Break ups are always hard, but breaking up from your spouse can be a particularly painful process. Not only are you separating apart from someone you’ve loved; you are also uplifting and recreating a whole new life for yourself. Divorces are messy. They require moving out and finding a new place to stay, making arrangements for child support and maintenance, hiring a lawyer, and splitting up all your assets. When you have kids, you often have to find a way to stay strong for them as you work with your spouse to develop a living arrangement that works well for everyone. On top of this, the court process often requires you to do a lot of work. One fight can easily snowball into something that is both time-consuming and expensive if you aren’t careful.
Nothing about this is easy to do, and no one should have to do it alone. As someone who has seen people divorce each other thousands of times, there is one thing I’m certain of: therapy will make it easier for everyone. This observation is backed up by research too. There is a ton of information out there that indicates that adults and parents who engage in therapy and mediation can resolve their disputes faster, and feel happier about them in the long run (Amato, 2010; Gold, 2009; Sprenkle and Storm, 1983). Therapy can also prevent couples from having to return to court in future dates (Lebow, et.al, 2007).
People often think about divorces as traumatic experiences that break families apart. As someone who sees people divorce all the time, I know that it doesn’t always have to be this way. In fact, a divorce is sometimes a really healthy thing for you and your family, provided you and your spouse take the right steps (Amato, 2010; Walsh, 2012). When kids have divorced parents who are able to communicate well with each other, they will have far better academic and psychological success. (Wagner and Diamond, 2016). Some research even suggests that kids can learn to be more adaptable and resilient after a divorce; but this is much more likely if their parents are able to learn how to communicate and cooperate effectively. (Walsh, Family Reslience; Amato, 2010, Lebow, 2007)
So then, what can therapy do? For one, therapists can help you engage with your divorce constructively. This means that they can help you come up with ways to talk to your ex that help both of you reach an agreement everybody is happy with. You can learn different techniques to cooperate with each other as the two of you end your marriage. You can learn how to maintain a ‘solution oriented focus’ throughout the divorce process. (Gold, 2009; Lebow, 2007.) This will help you come to an agreement, and sets the pace for how you will communicate with each other in the future.
Divorces are painful experiences, and therapy will also help you figure out how to process and unload that pain. When you are angry, a therapist will help you understand why. When you are grieving the loss of your spouse, a therapist can help you cope with that grief. When you allot for space in your life to process this transition, it can help clear your mind when you have to engage with all the legal paperwork that court cases accumulate.
Processing and understanding the end of your marriage can help you formulate a new relationship with your spouse. This is necessary for everyone to while go through the divorce process. If you are a parent, you must maintain communication with each other even after the divorce is final. Therapy will help you and your spouse learn how to engage in a cooperative and business like relationship, as each of you must exchange and evaluate your assets and paperwork. This is an important step in decreasing conflict and resolving matters effectively (Gold, 2009.)
When you have kids, therapy will also help you figure out ways to arrange parenting schedules in a way that is healthy for you and your family. Therapists can teach you how to educate your children about what is going on, and how best to adapt to all these changes in their lives. As your family divides, you can learn ways that you and your kids can grow stronger in response to this big change. As a lawyer, it makes me happy when I see people do this–this is because it far easier for me to help a constructive person get what they want from their case.
For this reason, we recommend that you consider talking to a therapist if you are able. Having someone there to support you during this difficult time is worth the investment. It will help you end your divorce constructively, and can set the tone for a healthy and happy post-divorce family dynamic.
Lebow, J., &Rekart, K. N. (2007). Integrative family therapy for high-conﬂict divorce with disputes over child custody and visitation. Family Process, 46,79 – 91.
Amato, P. (2010). Research on divorce: continuing trends and new developments. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72. 650-666.
Gold, L. (2009). The healthy divorce: keys to ending your marriage while preserving your emotional well being. Sphinx Publishing.
Lebow, J., & Rekart K, N. (2007). Integrative family therapy for high-conflict divorce with disputes over child custody and visitation. Family Process, 46.
Sprenkle, D. H. and Storm, C. L. (1983). Divorce therapy outcome research: a substantive and methodological review. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 9: 239–258. doi:10.1111/j.1752-0606.1983.tb01509.x
Wagner, A. and Diamond, R. (2016). Divorce in couple and family therapy. Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-15877-8_448-1
Walsh, F. (2012). “Chapter 17: family resilience: strengths formed through adversity” Normal Family Processes, 4th ed. pp 399-427.