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Advice when relationships break

Relationship breakdown is a reason given by some of the enquirers at Birmingham Counselling Services. You went into this relationship with the intention and the hope that it would last for life.  You assumed that your partner had done the same.  And along the way, over the years, you have begun leading much more separate lives than you had anticipated; you find that you argue constantly and that this is having a bad effect on your health and your children; either you or your partner is finding your/themself irresistibly drawn to someone else, someone you believe you can be closer to than the partner you have lived with for years; one of you has the offer of a wonderful new job somewhere else and the other cannot face the prospect of the move because there is so much to give up where you are.  Whatever the catalyst, you are starting to wonder whether this lifelong partnership might be over.


If you can manage it, try not to make a hasty decision. Talk to one of the counsellors here at Birmingham Counselling Services, either individually or as a couple; go to Relate, formerly the Marriage Guidance Council and now working with people having problems within marriages and many other relationships. See if you can sit down and talk things through together without either of you losing control. Think about what you would lose if the relationship ended.  Explore all the possibilities. In your distress you might not think of them all – a good reason to ask for confidential help and support.

Sometimes you both do all of this and conclude that ending the relationship is the only way forward. It needs to be said that this view is rarely held with as great certainty by both partners – usually one partner has a much stronger wish to be free than the other. This in itself causes pain. There is very rarely an easy, pain free, stress free solution. There is suffering, and this suffering is not restricted to the two main protagonists. There could be children, extended families, friends, colleagues, neighbours, even pets, who will all feel the impact of the end of the relationship: you have not been living in isolation. If you and your partner have had children there cannot be a clean break – you might stop being partners but you can never stop being the parents of your children. That role really is for life and your paths will go on crossing.

The collapse of our primary relationship is one of the most stressful events we can ever experience, and we need to look after ourselves. This need not mean going in for an adversarial approach, with lawyers for both sides fighting to gain advantage for the partner they represent.  All too often this can deteriorate into a financial battle and nothing else, when the fundamental issues might be heartbreak and fear and guilt and an overwhelming sense of loss and concern for the wellbeing of the children. If you can, try to keep other relationships going, let your friends and family support you.  It’s fine to ask them not to talk about what is going on for you.  It doesn’t usually help if people start criticizing your (ex)partner, as s/he is still the person you chose to spend your life with and you don’t need constant reminders of all their faults.  Ask your supporters to concentrate on other aspects of your life, which will continue no matter what the outcome of the relationship breakdown.  It’s also fine (and essential) to ask them not to keep trying to introduce you to new potential partners – at this point in your life you are not in a place where you can make healthy new relationships.

There is a national organisation called the Family Mediation Service which exists to offer support to families negotiating separation/divorce.  A helpline provided by the Department of Justice will help you locate a branch near where you live:  The Service exists to help people work out settlements around care of and access to children, sharing of assets, financial support, all the issues which can make a painful situation even worse, without either side incurring high legal fees.  The Service is recognized by the Family Courts and can present statements of agreements reached at court hearings which the courts will accept.

There are also firms of solicitors which specialise in Family Law and who if necessary will be able to approach a barrister from the Family Division of the Bar to represent you at court.  This final step is very expensive, and it has to be paid for by the protagonists, so it is wise to think very carefully about whether you need to go down this path – do you really want the adversarial approach or can the two of you, with help from a non-judgmental third party, work out what you believe to be the best way forward for everyone involved? You are likely to need experienced help of some sort if you dealing with divorce or the formal ending of a civil partnership. These are legal contracts and must be brought to an end by a legal process.

Talking to a counsellor can provide you with nonjudgmental support, a place to let rip, to express your anger, to mourn, to weep, to find reassurance that you are not a monster, that you are not going out of your mind. You are facing a bereavement, the loss of a partner. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself going through the whole range of bereavement-related feelings. What a counsellor cannot do is provide you with legal advice and representation.

If this article has described anything in your current situation or your recent past, why not get in touch with Birmingham Counselling Services. One of our qualified and experienced counsellors could provide just the right mix of personal support and objectivity to help you through this difficult period in your life.

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