Sometimes relationships don’t work out and people separate or divorce. Ending a long-term relationship can be a very difficult decision and is likely to set in motion a whole process of change. Each person in the family may go through the cycles of loss (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) in response to a change in family structure. These stages are not necessarily sequential, but can occur as a mix of feelings that can change daily or even hourly. Separation and divorce is a process of coming to an ending that includes periods of confusion, reflection, and growth. Starting a new family is a whole new process of change that brings a number of issues with it. This whole journey can be a roller coaster with ups and downs, but therapy can help it be a bit smoother.
Children often have a difficult time the first year following a divorce. However, research has found that parents can help kids to adjust to this change. By limiting the amount of arguing that parents do in front of children, parents can keep kids out of the battle zone and show children that this is a process that can be worked through. If parents communicate directly rather than through the children, and if they can work on trying not to bad mouth the other parent, there will be less negative effects on everyone involved. This can be extremely hard to accomplish since there are often many feelings of hurt and anger, and arguing and bad feelings are often the reason that the couple is no longer together. Through therapy, I work in helping children to give voice to their feelings that often they can’t explain, and I work with parents to learn how to co-parent. Co-parenting doesn’t mean that ex-spouses have to be buddies, but they at least have to work together to be available for their children.
When each person has mourned their losses and started to move forward in their life again, they may begin dating and end up in another intimate relationship. This can often create a bumpy road after a period of calm following a divorce. If children are involved, they may be jarred by the new changes and behavioral problems may arise. The process of introducing a new person into the family, getting to know each other, learning each other’s values, and possibly introducing other children into the family can be a complicated process. Therapy can be effective in this process by helping children to express their feelings to the family through words rather than acting out, and helping the new couple to nurture their relationship and care for the children’s needs together.
Most divorces or separations are not simple. There may be issues such as one parent losing connection with their children, an individual moving quickly into a new relationship, difficult custody arrangements, and other legal issues. In the case of lesbian or gay couples separating, equal legal rights for each parent may be an issue. I have worked with many diverse families and have helped to find the best solutions for any given situation.