Separation and divorce
Separation and divorce counselling can follow the decision by one or both partners to end a relationship. It differs from marriage counselling where the partners seek to improve their relationship and find a way forward together.
There are a number of reasons why an individual would attend divorce or separation counselling sessions. They include, but are not limited to:
- considering separation or divorce
- coping with the feelings associated with separation or divorce
- wanting to understand the effect on children/family members’ feelings.
On this page we will find out what separation and divorce counselling is, the common reasons for a relationship breakdown and how a professional can support you during this time. We will also discover when seeking a separation or divorce counsellor is beneficial.
What is separation or divorce counselling?
Divorce counselling, also known as separation counselling, gives people the opportunity to examine the relationship with less pressure to ‘fix’ it. This more distant perspective can offer insight into the unhappiness felt by the couple. At this stage one or both partners might hope for reconciliation. Counselling also offers the chance for both partners to better understand why the relationship didn't work out.
If a partner is hesitant about their decision to divorce, it is an opportunity to unpack some of the problems in a structured and informed way. What do the hesitations mean? In this realistic phase, honesty and openness can often replace blame and anger. What earlier patterns of coping with life were re-enacted in this relationship and to what effect? What was the history of the relationship? All of these questions can be discussed in a divorce counselling session.
When one partner has decided to leave and the other has not, the work has a ‘split agenda’ which requires an experienced and patient couples counsellor. If the decision is made to separate, practical decisions may need to be considered. For example, channels of communication may need to be set up in regards to family, children and property.
The couple needs closure on their lives together and an ‘ending’ to allow them to better understand what was good and what was less helpful. This chance to minimise hurt and hostility can allow for a less bitter future.
Divorce counselling allows mourning for the loss of what had once held so much promise. Understanding how to move on is a valuable way to allow individuals to progress with their lives rather than rolling the same issues over into new relationships.
Counselling can help address issues relating to separation and divorce by:
- Minimising harmful effects on children and partners.
- Helping make sense of what has happened.
- Allowing for change and progression.
- Offering perspective and closure.
When do couples decide to divorce?
Divorce and separation are public admissions that a relationship no longer works. Often this is just too painful to think about, but the practicalities dictate they must. Despair and loss of love visit most relationships - a divorce is often used as a bid to leave the despair and disappointment behind.
If a couple cannot respect each other and loathing is their only link, they may be asked to consider a permanent separation. When there is abuse, violence or repeated betrayal present in the relationship then again, separation may be advised. For many couples, however, there can be an unbearable sense of failure and disappointment, and this can be explored in counselling.
If a couple is angry at each other, this needs to be examined further. Anger is the emotion of not having our needs met. What is it that each person feels deprived of, and why is it not available? What was it like when it was good? What has changed?
In the sombre light of the breakdown of a relationship, the realities can be explored and often further understanding can be reached. This can reduce bitterness and allow a way forward - together or individually.
Causes of divorce
There are many reasons why a couple may choose to divorce, these include life changes like redundancy, children leaving home, a bereavement and retirement. Often a couple decides to separate after an affair, because of arguments or due to sexual problems.
Divorce counselling can make some sense of what seems like a catastrophe. Affairs, betrayal and arguments are usually symptoms of deeper problems which have been in the relationship for some time. These might relate to communication problems or issues of trust which are unresolved.
Counselling can be an opportunity to explore the deeper problem which has surfaced, unnoticed and has felt to be impossible to deal with.
This is the reward of separation work which can be useful to both partners. Once the real problem is understood then an informed decision can be made, rather than reworked in the next relationship. At this point many couples choose to consider whether there is a way forward for them.
Moving on from divorce or separation
It’s rare to fully end a relationship if you have children together. You will still see each other through them, so the ‘parenting relationship’ will still continue. Other situations such as living together can also drag the process out, making it harder for both parties. Some people say that separation from a long-term relationship is one of the toughest experiences to deal with. It can be difficult to simply ‘move on’. This is where separation or divorce counselling can really help.
