Support During Divorce
An amicable divorce is always preferable to a contentious one — but sometimes this just isn’t possible. Divorce is almost always painful but grief and loss issues are especially present when a divorce isn’t wanted or is not going well. Our feelings can be overwhelming and sometimes individuals feel as if our friends and family do not or can not be objective or even begin to understand this complicated loss.
The Good Divorce
For years I have been telling couples who come to see me that I will always be committed to helping them navigate their relationship with each other. But that this is a very different activity than convincing them to stay married. In 1994 Constance Ahrons published her book, “The Good Divorce,” in which she describes the rich relationship that she was able to construct with her ex-husband with whom she gradually learned how to “be together” and celebrate important family events. In the most recent reprint she describes how after thirty years of divorce her ex-husband and co-parent finally died. At the funeral his current spouse welcomed Constance with open arms stating, “I’m so glad you’re here.”
It is so important to recognize that just because divorces occur, familial ties and bonds do not necessarily dissolve. Learning how to co-parent or relate to each other as family but not spouse is a dynamic and on-going process. Often the help of a therapist, and in particular a therapist well-versed in collaborative practices can assist in this process.
Parent Alienation Syndrome (PAS)
Renowned child psychiatrist Richard A Gardner, MD first identified PAS in the 1980s. PAS is a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child-custody disputes and is characterized as an unjustified campaign of denigration by a child against a parent. PAS usually results from a combination of “programming” by an angry ex-spouse as well as the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the target parent. In his book Divorce Poison, Richard Warshak, MD states that PAS is most easily neutralized when three conditions are met:
- The child remains in sufficient physical contact with the target
- The child maintains a psychological connection with the target
- The child is not excessively afraid of the alienating parent
A “rejected” parent dealing with a child struggling with PAS is endures an incredible amount of stress. They must exercise an inordinate amount of self-restraint and show empathy for a child’s feelings and behavior despite the child’s obnoxious and belligerent behavior. Therapy can often be an important source of support for a parent dealing with this issue.
Fathers and Divorce
Studies tell us that men who have divorced or separated are six times more likely to report an episode of depression compared with men who are married (divorced women are “only” 3.5 times more likely to report depression than married women). There is also significant evidence that shows that men have fewer social supports. In most cases men are more at risk of experiencing subsequent depression because historically their main source of support has been their spouse. The initial months are often extremely difficult for men with children.
In addition to the normal grief and loss associated with divorce men are sometimes frustrated by increased parenting responsibilities as well as temporary parenting skill deficits. Various studies show that children fare better when their fathers are supported through the divorce process. Therapy can be a valuable and safe place for Dads to brush up on parenting skills, strategize to replace social support networks as well as confidentially discuss grief and loss.