Things Fall Apart: The space that comes with separation doesn't have to be scary

When Liadan Hynes' marriage fell apart she had to work on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she explores the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves...


The phrase “I need space” is up there with “it’s not you, it’s me” as things we instantly presume to be bullsh*t. Cop-outs. Ways of not saying what we really mean or feel.

But actually, we do need space.

Space to let things bubble up. From under or around where we might be masking them or numbing them, or ignoring them. With busyness, food, drink… whatever your poison.

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Enjoy the space

We need space in our lives where we do little to nothing. Not sitting on the couch staring at a screen, but maybe a bath. Or a yoga class. Or a walk with a friend.

Sometimes, the space creeps up on you unawares. Unplanned space. Your child’s father drops them home on a Sunday afternoon, and suddenly it’s just the two of you. And you realise this hasn’t been the case for quite some time. Just the two of you, on the day of families doing things.

Related: I’ve cracked the code to weekends as a single parent

And it is a jolt. Despite the roast on in the oven, the plans you’re already diving into, to make a thank you card, the glue open, glitter you’re already regretting agreeing to spilling everywhere.

And so the space is a reminder, to lean in to those times of just the two of you, in between the busyness. The following Sunday, you plan a movie afternoon while dinner works away in the oven. “What will we watch next Sunday, Mommy?” she says afterwards, and you enjoy a quiet moment of triumph, at this lovely space you are creating for the two of you.

Scary

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Sometimes the space can seem daunting.

Without realising it, you had been denying the space of evenings living without another adult, by filling them with work. Switching the laptop back on for a few hours after children’s bedtimes is what so many women you know do – catching up on heavy workloads, or running their own business, or making up after spending time with their kid in the afternoon, as you do yourself.

So it didn’t seem like anything.

Related: Things Fall Apart: I pushed through the fear and came out stronger

But then you realise it was also a way of not looking in the eye the fact that you now live without another adult. The busyness helping that transition. Because maybe you weren’t ready to confront the otherwise empty space of that evening.

So the space can feel scary, but then you realise you are ready for it. To leave unplanned, unscheduled, unbusy space.

Allow the plateau

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I interview a number of women who have been through something challenging, and something quickly becomes clear. You paddle blindly through the worst, because at the time, that’s all you can do; you couldn’t possibly allow for space that would force you to properly take it in.

But after the worst is over, giving yourself space is crucial.

Taking a pause. The plateau, I now think of it as. A holiday, counselling; just something that takes you out of the day-to-day, and allows room for reflection. Once on the plateau, it can come crashing in, in the form of a panic attack, days spent in bed weeping, physical illness, or terrifying anxiety. I see it with all these women, in their stories.

Related: The game of life – how to navigate failed expectations

But the thing is, if you don’t allow yourself to get to the plateau, it builds. And you know it is there. You know what you’re pushing down, ignoring, not making space, for.

And it becomes terrifying in itself, what you are pushing down. The thought of unleashing it becomes too scary. How bad will it be? Will it submerge you? There is no space in your life for such momentousness of emotion. But it is there. Taking up space within you.

And it will come out. As anger, or depression, or anxiety. It’s why people cry, much to their own complete surprise, at that bit at the end of yoga, Savasana, where you lie on the ground. Space, taking them by surprise.

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The thing you love most

Sometimes though, space is just lovely. A school holiday moves you off the schedule, and you spend several days with your child full time.

Mornings are not a rush, afternoons you work at your computer while she does jigsaws on the floor at your feet. She comes along for errands you would normally try to shove into the hours she was at school. And you remember how this is the thing you love most. Space to have meandering time with her.

Photo: Pexels


Read more: Things Fall Apart: Motherhood is a job worth being paid for

Read more: Things Fall Apart: The greatest loves of your life don’t always come in the shape of a husband

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Read more: If your marriage is ending and your world has fallen apart, this letter's for you

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