The enormity of the decision to split with your partner, and then navigating the steps to take afterwards is likely to be fraught with emotion. Particularly when you've created a wonderful human together. Whether it’s to do with becoming a family or not, sometimes relationships just don’t work out. Here we explore the stages of a break up and how to work through it.
Obviously, leaving your partner will most likely be incredibly emotional. Making sure you have support systems in place before you leave can make a horrible situation a little easier. Friends, family and independent advice from a counsellor or an organisation like Relate could help.
How do I know if my relationship can be fixed, or if it can't?
Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula for knowing whether to stick with a relationship or if things will be better once it’s ended. Only you will know how you feel, what’s happening that has brought you to this place and what the different options might be.
Relationship charity Relate has some steps you can take before making a decision (Relate, 2019a). Taking a step back, trying to talk things through and making sure you’re not being pressured to stay or leave are all important.
How can we practically move forwards and make steps to part ways?
If possible, keep the situation with your ex-partner civil and reasonable.
There are some big things you need to work out. How you will share parental responsibilities. Where you will live? Where your children will live? How much money you will need and what budget is available?
If it means getting a job, you’ll need to think about new childcare arrangements. How will you divide childcare and what will this mean for where you live? How will you divide your assets, such as savings or any money you have in your home?
Citizens Advice has advice on deciding what to do when you separate (Citizens Advice, 2019a).
What do I need to consider in terms of me, my child and my partner's rights, responsibilities and the legalities?
A lot of your rights depend on your personal circumstances and the situation you’re in. For example, things could be different depending on whether you were married or just living together, and the reasons for splitting.
It’s best if you can agree with your ex about parental responsibilities, bringing up your child, money and living arrangements. That way it’s a lot quicker, cheaper and less stressful than getting solicitors involved.
What services are available for me to access?
There’s lots of information and guidance available:
- The Gingerbread website has plenty of factsheets on the process of separating (Gingerbread, 2019).
- Relate provide help with separation and divorce (Relate, 2019b).
- Wikivorce has lots of resources, including financial settlement calculators and links to fixed-price family lawyers.
- Gov.uk has clear steps on what you need to work through, depending on your circumstances (Gov.uk, 2019).
Mediation is a common first step and you’ll need to try it before getting a solicitor involved. Mediation is about agreeing the practicalities of the separation, rather than the therapy or counselling couples usually seek before they split (Citizens Advice, 2019b). Citizens Advice has lots of information and links to finding your local mediation service.
How do I tell my friends and family?
Telling other people you’re separating can be really hard. There might be lots of unwanted questions or negative reactions. And it might make it feel a lot more real than before.
Relate has some good tips on what to consider before you say anything:
- Try and agree with your ex that you’ll say the same thing.
- Work out what you’re willing to share and what you want to keep private.
- Think about who you’re telling and how best to approach it with them - your parents will probably react differently to your employer.
- Try and stay focussed on the facts rather than assuming things you don’t know or just speaking ill of your ex.
- Talk about the practical things that will change. This will make it more real for the person you’re telling and may help them focus on how they could support you.
If you can’t agree with your ex, you can still prepare for yourself. Planning can help keep your thoughts clearer when it’s hard to talk about something.
Being brilliant but separate parents
It might not be anyone’s fault you’re parting ways. And even if it is, separating from an unhappy partnership can lead to far happier individuals, including your children.
If you can keep it civil, it’s best to work with your ex to plan the practicalities. It can be very hard but being pragmatic and focussing on what needs to be done can get you and your child through the bad times more quickly.
This page was last reviewed in June 2019.
Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.
We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about pregnancy, labour and life with a new baby.
Relate help people make the most of their relationships and offer practical advice and counselling services.
Citizens Advice has information about mediation, a cost-effective way of sorting any differences with your ex-partner about money, property or children.
Gingerbread has lots of information If you have recently split up with or divorced from your partner.
Citizens advice. (2019a) Deciding what to do when you separate. Available from: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/family/ending-a-relationship/how-to-separate/deciding-what-to-do-when-you-separate/ [last accessed 11th June 2019].
Citizens Advice. (2019b) Using mediation to help you separate. Available from: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/family/ending-a-relationship/how-to-separate/mediation-to-help-you-separate/ [last accessed 11th June 2019].
Gingerbread. (2019) Separating. Available from: https://www.gingerbread.org.uk/information/separating/ [last accessed 11th June 2019].
GOV.UK. (2019) Separating or divorcing: what you need to do. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/separation-divorce [last accessed 11th June 2019].
Relate. (2019a) Deciding whether to leave a relationship. Available from: https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-relationships/feeling-unsatisfied-your-relationship/deciding-whether-leave-relationship [last accessed 11th June 2019].
Relate. (2019b) Help with separation and divorce. Available from: https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-separation-and-divorce [last accessed 11th June 2019].