Whether you have young children or teenagers, the impact of going through a divorce is felt by everyone involved.
Amid all the complicated logistics—the dissolution process itself—family members may experience different feelings and responses at different times, cycling through various stages of grief in their own way. You and your children may go through sorrow, anger, guilt, fear, rage, and much more.
It may seem counterintuitive (not to mention unpleasant or impossible) to begin family therapy during divorce, but it can have a significant positive impact.
Despite kids’ profound difficulties and intense emotions when parents split, most do eventually adjust. Family therapy can help them move on and thrive.
Likewise, most couples work out a way to co-parent successfully and in relative peace; about a third continue to struggle over the long haul. Family therapy can improve your odds and offer vital tools.
It’s important to recognize that your family isn’t ending just because your marriage is. Your family is changing, transitioning, and transforming. You’ve decided you shouldn’t be a married couple anymore, but you love your children tremendously—and their well-being is paramount. In this case, the most fundamental goal of family therapy is to help you transition from an intimate married relationship that is no longer viable to a functional, healthy, collaborative co-parenting partnership that is supportive of your child and positive for all involved.
An experienced counselor can help you sort through the conflicts, difficult emotions, and personal perspectives that make this shift thorny.
What is family therapy?
The Mayo Clinic defines family therapy as “a type of psychological counseling (psychotherapy) that can help family members improve communication and resolve conflicts.”
Your family therapist may be a clinical social worker, psychologist, or licensed therapist; look for credentials from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).
Family therapy is typically short-term, sessions usually last 50 minutes each. You’ll likely meet as a family and in smaller sub-groups.
Family therapy can help you:
Improve communication. Good communication is vital to positive co-parenting. Shared custody requires plans and schedules; texts, emails, calls, calendars; drop-offs and pick-ups, activities, special occasions, etc. Your child should feel free from acting as a messenger between warring parents. Family therapy can help you establish open lines of communication, map out a parenting plan, decide on communication guidelines, and figure out how to maintain a respectful, courteous, cooperative partnership. Show your children you can work together and be civil even when things are tough.
Express yourself. Family therapy provides a safe, calm environment where family members can discuss their feelings. Children, especially, need a forum to say what is working and what isn’t, and what hurts. They need to feel heard.
View your spouse more fairly. Feelings of hurt and anger between you and your ex may skew your opinion of one another. Family therapy can help you remember what’s good about the other person, how much they love your shared child, and what valuable parenting skills they bring.
Get on the same page. You and your ex may have somewhat different parenting styles, but reasonable consistency is essential to your child’s stability. Family therapy can help you agree on specific ground rules and structures, which helps kids feel more secure, less conflicted, and less pressured to choose sides or hide information.
Ease your children’s distress. In addition to being sad, children of divorced parents are often confused and worried about grown-up problems. They may blame themselves for your break-up; wonder if they’ll need to choose between you or take sides; suffer low self-esteem; feel alone and unsure how to share their feelings with friends. They internalize many negative beliefs and fears while facing enormous emotional and logistical adjustments. They may experience mental health challenges. Be alert for signs of depression and anxiety, including extreme moodiness, sleep or eating habits changes, behavioral issues or “acting out,” compulsive behaviors, irrational fears, academic or social problems, regression, or separation anxiety. A family therapist can help your child open up and articulate what they’re going through, understand that it’s not their fault, healthily process emotions, learn coping strategies, and begin to heal.
Smooth the legal process. It’s no secret that divorce can bring out the worst in people. Resolving matters out of court makes a complicated process easier on everyone—including your children. Working with a family therapist can help you stay civil, calm, rational, focused, and fair-minded. It can reduce tension and conflict between spouses so you can work more effectively with your attorneys to keep the divorce amicable, make better decisions about finances and custody, achieve a satisfying settlement, and avoid litigation.
The experienced and caring attorneys at SFLG understand what you and your kids are going through. We believe in the value of family therapy to support you through these significant changes. We’ll help you navigate legal matters so you can focus on taking care of your family.
By Debra Schoenberg