Splitting up or staying together

7min read

Unhappy couple

Problems in a relationship doesn’t have to mean it will end. Talking to Family Lives can help you share your feelings, and decide whether the relationship can be saved. If a split is inevitable or has already happened, Family Lives can help you think about what’s best for the whole family such as trying mediation.

Relate counsellor Denise Knowles says:

“It’s not uncommon for couples who are experiencing difficulties in their relationship to consider splitting up as their only choice. Some may feel they’ve exhausted all the options, while for others it may be the first thing they consider. However, splitting up might not be the only choice. Before taking this step, it’s important to talk honestly and openly about feelings, needs, disappointments and fears. “

Ask yourself 

  • What is it that I’m really not happy about?
  • What have I or my partner been doing to contribute to this situation? 

Many couples doing this can discover when their relationship began to deteriorate and the small niggles that were ignored at first and developed into big problems.  Common trigger points that put a strain on relationships are:

  • Money
  • Unemployment
  • New baby
  • Changing roles
  • Children leaving home
  • Sex

Parents ask us questions like:

“We’re separating and know our children need to see both of us but we don’t know where to start.”

“My husband has been cheating on me and we’re separating. Should I encourage him to have a relationship with our baby daughter or ask him to stay away?”

It can be difficult to continue a relationship with your partner after a break-up. You may be feeling angry, hurt, unfairly treated or humiliated; but you owe it to your children for both of you to be fully involved in their lives whether or not you stay together. It’s a big responsibility: Getting it right will mean your children will grow up to be happier, more well-balanced people. 

What can help?

Listen to your children’s concerns. Don’t say they’re wrong or they don’t understand. They’re entitled to their feelings and should be able to express them

Don’t criticise the other parent, however justified you feel. Your child knows they are part of that person too, so they’ll take your criticism to heart

Remember your children need both of you

Reassure your child that the break-up was not their fault

Be patient and loving. It may be difficult for your child to talk about their feelings, so don’t force them. Give lots of cuddles and reassurance. Understand that any ‘acting up’ may be coming from these feelings

Be honest about what is happening. Hiding the fact that you are separating may shake your child’s trust in you

Encourage frequent contact with their other parent in some form: visits, by phone, email or letter

Keep to contact arrangements once they have been agreed to avoid unnecessary extra hurt.


It’s important to sort out details of contact arrangements, residency and money early on. This is where conflict often starts. How you talk and act with your child’s other parent is all-important. If you are finding this difficult, Family Lives can help you tackle this with increased confidence.

For further help, try local mediation services, such as National Family Mediation. Other members of the family may want to help but this can sometimes make things more complicated. A trained mediator helps you manage this in a more straightforward way.

If you're separating or divorcing from your partner, family mediation may be able to help you make arrangements for children and finances. Legal Aid may be available for family mediation depending on your personal circumstances. Watch this short video to find out more.

Handling children’s distress


“I’m separated and my 12-year-old son is threatening to leave home if I have a relationship. He will not leave my side when anyone is here, throws things and bangs doors.”


“My ex says the children cry and act up before and after visits. Maybe it would be best if I just left them alone?”

Children show their distress about family breakup in all sorts of ways. Help your child by:

  • Asking how they feel and what their worries are
  • Involving other family members and friends to help listen to and support them
  • Explaining why if something can’t be sorted out the way they’d like
  • Understanding if children want to talk to someone outside of the family, or a helpline
  • Acknowledging they can’t always tell you how they feel
  • Suggesting places where they can get support

Family Connections


“My son and his partner split up and since then she hasn’t let us see our grandchildren for nearly 14 months. We’re desperate.”


“I miss my stepchildren after my divorce. I don’t think they want to keep in touch, but I wish they’d phone.”

At Family Lives we often hear from grandparents and other relatives distressed at losing contact with children after a break-up. Keeping in touch with relatives and getting them involved in helping to care for the children preserves part of their old family life and reassures them that others are still there for them.

Preserving routines that the children enjoy is all-important. Whether it’s going to granny’s for tea after school, regular visits to cousins or weekend swimming trips with one parent or other, it helps children feel their old life isn’t over. If that isn’t possible, keep regular family contact alive through phone calls, emails or letters.