We all have a narrative. This is a personal story that we tell ourselves. It’s full of things that we think we do well and things we think we don’t do well. It’s also a moral code of sorts and made up of things that we think it’s OK to do and things it’s not OK to do. This partly comes from childhood and partly from other people and experiences in our lives. Our personal narrative is not always strictly accurate and it’s heavily influenced by things like our upbringing, experiences, culture and other such things. For example, we may believe that certain things are not possible for us because we’ve always been told that even though we have never tried them.
There is also often a narrative about relationships. This can come from things we’ve been told – for example, no one in our family has ever been divorced; or only bad men/women leave the family home. It may also be influenced by childhood or teenage experiences of your parents separating, or even staying together in a toxic relationship.
Why is this important? It means that if you do find yourself in the situation of separating from a partner then as well as dealing with the wave of emotions that comes with that you will also be battling with an inner voice giving you your personal story on relationships. It may be that you’re telling yourself you’ve failed because you couldn’t make your marriage work. Or maybe you’re telling yourself that your partner has abandoned you and your children because they would not stick it out through the tough times. It could be a whole multitude of things.
There are so many emotions that form part of the grieving process after a relationship breaks down: guilt, anger, sadness, anxiety, confusion to name but a few. It can feel utterly overhelming. As well as dealing with all of this you may be asked to make decisions about money, about property and about what happens next. This can feel like more than one person can deal with.
It can help, as part of this, to identify your own narrative amongst the emotions. This narrative can add extra pain, pressure and emotions that do not assist. If you accept that your relationship was not a good one then maybe moving on is the best thing for both of you – but to do that you may need to let go of a personal narrative that parents living apart is not the right thing for children. You may need to come to terms with the fact that you will divorce when this is something you always thought was a very bad or even sinful thing. There may also be a story you’re telling yourself about you. Do you feel that you have failed? Are you telling yourself that you are no good at relationships, or even that you are unloveable? All the things we feel about ourselves and our abilities and what’s right for us can come out during a separation. We all know that voice inside us that can be kind but can be critical.
There can also be societal narratives to grapple with. If you were working in an office where there were toxic fumes leaking into the air conditioning then no one would tell you to stay somewhere that could make you ill. When a small child puts an object in their mouth they could choke on a carer will react immediately to remove it. Yet in some places there exists an idea that even where a relationship is making you unhappy, depressed, anxious or simply unable to live a life that you truly want to, you should still stay – whether it’s for the ‘sake of the children’ or for some other reason. Yes relationships can be improved – in the same way office repairs can be made to make the air conditioning safe, or children learn not to put things in their mouths. But sometimes relationships cannot be made to work and that’s OK. If you react strongly to that statement and believe that relationship breakdown is not acceptable then it might be time to examine your relationship narrative. If you feel desperately that your relationship should have worked out why is that? What do you believe about relationships? Where do those beliefs come from?
If you are having trouble working out how your relationship narrative is coming into play or how it may be impacting on the situation then talking to a counsellor or coach may be helpful to help you identify these beliefs and the impact they’re having on you. It will also help you to feel differently about relationships going into the future.