Here are some of the topics that can be discussed in a divorce or separation counselling session:
If children are involved
Separation can affect children in a multitude of ways, but it’s not always obvious, even to you, the parent. So how do you keep your child up to date without hurting their feelings?
Try to put yourself in their shoes - it’s a traumatic event. An ideal world for them is both of their parents living together in a happy marriage. It’s very difficult to separate the unhappiness from a failing relationship from the happiness of your children. The impact on the children can be reduced, however, by separating peacefully, which can be helped with counselling. If you cooperate when sorting out the finances, living arrangements and other legalities, emotional stress can be reduced.
Separation or divorce counselling will give you a space to talk about your children’s best interests and enable you and your partner to plan ways to deal with the situation.
Many couples who are separating argue for one reason or another. It could be over belongings, children or money. If this resonates with you and your ex-partner, you might want to take a step back and ask yourselves why this is happening. Are any of the following statements true for you?
- If you stop disagreeing, you won't see each other again.
- Arguing is better than having no contact at all.
- The longer it takes, the better chance there is that your problems will resolve themselves.
- Having your ex in your life is better than having no one at all.
- You are unsure how to truly finish things.
If so, discussing this with a counsellor or psychotherapist can give you another perspective on why you are contributing to these arguments. This will enable you to address these feelings and eventually move on.
Acceptance issues that arise from separation and divorce are quite prevalent. It’s a difficult task, but you need to think of a way that you and your ex-partner can accept what’s happening with the intention of moving forward.
Acceptance is the very first stage of moving on. It says that there’s no going back, that you won’t be a loving, intimate couple again, and that your relationship is really over.
It can give you both a great sense of relief. With the help of a counsellor you can address these feelings in a controlled space with the intention of moving on.
Starting a new journey
The end of your relationship offers a new beginning. It can take a while, but you will find the motivation to start a new journey. You could seek counselling to help you with the following:
- Looking for new, long-term happiness.
- Gaining a positive mindset for the future.
- Becoming courageous in new endeavours.
A separation or divorce counsellor can help you through this tough time, with the aim of securing your long-term happiness.
Couples counselling, also known as marriage guidance, differs from separation and divorce counselling. It aims to resolve issues and improve communication in an intimate relationship. Couples counselling works with both people in the relationship, however sessions can start with one individual, working towards the involvement of the other partner.
In couples counselling, you will carry out most of the work in the sessions, but you will also be issued ‘homework’. In these instances you will be given something to achieve at home, then in your next session you can talk about how it went.
The aim of couples counselling is to:
- Understand how external factors affect your relationship.
- Reflect on the past and how it operates in the present.
- Improve communication.
- Learn why arguments start and then escalate.
- Resolve and negotiate conflicts.
When is the right time to seek separation or divorce counselling?
- When a couple feel they cannot continue living together.
- When life changes leave one partner feeling excluded.
- When communication has broken down.
- When despair and bitterness are overwhelming.
- After an affair.
Often this type of counselling is undertaken in response to a crisis, either a letter from the partner’s solicitor, the discovery of an affair or the escalation of an argument. Some time might be needed for the dust to settle to allow the capacity to think about what has happened rather than trying to make sense while one partner is still in shock.
Separation counselling with an experienced and trained couples counsellor can reduce the pressure and stress for both partners. It can be rewarding work as the pressures to repair and patch are removed, allowing an honest and open look at the deterioration of a relationship.
Feel confident to ask your counsellor about their experience in working with separating couples. Specific couple training is preferred alongside membership of a specific couples counselling organisation. Some of the traditional couples counselling agencies operate within a religious framework, check out what the orientation is and that it fits with your own beliefs and needs.
What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?
Whilst there are no official rules and regulations in position which stipulate what level of training and experience a couple’s counsellor, marriage guidance counsellor or relationship counsellor needs, we do recommend that you check your therapist is experienced in the area for which you are seeking help.
A diploma level qualification (or equivalent) in relationship counselling or a related topic will provide assurance and peace of mind that your counsellor has developed the necessary skills.
Another way to assure they have undergone specialist training is to check if they belong to a relevant professional organisation that represents couples counsellors.
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