It is important for couples to get help in ending their marriages well. Especially when kids are involved.
Some couples come to see me knowing that they are on thin ice and want to explore if their marriage is salvageable. We look at the things that drew them together; what was attractive and engaging about the other and what dreams they shared when they began. I have them make an inventory to see if there is enough good left to make it worthwhile to work on.
Often there is one party who initiates seeing me and that person is farther down the road in wanting to end the marriage. The other party may be surprised and feel betrayed. They need help in seeing their partner’s point of view. I encourage each to share honestly in the therapy room about what they are feeling about their union now and when they started feeling differently. This may take a while but often hearing what the other is unhappy about is helpful for them to see that things are in a bad place. And if they don’t agree that they are on the brink of ending the relationship I will have them do the following exercise.
Without the usual distractions, I have them go spend at least part of a day together without an agenda. They might go for a walk or hike, go to a coffee shop and ask them to make sure they are interacting with each other, not reading a book or looking at their phones. The purpose of this time together is to see if they are still enjoying being around each other, can negotiate through any conflicts and feel mostly positive regard for one another. If that turns out not to be true, then we may be ready to start the difficult and important work of “ending well”.
This work involves acknowledging the good they have brought to each other as well as clearly knowing why they are ending. This process takes time and may be filled with emotion and at times be matter of fact.
We will look at their finances and examine the impact divorce will have on both parties. It may involve talking with accountants and financial advisors to help the couple make decisions. This a difficult and painful part as this means some degree of hardship for both parties. We will look at the data in sessions to make sure the impacts are understood and agreements are made in a healthy and fair way.
The financial parts are easier to deal with that the emotionally charged issues dealing with custody.
The hard truth is that parents are going to lose some of the time they value with their kids or pets. We will look at the time each parent spends with kids and try to find ways to minimize the impact of changes. Also, we will make decisions around when kids are with which parent so that school schedules, friendships, sports teams are less impacted. We may take breaks in this process to let each person digest what these changes will mean and work through the anger and grief that comes up.
And lastly we formulate about how to talk to their kids about their separation and divorce. How to make it matter of fact and done in language that is appropriate for the children’s ages. We will do some “role training” in the sessions and practice how to say these difficult and important things that herald a huge change in the family’s life. Tears are shed and resolve is made because this is the right thing to do for their children and themselves.
I always share with couples about a major study done with divorcing couples that tracked them and the challenges they were faced with over a five- year period. When they were revisited five year later most were found to be moving ahead in a positive way in their lives and their kids were prospering. Good endings can beget good beginnings.