Archive for separation

Couple Counselling and Ending a Relationship when there are children

‘The ceremony of innocence is drowned/The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity/Things fall apart/The centre cannot hold.’ [W.B.Yeats]

Sometimes relationships come to an end.
And sometimes couple counselling is not about resolving issues, repairing the relationship, or reconnecting the couple.
Sometimes a couple starts therapy in order to manage their separation. Endings of any kind can unsettle, disturb and be profoundly upsetting. Couples seek counselling aware that they need to steady themselves and find a new equilibrium. They hope to uncover a different way of relating that will be as respectful and as amicable as possible. Recently Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin were open about their commitment to the ‘conscious uncoupling’ of their relationship.

The old order has gone. Lives are different in so many ways and the repercussions ripple out. Moving out of ‘home’; dealing with the wider family and in-laws; managing old and shared friendships; stress; lack of sleep; health issues – all have an impact.
Lawyers will deal with the legalities. Mediators can help with finances. But the hurt and emotional disturbance needs to be addressed too.
In the face of the upheaval and feelings of vulnerability, there can be a preference for individual therapy. But, particularly when there are children involved, couple counselling can also be an important resource.

There is always a risk that children can get caught in the crossfire of unpleasant hostilities if a couple become adversaries. Frequently children overhear arguments when anger, frustration and resentment erupt and spill over. There are untold benefits in taking the time to communicate more calmly and effectively in front of them. Counselling can offer strategies for avoiding the open negative conflicts that have the potential to frighten a child.

Pulls of divided loyalties, feelings that they have to choose sides, can distress a child already confused and upset at the splintering of the family; and they certainly should not feel any responsibility to repair or be an intermediary.
Committing to keep in mind the best interests of the children, and to control any urges to score points, inflict hurt, or gain revenge, can be important agreed aims in the counselling when the future organisation of the family is being decided.

‘The point is not to end a marriage in some ideal or virtuous way… When breaking up… you need to do it in the best way you can. It is not in your interests to be still caught up in bitterness and anger ten years after breaking up, nor in passiveness and hopelessness… The more you can digest the emotional impact of a break-up, the freer you will be to move on… and it will leave you more emotionally open to help your children.’ [‘Breaking Up Blues – A Guide to Survival and Growth’ Denise Cullington]

The counselling room can be the ‘safe space’ where difficult conversations are contained so children are not overwhelmed by a fraught tension. They love both parents and it is frightening to witness parental hate and attack and difficult for children to evaluate and process adult rage. The separation may have already rocked the foundation of their world, they may feel shattered by the loss of the usual security, but they should not feel everything is out of control. Both parents have a role in supporting and guiding the children to manage the unavoidable grief and loss, and to navigate the changes in their lives as they know it.

However lives are organised after a separation, and however much the couple continues to see each other, their parental role means they will forever remain interconnected. It takes courage and resilience but, along with supportive couple counselling, the couple can find the resources to engage their adult parts in order to make that as flexible and as constructive a connection as possible.

Kathy Rees

How to Cope when your Ex Moves on to a New Relationship

The American sitcom, Modern Family, makes separation and divorce look easy. The characters seamlessly move from one relationship to another, and the actors all appear to accept the ever-moving changes without seemingly registering any of them. Perhaps the clue here is the ‘the actors’. In real life, it’s not that simple!

I was speaking to a client about his ex-wife being in a new relationship. He told me how difficult it has been to see her so happy. What bothered him was her apparent ease at moving on and his fear was that she would have a new family and wipe out all the years they’d spent together. Feelings of anger at the way she finished their relationship quickly surfaced and he was left wounded and bruised by the whole experience.

When couple’s split up, there are endless issues to contend with. These range from the practical to the deeper emotions that surface – sooner or later. Many people find, that after the dust has settled and they finally feel more confident and secure within themselves that when their partners move on to new relationships, difficult feelings start to emerge all over again – sometimes far stronger than after the initial break-up.

When our partner moves into a new relationship, this is when we begin to feel that we’ve been left behind, and the narrative begins: “I will always be alone, and I hate him/her/ them”. When we focus on these thoughts, we forget to feel what’s really going on for us. Learning to stay with hurt and loss is how we heal and how we can then build our inner resources to let go and move forward.

At Coupleworks, we work with clients to try and normalise thoughts of loss and the difficult feelings that come with the end of a relationship. We work with clients to teach them that it is permissible to accept feelings that come up without judgment. It’s a process that takes time but, in my experience, clients do find their way out of the dark and start to make sense of the loss of the relationship and start to accept that their partner has moved on and so will they.

Tips on how to let go of relationships:

1. Allow yourself to feel whatever feelings that come up. These feelings can range from profound sadness to intense anger towards your partner.
2. Talk to people you trust: friends, parents or a therapist.
3. Go to couple’s therapy for a few sessions to put closure to the relationship and clarify any unresolved issues that might still be going on between the two of you.
4. Be kind to yourself and remind yourself that you won’t always feel the way you do now. There is a future.
5. Remember that your relationship was meaningful at one time, just because it’s over doesn’t mean it was a waste of time.
6. There is no time limit to how long it takes to get over a relationship.

