A terrible break-up is, unfortunately, something most of us will have to deal with at some stage in our lives. We’ve all been there – the hours spent dissecting every aspect of a failed relationship, wailing to friends that no one else will ever understand you like he did, calling him up and demanding he list the reasons you’re incompatible in alphabetical order (just me?). But while this behaviour seems acceptable and practically mandatory when you’re in your twenties, is it okay to storm karaoke booths and belt out Gloria Gaynor when a relationship ends in your thirties? The sad fact is, with divorce stats now showing that up to 40-50% of marriages are likely to crumble (according to divorcerate.org), a fair few of us will be experiencing relationship breakdowns in the years when we thought we’d be done with all that heartbreak gubbins. And it seems as though the rules have changed; just what are the shoulds and should nots when you split with a partner in your 30s? VIVA asked a panel of relationship experts and psychologists to find out the golden rules for managing a love-blip when your life is a little more complicated than it was 10 years ago…
If you have children
Unfortunately the ‘meat cleaver’ approach (that’s cutting your ex out of your life, not cutting off his head) doesn’t work so well if you have children to consider. Though it’s tempting to avoid your ex-partner altogether and send your children off to see their father with the nanny or a friend, try not to make things awkward for your children who will already be feeling the effects of their parents separating. “Like you, they will be feeling the pain, but unlike you, they will have far less experiences to use to cope with everything that’s happening,” asserts Dave Crane, life designer and host of TV show Turbo Charge Your Brand TV. “Keep your negative comments to yourself as much as possible because, otherwise, your children will become torn between two parents based on ‘choosing sides’. Ideally, never bad-mouth your partner in front of them.” On a practical level, Crane advises talking to your children to explain the situation, thus minimising any confusion they may feel. “Explain the truth as early as possible in ways that they can use positively,” he explains. “Remember that they will think they are to blame for this too. You need to trust their powers of recovery, so the more business ‘seems as usual’, the faster that they will be able to move on.”
The golden rules:
* Explain the situation calmly, in a manner they can understand
* Don’t use your children to win arguments or put them in the middle of disputes
* Keep negative comments about your ex-partner to yourself
* Look at the bigger picture. Five years on, your children will have to speak to both of you, so bear that in mind with everything you do right now
* Make sure that any new partners (yours and theirs) understand that the children’s happiness and safety comes first
If you work together
Eeek. The end of an office romance can spell disaster. Not only do you have to deal with a (possibly vengeful) ex, you have to put on a daily professional front and get on with one another at work. This position isn’t an enviable one, but if you value your job and your reputation, you both need to make nice in the office. Dina Zalami, clinical counselor at LifeWorks Dubai explains, “If you do not have to interact with your ex, try to avoid it. If you do, try your best to compartmentalise and respond to him professionally, not personally.
“In other words, don’t try to put him down, embarrass him, devalue his work etc because of how you feel towards him,” she continues. “Try to respond to him as you would to another colleague. Of course, responding to him exactly as you would to another colleague is easier said than done, and so as long as you try, don’t beat yourself down for not doing this perfectly. As long as you are courteous and polite with him, this is okay. Also, having been in a relationship together, chances are you appreciated some of his professional qualities and skills so remember those and try to take it from there.”
Zalami also advises pre-planning your office strategy with your ex, if you are on good enough terms to do so. “The less awkward you two are with each other, the less awkward the work environment will be for you, and the easier it will become to move on,” she explains. “If possible, discuss this with each other to see how you can make your break-up less of a problem.”
The golden rules:
* Keep things professional – you work in an office, not on The Jerry Springer show
* Try to discuss your working situation with your ex-partner to minimise the fallout
* If you don’t have to see him at work, don’t
* Always be polite – it will reflect badly on you if you are rude or bring your outside issues to work
If you share a friendship group
If you think back to the men you dated in your early 20s, at least one of them will tick the ‘totally unsuitable’ box, and there’s every chance you dated someone most of your friends didn’t like. When you’re in your 30s, however, your choice of partner will most likely be someone who fits in with your friends – to the extent that your friendship groups will probably end up merging when you’re in a long term relationship. While this is great when you’re together, it can make breaking up all the trickier. But, explains Dubai-based counselling psychologist and psychotherapist Leila Collins, there is no need to involve your friends in your dispute.“Be reasonable and try not to use your friends to settle scores,” she says. “It is also important to remember that you will need your friends in the coming months, so try not to alienate them at this time.” If that seems easier said than done, and you won’t be able to resist a few jibes if you end up spending time together, make sure you see your friends when your ex isn’t around. “Be aware of your boundaries in terms of what you are comfortable and uncomfortable with sharing” advises Zalami. “You should also be aware of your boundaries in terms of how often you would like to spend time with your ex, and indeed if you want to spend time with them. There is no general rule that fits all; it does depend on you and on what will help you move on. So always ask yourself whether what you are doing helps you or not.”
