Ending a marriage is a painful process. There are many losses to accept: the loss of a relationship, the loss of a promise and the loss of the dream and vision of an enduring, intact family. If the divorce or separation is less than amicable, then the tension of overt and hidden conflict adds even more stress and pain.
Because divorce and separation are difficult times — for any family — it’s recommended that families seek professional help along the way. Even when there are no unmanageable challenges, professional support can help reduce the pain and trauma involved in breaking up a family. Keep in mind that difficult divorces can leave their mark for years or even decades. Counseling can facilitate personal adjustment, as well as the re-defining and re-building of relationships within the family after divorce.
What are the types of professional support available for families going through divorce and separation?
Marriage/Family Counselors and Therapists
The help of a licensed marriage/family counselor or therapist can be invaluable. These highly trained mental health professionals can provide psychological help to individual family members, and to the family as a whole, as parents and children adjust to their new situations, grieve losses and begin life anew within a changed family structure. Often, counselors and therapists are holders of post-graduate degrees in Psychology, Counseling or Social Work, with specialization in marriage and family dynamics.
Counselors can assist before, during and after a divorce or separation. Knowing that a mental health professional can be of help even before marital dissolution is contemplated is important — many marriages can still be saved when couples seek early intervention. Indeed, even when the idea of separation or divorce has been raised, reconciliation is still possible if willingness and open-mindedness to rebuild a relationship is present in both members of the couple. Counseling during divorce can help reduce the chances of increasing hostilities and smooth the way for every member of the family. After divorce, counseling helps family members deal with their new lives with a minimum of stress, confusion, disorientation and pain.
Joining support groups can also be a big help to families undergoing divorce or separation. Support groups are formal or informal organizations of individuals undergoing the same experience. A support group for divorced parents for example, can provide assistance on issues like self-care, co-parenting and even going back to the dating world. A support group for children survivors of separation also exists, to help kids cope. There are also support groups for survivors of abusive relationships.
Support groups effectively send the message to families undergoing divorce or separation that they are not alone, and that the issues that they are undergoing are expected and normal for people within their unique situation. For many, talking to fellow support group members is less threatening than talking to a mental health professional one-on-one. This is because of the feeling that one is not talking to a stranger, but to someone who they can truly relate to.
One can usually find support groups within community centers, social service centers, churches, schools, and offices of special interest organizations. Online support groups are also available.
There are situations when divorce or separation will require the assistance of a lawyer or a legal consultant. Child custody, property division and alimony arrangement can be sensitive issues for a divorced or separated couple to navigate, and may even be the cause of many a heated discussion and debate. At present, there are professional divorce and separation legal mediators that can help families come up with amicable agreements within having to go to court. If these issues can be sorted out without a messy legal battle, then families undergoing divorce or separation can move on to their new lives more smoothly. Parenting Co-ordinators are empowered by law to help parents work out the details of daily life after divorce. They can help with schedules of visitation as well as the nitty-gritty details such as how the children’s belongings get from one location to the next, who takes the child to after-school lessons, which lessons the child should be taking, and so on. Parenting Co-ordinators are especially important in high conflict divorce where ex-spouses cannot or will not talk to each other. Obviously, sharing parenting responsibilities requires a great deal of communication and negotiation – if the parents can’t do this on their own, Parenting Co-ordinators will do it for them.
Other Professionals that May Help
Social workers, school guidance counselors, as well as rabbis/pastors/priests or can also help families cope with the stresses of divorce and separation.