Splitting up with the person you’ve been sharing your life with can feel like one of the hardest things in the world. Even more so when there are children involved... Maybe shared finances to sort out… Probably new accommodation to find for one or both of you…

The amount of change to deal with at a practical level when you’re also trying to adjust to a new emotional reality can feel brutal. It’s no wonder that people react in very different ways.

In mediation, we often see couples who are in a very different place when it comes to their break-up. One partner might be concentrating on moving on, while the other may be struggling to let go. As separating couples try and negotiate a way forwards, their different ways of handling the upheaval can easily become an additional source of stress, as they wrestle with frustration, anxiety or sadness, often at different times to each other.

This is very understandable. In any separation or divorce, there’s a lot to get to grips with and all of it has implications for your sense of identity, what you hope for the future, and how you imagine other people see you. Getting your head around this stuff is as important for you to move forwards as the big practical decisions you have to make. And they are major decisions: what you’re going to tell the children, when and how; what your accommodation options are; where the money is going to come from to support two households instead of one, and how that’s going to work.

In our busy, productivity-focused world, it’s all too easy to focus on practical change at the expense of the process we call transition that accompanies significant life changes and is about making sense of change and adjusting internally.

Transition is not a straight-line process – in fact, it involves three things that run in parallel. The first of these is letting go. In order to begin something new, people have to reconcile themselves to what they’re losing. It may mean saying goodbye to a particular dream they had, or a way of life that they enjoyed, or a particular view they had of themselves or their family. Sometimes ending a relationship in your head can happen months after the relationship has actually ended. Letting go can be the hardest thing but it is also the unavoidable beginning of moving forwards.

The second part of the process is called the ‘neutral zone’. It’s a kind of limbo. Here, it can feel like nothing is clear or sure. Emotions can change rapidly, and choices and signals can feel very confusing. In this place of jumble and flux, however, there is important processing to be done. You may come across as distracted to others, feel the need to have more time than usual on your own. This is normal. Trying to absorb what’s going on and orientate yourself needs time and energy. Our society is not very good at recognising that.

The final stage of transition is about making a new beginning. In the topsy-turvy process of transition, you end with a new start. Beginnings are about new energy, new direction, a new identity. They need picturing and nurturing. They don’t happen at the flick of a switch.

In mediation, we keep a focus on the future but we also know that it is unrealistic to expect emotions to be left at the door. In order to accept change, couples need to come to terms with what they’re losing and build a picture of how the future might look. There are always significant practical decisions to be made: why else would people come? Our work is to support you in dealing with these in the best way you can. At the same time, we do appreciate that the best solutions draw on wishes and hopes as well as needs, and that by working together safely step-by-step, the tasks of letting go and beginning afresh can be negotiated successfully alongside the urgent and often complex tasks of practical change.