When you and your partner reach the decision to separate, you may both be in very different places, emotionally and psychologically. Although people go through similar stages of adjustment, couples often go through them at different times and with different degrees of intensity.
Understanding how this affects you can help you to avoid some of the common misunderstandings that arise during this difficult stage.
The leaver is the person who initiates the split. They are likely to have been unhappy in the relationship for a long time before the separation. During this time, the leaver typically goes through stages of dissatisfaction, sadness and worry as they detach themselves emotionally from the relationship.
By the time the split happens, the leaver has already worked through much of the emotional loss of the relationship, and is able to move on from the breakup much more quickly than their partner. They may experience great guilt and sadness, but there will also be a degree of relief. Significantly, when the separation happens, the leaver is several miles down the road of adjustment to this major change in their life.
The left, on the other hand, may have had no idea that the relationship was in such trouble. They might accept that the relationship is not perfect but still feel that there is time to work on things, or that the relationship is just going through a difficult stage.
The left’s reaction may be shock, disbelief, and anger. They may still hold some hope for reconciliation. Their life has been turned upside down and the process of adjusting psychologically and emotionally to the separation is only just beginning. Significantly, they are at the start of a road that they did not choose to walk down.
The leaver, who is psychologically prepared to move on, may not understand why the left is so emotional. They may be disappointed that their offer of friendship is being rejected. They may complain that their ex is not accepting the reality and getting on with things. They may become frustrated and impatient for decisions to start being made about the future.
For the left, however, this emotional stage can be far more intense and is likely to last longer. The left may feel that their ex is cold and unfeeling and that their distress is not being acknowledged. They may have lots of questions to ask about why the relationship has ended which they are not getting answers to. Their feelings of rejection can be intensified if they sense that their ex wants to move on quickly. They may feel that they are being forced into thinking about issues that they are not yet ready to deal with. It’s too painful for them to move on, and they may need some time alone to adjust.
Misunderstanding each other’s different emotional states can lead to communication problems, adding further complication to an already difficult situation. Whether you are the leaver or the left, give yourself the space you need to move on, and remember that your ex-partner is going through an experience very different to your own.