Prioritising your emotional wellbeing during separation and divorce 

How to look after your wellbeing during a separation or divorce

Divorce is one of the most difficult lifetime transitions and can trigger a huge amount of distress. There are many reasons why couples separate and each situation is unique. Divorce impacts many aspects of life including our physical and mental health. The effects of divorce are wide ranging and vary in intensity for each individual. However, in some instances it can mean relief from an abusive situation particularly if you have been beset with unhappiness and conflict in the months leading up to separation. For the majority of us divorce is commonly experienced as a ‘loss or threat’ and may temporarily disrupt our usual coping mechanisms. This blog looks generally at ways to optimise your wellbeing during and after divorce so you can begin to regain your balance and improve self-care. 

What are some effects of separation and divorce on Wellbeing?

  1. Health – there’s evidence to suggest that divorce can take its toll on your health as you are likely to experience a range of reactions to this  stressful time. Some of you might feel anxious, depressed and fatigued. Other common complaints include poor sleeping patterns, loss of appetite or overeating, inability to concentrate and irritability. Your health and subjective well-being may adapt at different time scales to your ex-partner. For instance, one study found that women tend to suffer more in the months leading up to the end of a marriage and felt some  relief once the separation was initiated. Whereas for men there was a noticeable delay in showing distress, for example it was found that it is more common for men to show a stronger reaction once the separation/divorce had taken place in some cases ‘acting out’ with increased drug and alcohol use. Increased alcohol intake together with poor diet may impact coping and contribute to lowered immunity.
  2. Psychological – if you have previously experienced a loss it may help to know that the stages of divorce mirror those of bereavement triggering similar reactions and emotions: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance (Kubler-Ross). Some common psychological effects range from feelings of low self-esteem, humiliation, feelings of guilt, negative attitude towards life, struggling to communicate effectively which may affect work and personal life, feelings of being overwhelmed, a sense of failure and humiliation. Divorce can be a lonely and disorientating experience for both partners. Traditional constructs of masculinity make it difficult for men to express their emotions and admit when they are not coping for fear that they may be seen to be weak if they seek out help and support.  
  1. Social – divorce entails not only the loss of a partner but also disruption of a shared social network and shared activities such as going on holidays, attending friends’ celebrations. This might lead to you feeling socially isolated and dissatisfied with your life circumstances with friendship groups and wider family networks shrinking. Whilst the divorce rate is high, social stigma and shame are still associated with the breakdown of a marriage especially if you are from a religious background. Some of you may lose friends since taking sides is something that can happen particularly where there has been infidelity or an acrimonious divorce. This can be very confusing and destabilising and may leave you feeling lonely. 
  1. Domestic – if you share children with your ex-partner then changes in living arrangements will significantly impact you. Research has suggested that fathers particularly worry they will lose (or fear losing) contact with children. Women too may find themselves disproportionately carrying child-care responsibilities, having to juggle work and running a home single-handedly.  
  1. Economic – in many cases the marital home may have to be sold as part of a financial settlement and one or both parties will need to move/relocate. This could signal a reduced standard of living, with less money to go around. Unsurprisingly, there are gender differences in the way divorce impacts finances, for example one study found that women were strongly disadvantaged in terms of reduced household income and standard of living with associated increases in the risk of poverty. 
  1. Children – divorce affects children of all ages and new research tells us that there is an even greater population of adult children with parents who are divorcing in later life. The ‘midlife divorce’ is the fastest growing divorce statistic where people have spent on average 20 years married or cohabiting and reach a point of wanting to end their relationship.  The impact on adult children can also have significant emotional effects with the collapse of long-held rituals and routines that fostered a sense of cohesion and belonging. 

What effect has the pandemic had on separation and divorce? 

