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Dear David Coleman: 'I feel so guilty about separating from my husband because of the disruption it will cause our children'


It is usually a turbulent period of adjustment, in the aftermath of the separation

It is usually a turbulent period of adjustment, in the aftermath of the separation

It is usually a turbulent period of adjustment, in the aftermath of the separation

Clinical psychologist David Coleman offers parenting advice in his weekly column.

Q. My husband and I are separating, at my instigation, after eight years of marriage. We have two very happy, healthy children, a five-year-old and a 19-month-old. I feel a great relief that the marriage is over but I am devastated over what is going to happen to the children. We still all live together as the legal process is slow and the thought of what the children will go through by uprooting their lives is killing me and I am so saddened by guilt. We've agreed to co-parent but I wonder am I doing the right thing by separating?

David replies: It is impossible to know if you are doing the "right" thing by separating. Can such a judgement be made? This is what makes a dilemma, a dilemma; the outcome of our choices can't be fully known in advance.

In the brief space here, you haven't been able to go into the circumstances of why you are choosing to separate. But, given how worried you are about the impact of a separation on your children, I can only assume that the reasons are good.

You are not making a rash, or unconsidered, decision. What does seem to be the case, however, is that you still haven't convinced yourself that the reasons for the separation justify the potential disruption to your children.

This is the crux of a decision making process. We must balance the positives of the decision against the negatives of the decision and then satisfy ourselves that the potential positives outweigh the negatives.

You can assume the children will be disrupted by your separation. You can also assume that there will be a period of transition for them that might be upsetting for them, and it may be difficult for you too.

When they spend time with their dad, without you, they may miss you and you may miss them.

But, the experience for most children is that they can adapt and adjust to parents separating, when they are given some time and the emotional support to do so.

The guilt that you describe is your conscience pricking at you to keep you focused on whether the reasons that you have already identified, for separating, are justified and necessary. Guilt is a powerful emotion. Typically, it comes after we have made a decision and it often undermines our resolve.

So, rather than feeling bad about the children and what they may go through, maybe you need to remind yourself of why you and your husband are separating. You have chosen to do it and that has not, by the sounds of it, been an easy choice. Remind yourself of those good reasons.

I am believer in the fact that unless we mind ourselves, as parents, we cannot mind our children. I am referring mostly to the emotional minding that we need to do, rather than our physical capacity to keep them warm, fed and safe. Although, in certain circumstances of domestic abuse, or financial irresponsibility, we may not be able to take care of their physical needs either.

But, to stick with the emotional minding, if we are experiencing huge stress that impacts on our mental health, leaving us anxious, upset or overwhelmed, then we aren't going to be a healthy emotional state where we can look after the emotional well-being of our children.

By the sounds of it, you could not continue, emotionally, in the marriage to your husband. If you stay with him you will, likely, feel further burdened or distressed, perhaps to the point that it will have a really negative impact on your children, or your ability to mind your children.

So, if this is the balance that you are trying to strike, giving yourself the opportunity to heal from the conflict, or the emotional stress, that was inherent in your marriage, then separating will be a good thing for you.

Generally, when our children are very small, what is good for us is good for them.

So, knowing that your decision to separate is made for the right reason, for you, allows you, then, to make yourself emotionally available to support your children in what will, probably, be a turbulent period of adjustment, in the aftermath of the separation.

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