When a happy, romantic marriage disintegrates, it can be traumatic for the married couple as well as the children.
Most people don’t get married with the idea that they’ll be getting divorced one day. There are usually expectations of a romantic, happy life together.
Unfortunately, about half of all marriages end in divorce. Often, this is due to unrealistic expectations of marriage.
Whatever the reason for the divorce, if there aren’t children involved, the two formerly married people need never see each other again. This allows each person to grieve the end of the relationship and to, eventually, move on.
But when formerly married people have children, they need to find a way to co-parent their children in a mature, respectful way.
Despite their best efforts, many people struggle to find a way to co-parent without doing harm to their children.
The worst cases involve one or both parents who lack the necessary emotional maturity and interpersonal skills to co-parent and who end up doing emotional damage to their children.
Here are some basic concepts to co-parenting well:
- Accept that the marriage is over and don’t try to use your children to get your ex back. Not only is this disrespectful to your ex, but it’s emotionally damaging to your children to expect them to function in this way. Be the adult. Don’t use your children as pawns and don’t expect your children to be the adults.
- Negotiate a plan with your ex, if possible, for how the two of you will speak to the children about the changes in their lives.
- Speak with the children yourself, if it’s not possible for your ex to be there, explain the changes and be prepared for questions.
- Recognize that co-parenting is a challenge and prepare yourself to handle challenges as they arise.
- Be prepared for your children to try to get you and your ex back together again, even after you have explained many times why you’re not together.
- Work with your ex, if possible, to get on the same page about basic rules so that your children will have a stable environment in your home as well as in your ex’s home, including: sleep time, when to do homework, curfews, etc.
- Be respectful of your ex. Although it might be gratifying on some level for you to hear your children criticize your ex, be sure to foster a respectful environment in your home.
- Recognize that the situation will be continuously changing over time, including new romantic relationships for you and/or your partner, new marriages, new siblings or step siblings of your children, and so on.
Getting Help in Therapy
Many people who are in unhappy marriages think that they will feel completely better after the divorce.
While it’s true that some of the relationship pressure between you and your ex will no longer be an issue, other issues related to co-parenting can be just as difficult if not more so.
Family and friends might be supportive, but they might not be the most objective. In the worst of cases, they might unintentionally fan the flames of your anger and despair about the divorce and co-parenting issues.
If you’re finding it difficult to handle the aftermath of your divorce, you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional who is objective and has the experience and skills to help you overcome the challenges that you’re facing.
If you’re feeling unsure as to whether you want to go to therapy, it’s usually best to think of the first session as a consultation where you’re under no obligation to continue if you don’t feel comfortable with the therapist.
The best predictor of a good outcome in therapy is for you to feel a rapport with the therapist.
Family therapy can also be helpful to assist you, your children and your ex with the transition.
So, if you’re really struggling emotionally, don’t wait until you’re in an emotional crisis to seek help. Take the first step today by setting up a therapy consultation.