Responsibility is something that is often taught to children: from encouraging them to tidy up their toys and be responsible for their own things; or encouraging them not to hit someone who has said upsetting things; through to giving them pocket money or an allowance and encouraging them to save up for toys or clothes that they want. Responsibility as an adult is a more grey area since (outside of education and self-development) it is generally the case that it is less acceptable for adults to try to educate their peers about taking responsibility for things. It can be human nature to try to avoid hard questions and we would suggest there can be few times harder than going through a separation or divorce from someone you once (or may still) love.
In our experience in mediation avoiding responsibility can take many different forms. For the purposes of this blog we have talked about three separate areas:
Taking charge of money can be really hard – especially where this has been something that has not been your role in the relationship. We see lots of couples where one person has always dealt with money matters and the other is terrified at the thought of having to manage all this on their own. It may also be the case that that person has not worked and the idea of having to earn money and manage money can generate anxiety, worry and considerable stress.
Taking responsibility for past actions
The purpose of mediation is to focus on the future and on finding a solution that will work for you both (and for any children you have). However, separating the future from what has happened already is often a tough job and it would be unrealistic to say that couples should not talk about past actions in mediation. Someties they are relevant in highlighting current fears and on other occasions one or both parties can feel that something has to be said (and heard) before they can move forward. Facing up to your own actions and to the hurt, pain and anguish you caused is really not easy and it’s natural to want to try to sweep feelings that are uncomfortable away from you. It can also be harder to take responsibility for your actions where you feel that you are the wronged party. For example, where your partner has formed a new relationship you may feel hurt and betrayed and you may have reacted to certain things in a certain way because of that. It’s OK to feel hurt and angry towards your partner but part of moving forward can be to accept that because of this you acted in a way that has caused difficulties or upset.
Taking responsibility for your future
Divorce or separation can undermine everything that you understood about your future. You will not be living with the person you thought you would; you may have to change where you call home; you may be facing financial uncertainty; and you may be facing having to do things that you never ever wanted to. It’s understandable that this may make you feel scared, angry, overwhelmed, depressed and anxious. It only takes one person to want to end a relationship and that means that you both have to make changes. This can feel hugely unfair. This comes with a stark choice: remain in the horrible part where everything feels out of your control and bleak; or accept that your future is going to be very different and start the process of accepting responsibility to choose the future that you would like to have instead.
The first step to taking responsibility in all of the above scenarios is to understand your situation and to decide that you want to accept responsibility. This may sound simple but it can be a very difficult and significant change. It’s never easy to say “I got it wrong” or “I need to change” or “I am going to have to learn new things and I didn’t think I would”. It is often helpful to identify areas where you feel you do need to take responsibility and to look at what might help you to do this.
The second step is to identify what help you might need with this. It’s OK to need help. You might need counselling to help you come to terms with certain things. You may need a good financial adviser who can help you sort out how to manage money and to understand financial matters going forwards. If you don’t know where to find this help then ask a professional you do trust, or friends and family, for a recommendation.
Remember that this is very much a journey and it’s perfectly OK not to have everything sorted out in a week or a month or even a year. Keep a diary and write down how you feel and what is changing for you. When you feel you’ve having a difficult time it can be useful to look back and see how far you’ve come.
Ultimately life can throw all kinds of things at you and divorce and separation is certainly one of the most challenging to navigate. With all significant life events what happens afterwards is down to you, and how you deal with it, and you have the power to make your recovery, and your next chapter, whatever you want it to be.