Shirlee Kay

Counselling could have helped

It’s a couple thing. What happens when a partner decides they no longer want to be in the relationship. Were the signs not clear enough?
Scotland, it’s been a long and historic union – when did you decide that you no longer felt that your needs we’re being met? And did you not talk about this clearly? Or did we not listen early enough?
All relationships need to feel safe, and partners need to feel appreciated. Why did we not sit down and discuss this rationally before the divorce lawyers were called in.
Anger and blame are sometimes easier to express than the quiet sadness and feelings of loss that accompany the pain of possible separation.
Our identities are entwined. After we abandon the cliches of our individual profiles (please don’t mention heather, bagpipes, beefeaters or bulldogs) our DNAs are mingled. Some of us even live in each other’s countries.
You say you want to leave us, but instead of explaining how good we are together, maybe some of us have been telling you how much you will lose, and even suggesting that you won’t get a fair share of our combined family assets.
We’ll all get through, but many of us won’t get what we desire here. It could even be 49% of us. Change brings losses, but we should have talked about this much earlier.
Better together? Who knows, but by exposing our feelings so vehemently for these past weeks at least we all know that this is important. The opposite of love is not hate, the opposite is apathy – we are neighbours forever, so together or apart, please let’s stay friends.

Christina Fraser

Family Breakdown

Fewer than half of children will celebrate their 16th birthday with their parents still together. Penelope Leach is a research psychologist and well known for her books on early childhood development written in the 1970s. She has recently published a book called ‘Family Breakdown: Helping children hang onto both their parents’. It is written for parents, and professionals involved in supporting those parents, to help to find a way to divorce ‘better’, very much focusing on the perspective of the child.

There has been some controversy surrounding the book even before it was published. In particular she has been criticised by fathers and some psychologists for advocating that children under 3 should be with their primary caregiver at night and not have overnight stays away from them. In practice this means of course that for a high percentage of children this will be their mother. Her evidence for this comes from recent studies and developments in attachment psychology, although some have disputed this particular research. To say that she is against fathers is simplistic: rather she has emphasised the importance of the father’s role in a child’s development. She speaks to the needs of the child to be with their primary caregiver during those early years up to the age of 3, whether that is their mother or father.

All too often, despite the best intentions of parents, each partner will struggle to separate their trauma of separation and divorce from their relationship to the children. In that context therapy can be helpful to process some of the accumulated hurts and resentments to try to prevent these being acted out through the children. This book could be a useful addition to help parents find the dos and don’ts of what might be best for their children in the midst of a difficult and painful process.

An interview with Penelope Leach was broadcast on Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 at 10am on Monday 23 June. Listen here

Sarah Fletcher

Staying in touch with son/daughters ex-partner?

  • Do you think it is ok to stay in touch with a son/daughters ex-partner?

Sadly, this is not a black and White issue and will need careful handling depending on the circumstances.

There will be raw feelings and it is important to acknowledge that it is a loss – depending on the depth and length of the couple relationship it may even feel like a bereavement.

It is important to discuss and respect the boundaries of the son/daughter and be sensitive to their situation.

For the parent it may bring other, complicated issues. Was the partner a surrogate child or a good friend? Try to examine what is your (the parental) loss and separate these feelings.

  • Is it only ok if there are grandchildren involved?

In a mature separation, conflict between parents has to be put aside for the sake of the children who need the parents to communicate respectfully, however angry or upset they may feel.

Continuity is vital, and the loss of supportive grandparents will only heighten children’s sense of insecurity.

Talk about how this may work for the parents, both of whom may need to be involved and be sensitive to their feelings. Impartiality may be very difficult, but this is where the grandchildren’s stability is paramount.

  • What if the son/daughter does not want them to stay in touch?

There are likely to be raw and damaged feelings. Try not to take sides; there is usually one truth, but two perspectives to every situation. There will be the loss of hope that this relationship brought. Parents may need to face their own losses around any cosy fantasies of a future family.

Allow your child to talk about their feelings. Often anger and stubbornness hides fear and sadness.

Only by keeping careful communication open is there any hope of a future, and different link to the ‘lost’ partner

Christina Fraser

Boarding School Syndrome

The way in which we form our early relationships with our parents or primary carers affects our long-term relationships in later life.

Young children who have to deal with early separation and loss, either from adoption, bereavement of a parent or prolonged separation from their parents for whatever reason, have to manage the strong feelings that are evoked by this trauma in some way or other.  Children who are sent to boarding school at an early age also suffer in this way.

Joy Schaverien, an author and psychoanalyst published a paper on ‘Boarding School Syndrome’ in the British Journal of Psychotherapy in May 2011 and is currently writing a book on the psychological impact of boarding school.

She suggests that these young children who become ‘looked after children’, have to develop coping mechanisms to manage the separation from their parents. Joy identifies a cluster of learned behaviours:

  •  Pattern of Emotional Encapsulation (Self-sufficiency)
  •  Problems with Intimacy
  •  Inability to talk about Feelings
  •  Making deeply dependent relationships and then cutting off

This of course has an impact when the ex-boarder forms an intimate relationship in later life. As a young child in an alien environment, the boarder learns to cope with things on their own, to shut down their feelings and to cut off from their feelings of loss and grief at leaving home. They then often struggle in adult life to allow closeness and intimacy, preferring to be self-sufficient and independent.  This is a defence against igniting the earlier feelings of loss and separation, which were too painful to bear as a child.

For ex-boarders or those in a relationship with an ex-boarder, it can be helpful to begin to explore the impact of those early experiences on their current relationship.  The learned behaviours that were adopted as a way of surviving in their early years get in the way of a fulfilling and satisfying adult intimate relationship.  Being able to begin to understand and process those early experiences is a good place to start.

For further information visit Joy Schaverien’s website www.joyschaverien.com