The golden rules:
* Don’t put your friends in the middle – they shouldn’t be made to pick sides
* If you’re not comfortable seeing your ex yet, make sure you only see your mutual friends when he isn’t around
* Do what makes you happy. If having mutual friends is upsetting, spend time with other friends who don’t know your ex so well.
If you own property together
Setting up house with someone is a big decision – meshing your lives, agreeing on décor, and (the decision which never appears as important as when you’re dismantling it) sharing finances. Having a joint mortgage with a partner means walking away from a relationship and taking time out is nigh on impossible. But before you start smashing the crockery you bought together, Zalami advises responding on a fair rather than emotional level. “Try to think logically about what is right and fair, and respond accordingly. Taking this high road will end up allowing you to feel better about yourself in the long run (and it is the right thing to do),” she explains. On a practical note, you need to be aware of what you’re entitled to financially, and ensure that you aren’t ending up out of pocket unnecessarily. It’s a good idea to consult a lawyer and have them look over your contract so you have a good idea of who gets what. However, Crane advises settling things out of court, where possible. “Get a lawyer but try not to use them,” he says. “If done right, you and your ex can both win. One can buy out the other or you can sell and split the proceeds. If done wrong, you’ll be in court forever and every penny the house was worth will end up in the pockets of the lawyers through massive legal costs.“
The golden rules:
* Try to sort things out amicably
* Consult a lawyer so that you have a clear idea of exactly what you are entitled to
* Don’t quibble over silly things (e.g. the sofa you always hated). Moving will go more smoothly if you are both able to let stuff go
* Attempt to settle things out of court – legal fees can add up
And all the other stuff…
You may not have children, a property together or many shared friends, but being on the market again in your 30s can be something of a shock to the system – particularly if you have ended a relationship with someone you thought you’d be spending the rest of your life with. To avoid sinking into break-up despair, Zalami advises re-framing your thoughts to put things into perspective. “Our thoughts directly influence our emotions, so if we are caught up in negative self talk (inner dialogue), we are much more likely to feel very low,” she explains. “The good news is that we can all change our thoughts. This does not mean that we can go from feeling depressed to happy, but we can go from feeling depressed to feeling sad and from feeling anxious to feeling worried. The key is that with a little re-framing we can make our emotions more manageable.”
Ask yourself the following things:
* What am I thinking right now?
* Is this realistic? Is this helpful to me? Could this be an over-exaggeration?
* Is there any other way of saying this or thinking about this?
* What would I tell a friend in a similar situation to mine?
* What can I do to take care of myself?
In addition, Crane recommends turning to friends for support – yes, even if they have their own set of commitments! – and throwing yourself into new activities. You may be in your 30s, and this may not be what you expected, but the bonus of being that bit older is that you are (hopefully) that bit wiser and better able to cope with emotional upheaval than you were when you were younger. And if that doesn’t work, Gloria Gaynor will always be a karaoke favourite…
It Happened To Me
Hannah Grant*, 34, recently separated from her long-term partner. She shares her top five tips for dealing with a split in your 30s.
● Take full responsibility for your own role in the break-up, however uncomfortable that may be.
● Don’t fall back on blaming the other person entirely to make yourself feel better; that may work in the short term but won’t teach you anything about yourself.
● And don’t totally blame yourself either. There are always two sides to the story.
● The worst thing you can do to yourself is bury your head in the sand, feel bitter and then go off and make the same mistakes all over again in your next relationship.
● Come to terms with your pain, forgive yourself and your ex partner, treat yourself with respect and demand the same respect from others, lick your wounds, hide out in a spa for a while, then put your best dress on, feel beautiful and go out with your best friends and dance the night away. Then it’s time to move on.
* Name changed on request