Some early data has shown a spike in relationship breakdowns and divorce during the pandemic and  some of the reasons cited for this include:  


  • Social distancing restrictions have forced couples to spend more time together, bringing any problems into sharper focus. For example, differences in communication styles may have become magnified due to living and working together on a daily basis. Some of these difficulties may have been previously masked by having time apart during a normal work day and through pursuing separate interests such as sports and social events. 
  • Women in particular have felt disgruntled at imbalances in domestic and child care responsibilities especially magnified when working from home. 
  • Couples have faced increased financial worries and job insecurity adding pressure and anxiety about how to make ends meet or what the future will hold. 
  • The pandemic has unsettled well-established routines that offered comfort and predictability.  
  • Lockdowns have also afforded time for self-reflection and on balance some couples have decided to make some difficult changes realising delaying or putting off decisions was not working for them. 
  • The pressures of the pandemic have reminded us that life might be short and we are being challenged to prioritise how we want to live our lives and what kind of future we would like for ourselves. More important issues have been brought to the fore particularly in these universally difficult times, such as striving for better relationships and a better quality of life. 

Tips for regaining your wellbeing as you adapt to separation/divorce.

Recovering from divorce is not a straightforward path, mostly it involves taking a few steps forward with a sense that things are improving, to then potentially crashing back to a low. Building resilience is fundamental to fostering your wellbeing and positive mental health during this difficult period. It is possible to develop more adaptive coping methods to get through the crisis. Let’s look at some of these: 

Conscious uncoupling’ – recent media attention on divorcing celebrities has shone a spotlight on the phenomenon of ‘conscious uncoupling’. This approach favours self-reflection and self-awareness, placing responsibility on separating/divorcing couples to own their part in a relationship breakdown, resisting the temptation to blame. Whilst some of us may feel cynical about the celebrity trend of ‘conscious uncoupling’ it’s nevertheless based on sound principles that can be of benefit to ourselves and our children when considering ending a relationship/marriage. The main reason being that conscious uncoupling puts the wellbeing of the divorcing couple and the wellbeing of the children centre-stage, so that healthy co-parenting can take place outside of the traditional marriage model. Couples should avoid being caught up in the ‘drama’ of divorce and focus their energy on reframing problems as opportunities for growth and creating a positive atmosphere for co-parenting. By drawing on our own vulnerabilities and looking inwards we can gain a deeper understanding of why our relationship is no longer working. This can be more beneficial to our wellbeing than engaging in confrontations and recriminations that sap our emotional resources.

Mediation – changes in UK divorce legislation will come into effect in 2022 with the introduction of ‘no fault’ divorce. These amendments have been prompted by failings of the current system which requires divorcing parties to provide evidence of wrongdoing as a way to establish grounds for divorce. This is no longer fit for purpose because it encourages confrontation and apportioning blame which potentially inflames an already volatile situation. Nowadays mediation has been recommended as the first point in the process of reaching a divorce settlement unless there are domestic violence, substance abuse or child custody disputes. A qualified mediator is there to guide you through financial decisions and child arrangements in an impartial environment so that both parties feel equally heard. This is preferable to costly and lengthy court proceedings which are very stressful. We also know that divorce hostility is psychologically damaging to children and long-term parental conflict has proven to be a significant factor in predicting post-divorce adjustment, both immediately following the divorce as well as many years after and is associated with higher rates of parent-child relationship problems.  

Cognitive reframing is a popular technique used in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to address negative thoughts which may lead to negative behaviour or outcomes. The rationale behind this approach is that positive thoughts may similarly lead to positive outcomes. The duration and intensity of the divorce crisis can depend on how you perceive and therefore manage the crisis. You can start by trying to replace irrational, negative thoughts about divorce with positive self-enhancing thoughts, for example ‘it’s all my fault’; ‘I’m a failure’, ‘I’m unlovable’ can be substituted with ‘we are both responsible for some of the failings in our relationship’; ‘I have made mistakes but I can learn from them’, “I have a lot to offer”. Divorce is also a new beginning, an opportunity to establish a new identity separate from the marriage, making new relationships and friendships. Particularly for your children’s benefit, whilst there will be a period of adjustment, it’s important to look to the future with optimism rather than framing divorce as the ‘end of the road’. Taking control of one’s thoughts as to how you would like to perceive yourself and your future may prompt more positive choices on how you enact these and feel about your situation. Whilst divorce does signal an ending, which naturally requires a period of grieving it is nevertheless important to exercise self-compassion and to give yourself the space and time to heal free from judgement and self-admonishment. 

