Relationships Ending

How changing our ideas about “breaking up” can benefit our kids. #MayIWrite — Day 15

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Despite the fairytale narrative we’re all exposed to from our earliest years, the reality is that most people will experience at least one significant break-up in their lives.

I recall many years ago hearing someone on television talk about the phenomenon of “practice marriages”, where people in their early twenties have a tendency to adhere to the normative social script by getting married (motivated more by timing than whether their partner is actually a good fit). Within a few years many of these marriages end and some time later these people were said to get into relationships based on a more mature understanding of compatibility and which stood a better chance of surviving the test of time.

Even in the last 5 years I have observed a shift in how we conceive of relationships, where relationship styles and choices which have been unconventional (or invisible) over the last several generations are emerging into popular consciousness. Millennials are more likely to remain single for longer than their parents did. Monogamy’s reign as the only relationship style people understand is shifting as discussion about open and poly relationships enter the mainstream. All in all, the grey area is expanding and more people are learning that they can pave their own way.

One area which I hope will benefit from this perspective shift, is the realm of parents who are separating.

Though there are many circumstances which lead to the breakdown of a family, a common thread in the process itself is likely a period of upset for at least some of the members of the group. Even when a break-up is in everyone’s best interests, the logistical process and emotional adjustments to change can range from distressing to traumatic. Particularly where a break-up is happening due to some kind of irreconcilable difference (rather than abuse and other safety-related reasons for dissolving a family dynamic), the sense of loss can be profound.

Abusive relationships have their own set of complex issues which are quite separate from circumstances where a couple just can’t be together anymore, despite both being good parents and decent humans to each other. That subject will take up its own space another time and here I will focus on how I believe this shift in understanding relationships can help during a break-up where children are involved.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

When it comes to relationships, our language is that of destruction. We break up. We speak as though connection is in one of two states: intact or broken, like a stick. It seems to me though, that human connection is a lot more like silly putty. With a firm and violent tug it can most definitely be broken, yes. But it is also pliable and can be shaped and reshaped in endless configurations when the circumstances are conducive, if that is the choice we make.

Perhaps the perception can shift for parents who are navigating a separation. It’s tempting to focus on the relationship dynamic that is ending and certainly there will be layers to process on an adult level (I cannot recommend highly enough getting the help of a counsellor to support you through this transition if you have children together). Focusing on the well-being of the children is paramount. Not only are they the most vulnerable people in the situation, but if you’re both truly focused on what’s best for them your choices will be sound. As you grieve the relationship that was, consider that it isn’t just broken. When any relationship ends, there is a reason. It may not always be the reason that appears on the surface but it’s rare for the end of a relationship not to be for the better.

Let it be a time of letting go. Recognise that amid the sadness and grief, there is also opportunity. As parents you are able to release the parts of your dynamic that weren’t working for you, to keep what worked well, and to build a co-parenting relationship that will take good care of your children. It’s a transition. A time to celebrate each other’s strengths and find where your joy overlaps together in a new way.

As we see more flexibility in how we define our relationships, we can pave new ways of parenting after separation. What is always best for children is to see adults who respect each other, collaborate, and can navigate difficulty in a healthy way. The well-being can multiply, in fact, when co-parents ditch the assumption that separating means that everything breaks. Here is another angle to this same idea:

There are so many ideas we hold as truth when it comes to relationships. It seems to me that the more we can let go of the stories we attach to what we should do and how we should feel in our interpersonal dynamics, the more room we have to honour our needs, follow our hearts and take care of what’s most important to us.

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