have a relationship. He will not leave my side when anyone is here, throws things and bangs doors.”

Children show their distress about family breakup in all sorts of ways. Help your child by:

  • Asking how they feel and what their worries are
  • Involving other family members and friends to help listen to and support them
  • Explaining why if something can’t be sorted out the way they’d like
  • Understanding if children want to talk to someone outside of the family, or a helpline
  • Acknowledging they can’t always tell you how they feel
  • Suggesting places where they can get support

Other family members also ask Family Lives questions, like:
Grandparent asking “My son and his partner split up and since then she hasn’t let us see our grandchildren for nearly 14 months. We’re desperate.”

Stepdad asking: “I miss my stepchildren after my divorce. I don’t think they want to keep in touch, but I wish they’d phone.”

Family Lives often hear from grandparents and other relatives distressed at losing contact with children after a break-up. Keeping in touch with relatives and getting them involved in helping to care for the children preserves part of their old family life and reassures them that others are still there for them.

Preserving routines that the children enjoy is all-important. Whether it’s going to granny’s for tea after school, regular visits to cousins or weekend swimming trips with one parent or other, it helps children feel their old life isn’t over. If that isn’t possible, keep regular family contact alive through phone calls, emails or letters.

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Bounty is proud to bring you this information in partnership with www.familylives.org.uk. Family Lives is a charity with over three decades’ experience helping parents to deal with the changes that are a constant part of family life.  

Comments on this article are monitored but NOT answered. However, Family Lives has extensive advice on their website, live chat services, and information about befriending services and parenting/relationship support groups.  There is also a helpline and an online community forum offering a safe space for families to share dilemmas, experiences and issues with others who understand the ups and downs of family life. https://www.familylives.org.uk/how-we-can-help/forum-community/

Splitting up or staying together?