Parenting – breakups are always upsetting and unsettling for children and this may affect your parenting confidence. However, contrary to popular belief that all children will suffer ill-effects from divorce this is not necessarily the case. Divorce, whilst  traumatic does not have to spell indefinite misery for the couple and children involved. How you and your ex-partner manage the divorce process and how you conduct yourselves can make a significant difference to reducing the  harm to your children and to yourselves. Effective communication between you and your  ex-partner is key to making the best decisions for your children. It is also important to communicate honestly and directly with your children about any changes that will affect them and to reassure them that whilst you are no longer a couple, co-parenting remains a priority. Being divorced does not mean you have to make poor parenting choices. Initially while you adjust to the absence of your partner, the quality of your parenting may dip or your children may be subjected to inconsistencies with routines/discipline between households. However it is possible to regain your parenting momentum and provide a home environment that is stable and secure for your children. It’s time to challenge the myth which portrays divorced parents as chaotic and floundering. Sometimes it can bring out better parenting when the home is no longer fraught with marital tension and conflict. Ensure you and your children have access to support resources to reduce any negative impact of parental divorce. See a list of resources below.

Enhancing Self-esteem – it is only natural that during the divorce process your self-esteem may have taken a knock. A helpful psychological principle to bear in mind is that a crisis is also an opportunity for personal growth. With every crisis, it is not the crisis itself that defines us but how we respond to it. Practically this can involve making positive choices such as spending time with family and friends, trying something new, exercising, connecting with nature or doing pleasurable activities such as swimming in the sea which can all help to boost your self-worth. Divorce does not have to define you, instead your actions can empower you to see yourself in a more positive light. Identify any self-defeating attitudes about yourself and how you can replace them with more self-affirming attitudes. You may also want to consider counselling to help you build your sense of worth. A counsellor may encourage you to focus on those things that are making you anxious, any feelings of self-doubt and tackle each one at a time. It’s important to identify positive as well as any negative areas about yourself, focus on your successes and strengths and any irrational beliefs that you have about yourself replacing them with rational beliefs. 

The future:

There are many factors influencing the long-term effects of divorce. Look at what is in your control and what isn’t in your control and understand what you can change and what you can’t. Spend time to really think about what you want to do with your life, what have you not been able to do but can make steps towards achieving some goals. The majority of individuals do in fact adapt successfully after divorce. It is a journey of discovery and prioritising your wellbeing is essential to ensuring you build the necessary resilience and coping skills. 

Resources and References

Resources and references:

Study focusing on the gender differences for outcomes of divorce

Study looking at the effects of divorce when couples have/don’t have children:

Step-by-step guide to separation and divorce in the UK: 

Mediation resources in the UK:

Family mediation services:

Concious Uncoupling reading material:

Articles discussing the impact of the pandemic on divorce:

Resources focusing on ways to reduce the impact of separation/divorce on the mental health of children:

A range of helpful tools and articles for couples facing separation/divorce and dealing with children’s behaviour and feelings:


Helping women through the law with divorce – FAQ’s:

Organisations providing assistance if you have been a victim of domestic violence and/or abusive relationships.


Menopause researcher Clea Duval

This article was written by Clea Duval

Clea is a MSc Psychology graduate from The Open University. She works collaboratively with psychology and wellbeing practitioners, to provide desk-based research and writing content for blogs and articles focusing on aspects of mental health and social issues. Feel free to get in touch if you'd like to discuss these topics further. You can connect with Clea via LinkedIn or email [email protected]