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Top Tips for Surviving the Trauma of Divorce and Separation

08/02/2016 17:47 | Updated 08 February 2016

1 Mediate. Try mediation first and if it doesn't work, try it again later. Mediation isn't about counselling or reconciliation. A good mediator can help you sort out your settlement and arrangements, and the different types of mediation available mean that there is a style to suit the majority of couples. Mediation will almost certainly give you the fastest and most cost-effective solution.

2 Recognise the different stages of grief.
You and your former partner are probably at different stages of the grieving cycle. Separation and divorce involve grief. The initial reactions of shock, denial and blame are followed by anger, then depression and feelings of helplessness, after which dialogue and bargaining can be contemplated, the situation accepted, and you can both look forward and move on.

3 Beware the human instinct to fight.
You may feel if you don't fight, you'll lose out, but mostly the opposite is true. Trying to agree things with your former partner can feel like trying to do your own dentistry - impossible - but litigation is often counterproductive and only exacerbates conflict. Litigation keeps you stuck in a rut of punishment and revenge, but mediation gives you insights and helps you to reach acceptance and a stage when you can move on.

4 Listen hard to each other.
Try to understand what the other person is saying. Don't just think how to argue back. Unless there's serious abuse, try not to communicate through other people, especially people who think they're helping by taking sides.

5 Avoid demonising each other. You may both be reacting strongly to your fears about each other and the future - try to stay rational and recognise that for the moment your understanding of reality may be distorted. It's unlikely that your former partner has suddenly become a total demon.

6 If you have children, put them first.
Remember children have their own grief and emotions and unless there's a very good reason not to continue contact with a parent, children shouldn't feel that they have to choose between you. Don't project your feelings onto your children. Respect your children's feelings and try to preserve their relationships and friendships. Separation and divorce shouldn't mean extended families feel that they must become strangers or even warring tribes.

7 Set boundaries. You may be struggling to move from dysfunctional, broken couple boundaries to calmer separated boundaries and, where there are children, making co-parenting boundaries work. Agreeing simple rules, such as whether or not a partner has access to the former shared home and how and when new partners are introduced, will help you to avoid conflict and make this transition.

8 Be aware of transference. Remember that you may be transferring feelings about the loss of other relationships onto feelings about the breakdown of your relationship with your ex. Feelings from the past can be telescoped with current events, which can cause you to overreact and experience overwhelming grief and anger.

9 Know your WATNAS from your BATNAS. It's essential to establish your worst alternative to a negotiated agreement (WATNA) as well as your best (BATNA). Don't just seek legal advice as to what you might get if you're lucky. Ask what you might get if you're unlucky, too. Most people settle in the middle and the sooner the better.

10 Keep a sense of proportion. If you're arguing about money and assets, how much are you arguing over? If your joint costs are approaching the value of your dispute, for example, if you have between you spent 20% of the value of the family pot, then STOP and THINK. Don't end up both being losers. Consider alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation to get the faster, more cost-effective solution that both you and your former partner need.

Mary's new novel Love Lose Live: Divorce is a Rollercoaster, with a foreword by Lord Wilson, Justice of the UK Supreme Court, is just out: http://bit.ly/LoveLoseLivebook You can see more info about Mary and her new book at: www.marybanhamhall.com

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