Remaining True to Yourself during Separation and Divorce

I recently attended an event at Conway Hall in Central London. Written above the stage in bold lettering was the phrase “To Thine Own Self be True”. This is a phrase which is very familiar to me and a rule by which I have tried to live my life. It got me wondering as to where the phrase came from.

A few minutes spent on Google revealed that it is a line from Hamlet and that it is the last piece of advice that Polonius gives to his son Laertes, as he is about to leave for Paris.

Today we understand the phrase to mean that we should be honest in the way we live our life and our relationships with other people, and that we should do the right thing. A few more minutes research on Google and I discovered that the phrase had a different meaning in Elizabethan times. Being ‘true’ meant being loyal to your own best interests and not doing anything that was detrimental to your image or reputation.

I began to think about the relevance of this in my role as a family law and divorce solicitor and mediator. We all know that divorce and separation feature close to the top of the list of the most stressful life events. The anger, upset, disappointment and fear arising from the breakdown of the relationship are often all-consuming and overwhelming. For those with children there is the additional burden of having to deal with those feelings in them and their manifestations, whilst trying to keep your own emotions in check.

Your experience of separation and divorce will be different depending on whether you are the ‘leaver’ or the ‘left’. The leaver, the person who has decided to end the relationship, may have been making plans for some time and will have had an opportunity to come to terms with the grief they feel over the end of the relationship. Even in a poor relationship, their decision to end the relationship is likely to come as a shock to the partner being left. That partner will need time to catch up as far as the emotional response is concerned. The fact that the two partners are at different stages of their emotional journey can often lead to conflict in itself, with the first partner usually wanting to get on and resolve the arrangements for the children and property and financial matters and the second partner often not being in a fit emotional and psychological state to think things through clearly.

We all behave badly from time to time, when we are in an emotional state, but this only leads us to feel badly about ourselves and diminish our self-worth. Remaining calm and grounded and true to your core values will help you to maintain your self-esteem and to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It will also help you to act in your own best interests and those of your children. So how do you remain true to yourself during separation and divorce? Here are my top tips: –

  1. Rely on advice from your legal advisor- your legal advisor has legal knowledge and training and experience of how the law is applied. You are paying them to help you and they are the person who is best placed to give you objective advice. Friends and relatives will be keen to see you get the best outcome possible and will all have heard stories about other people’s divorces which will influence the advice they give to you. The facts of every family are different and often this ‘legal advice’ offered by friends and relatives only serves to inflame the situation and increase your stress levels. Friends and relatives are great for other things such as lending a sympathetic ear when you feel the need to vent and providing you with practical support.


  1. Don’t be afraid to seek professional support – there are many people out there who can help you through this. There are psychotherapists and life coaches who specialise in helping people experiencing separation and divorce. Relationship counsellors may also be able to help even in circumstances where there is no future for the relationship, they can often help former partners to communicate with each other and, if they have children together, create a co-parenting relationship moving forward. If you are feeling overwhelmed, make an appointment with your GP. They should be able to advise you as to the talking therapies available in the local area, and as a last resort prescribe medication to see you through the worst of it.


  1. Never use the children as a weapon- make sure that you put the children’s best interests at the heart of everything you do and think carefully about whether your stance on a particular issue is really in their best interests. Whilst it may seem strange at first to have periods of time when your children are not with you, learn to enjoy having some time to yourself to socialise, enjoy your hobbies or just catch up on those household chores you having been meaning to do for ages.


  1. Make a plan for the future -set aside some time to catch up on your financial circumstances. Create schedules of your assets, liabilities, income and monthly outgoings. If it is likely that the family home will have to be sold, do some research about the cost of suitable alternative properties in the area where you hope to live. Make an appointment to see a mortgage advisor and find out how much you are likely to be able to borrow, the affordability of the repayments and the size of the deposit you will need.


  1. Try to see the positives – it is rarely the case that either party wishes to leave a relationship which is happy, loving and supportive unless a third party is involved. Very often, people remain in unhappy or unsatisfying relationships because of the very natural human fear of change. Often being forced into a situation of change can have positive benefits for you. Whilst the first few months of living without your partner may be difficult for you, it is likely that your future life will be better in the medium to long term. It can be fun to reinvent yourself. You don’t have to go the whole hog a la Madonna but joining the gym, finding a new hobby, making new friends or reconnecting with old friends can often be enjoyable and empowering.


This article was written by our Head of Family Law, Joanna Toloczko. Please contact Joanna on 020 3861 5155 or at regarding all Family Law issues.