Dr. Kimberly Riley
When a couple decides that they can no longer remain married, for whatever reason, the system that exists around them goes through a big change. Usually, the systems that the couple are a part of have witnessed some of the struggles they have gone through, but will never truly know the whole story or heartache and pain.It is the alone moments between the couple that become unbearable, which push them to divorce. When divorce finally happens the systems they are a part of are left wondering what it means for them and what should they do next.
Divorce and everything that comes with it is complicated enough for the couple, but when additional people are added to the chaos, things become even harder. The divorced couple finds themselves in the middle of others’ opinions and emotions while trying to manage their own feelings as well.
Divorce isn’t easy for anyone, but divorce counseling can be helpful and save the couple’s family and friends from completely dissolving the relationship, especially if they do not know how to continue being in a relationship with one another after the breakup.
What Is Divorce Counseling?
Divorce counseling is intentional counseling that is focused on supporting the continued relationships of people who are getting divorced or people who are connected to the divorcing or divorced couple. Everyone involved in the couple’s divorce journey will have a different experience. Some may struggle in certain areas more than others.
The divorcing individuals may show troubling symptoms of sadness, confusion, anger, or loneliness as well as express joy, relief, and hope. Family and friends of the couple may feel these same things, but without a safe space to express and share these feelings or understand the symptoms, the transition to life after the divorce may be tough for everyone involved.
Divorce counseling for couples is designed to help them navigate the next steps of life together for many different purposes. Below you will find a few ways that this type of counseling can be helpful for everyone.
Increase Communication Skills
Increasing communication between a divorcing couple is necessary, especially if they have children that they have to raise together as co-parents.
Teaching a couple how to effectively communicate can be life changing for each person. One thing that was probably lacking in the marriage was proper communication, so divorce counseling can help teach the two how to talk with one another in a way that will assist them in situations where they will need to pass information back and forth.
Without functioning communication skills, the divorced couple will not be able to work through much else after the divorce. Some of the basic skills the divorced couple will learn include taking turns when talking, getting clarification, repeating back what is heard, being mindful of emotional flooding, no name calling, taking breaks to process, and using a mediator if necessary.
Another technique the counselor may use with the divorced couple is role playing. It is something they can use as a way to practice some of their new communication skills and get comfortable with interacting with one another in a brand new way.
As mentioned before, divorced couples will feel a lot of emotions all at once, Some emotions may be harder to express and understand than others. Divorce counseling can be guided so that couples can first identify their emotions and then clearly express then. The couple may not see the need to express their feelings to one another after the marriage is already over.
However, once they understand what they are feeling and share openly, the next step in counseling will be to learn how to manage those emotions, which will help in the future. Together, the divorced couple and the counselor will work on coping skills and managing the feelings so that bigger emotions, such as anger towards the ex-spouse, doesn’t get in the way of things that still have to be taken care of by the two individuals.
Just because two adults believed that divorce would make everything better, the children who are left behind may not believe that same thing. Sometimes children have experienced so much pain that they are thankful for the separation, much like their parents, but other times children really suffer due to their parent’s decision.
When the divorced couple goes into counseling, the counselor can guide them through some of their parenting concerns and explore their expectations of the other parent. The counselor and the divorced couple may work through the frustrations that the couple feels about sharing their children with each other, discover each other’s value system so that the other person will know what they care about and why. They can list out discipline ideas so that there is no confusion about how the children they are parenting will receive correction.
There are many other things that divorced couples may need to discuss regarding co-parenting their children, some of which may be specific to the parenting plan that is set in motion by the court. Divorce counseling can provide the space to freely talk about the emotional responses to the changes that are happening to the once intact family system.
Often, divorced couples have questions about how to transition into being single parents but don’t know how or where to express those concerns. They may even feel abandoned and alone in this new stage of life, but in counseling the couple will be able to see that although they are no longer joined together as a married couple, they can still attempt to raise their children as a solid parent unit and be on the same page regarding the best outcome for their children.
It is important that the divorced couple have their co-parenting thoughts and ideas put together so that their children do not have to guess how life will be when they go between their parents’ house. Children will have their own requests, thoughts, and ideas about and for their parents that have to be heard by their parents when the time comes to talk.
Children who get to experience life events with both of their parents, when that is what is desired, tend to be happier because after divorce some parents function better together in these settings than before. If the parents continue to learn about the expectations they have of one another they can work towards actually meeting them, or at least talk about how they are unable to meet the expectations and why.
Even when co-parenting expectations are not met, the couple learns a great deal about themselves that can help manage their own emotions until they either change their expectations of the other parent finds a way to move closer to what would be preferable for everyone, including the children.
Living Separately Within Connected Systems
Family and friends of the couple may think that they can easily choose a side based on who they think they would rather talk to after the divorce, but it is not as easy as they think and divorce counseling can actually help the couple prepare those around them for the divorce in a caring way. Divorce can really cause the systems around the couple to crumble because of the hurt and confusion that people in those systems feel.
Some of these people have supported the couple through the hard times and hoped for a different outcome, while some have been waiting for the separation to happen because they saw how terrible things had become.
Children witness the marriage firsthand, sometimes without even knowing the extreme need for divorce existed, so they are unaware that anything is wrong until their parents deliver news of the end. While, other children are extremely aware of the challenges that exist in their families, and they, like the other people in the system, celebrate when the divorce happens.
It is possible in most cases that there will be people who are torn between one divorced spouse over the other. A reminder from the couple to family and friends that everything will be alright with the previously established relationships and that no one will be upset if they continue to communicate with the couple can be the thing that really sets the tone for how everyone remains loving.
As the couple becomes familiar with their counselor, they may want to add some of the people from their systems to a few sessions. It can be beneficial to have the people who matter the most to the couple involved in that way.
Where Do I Begin?
If you are reading this and thinking divorce counseling may be something you and your former spouse can use, there are counselors here at Seattle Christian Counseling who are equipped and ready to work with you both through this new phase of life.
Some symptoms can be more serious than others and you may progress to a diagnosable mental health disorder. If that is the case, the counselor will be able to help you manage those symptoms and work towards a place of peace and healing.
“Estrangement”, Courtesy of Eric Ward, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Lone Ring”, Courtesy of Siora Photography, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Regret”, Courtesy of Nijwan Swargiary, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Children Alone”, Courtesy of Annie Spratt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License