Even under the best circumstances, the process of divorce can be one of the most agonizing experiences a person can suffer. Legally and emotionally uncoupling imposes change which creates anxiety as well as anger and despair.  Break-ups can be made even worse when one or both partners act out in irrational and destructive ways.

For example, we are all familiar with situations in which the spouse uses the legal process to “punish” his or her partner.  Likewise, most of us have known a wife or husband who simply refuses to accept a reasonable agreement or who makes outrageous and unfair child custody or visitation demands.  These irrational behaviors can both unnecessarily extend the length of and dramatically increase the cost of the legal process as well as provoke even more emotional damage and pain.

Psychologically, one of the reasons people have such trouble being reasonable during a time of high stress like divorce, is our unconscious tendency to displace our frustration and anger  and to simplify and reduce complex situations  by blaming a scapegoat.

When we are under stress, it is difficult to be objective and kind.  Even worse, we tend to deny any personal responsibility for things not working out and ,instead, externalize all responsibility for things going badly on to our partner.

Fortunately, there is a way to avoid and prevent fruitless divorce struggles and conduct a reasonable and civil parting of the ways. It is called Divorce Counseling. Unlike marriage counseling, which is usually conducted conjointly and whose goal is to improve and preserve marriage,  divorce counseling is done one-on-one and is focused on helping the person accept the reality of divorce and acting reasonably through its course.  The goal of the therapy is help a person gain a calmer and more reasonable understanding of why the divorce is necessary and to then proceed in a reasonable manner to expeditiously negotiate and bring the matter to a close.

The key function of divorce counseling is to help the person recognize that, in marriage, “it takes two to tango” and for the person to understand the transferential process which unconsciously mixes and confuses wounds from the present with pain and disappointments from the past. For example, if a spouse can’t tolerate his/her partner’s controlling ways, it may be that some of his/her pain has to do with a parent who was overly controlling.  By first recognizing the similarities that current problems share with past hurts, a person can discover that his or her concern is complex and not simple.

Secondly, discerning and separating out the ghosts from the past can lower the overall intensity of emotions involved with the conflicted issue and make it possible to regain a more reasonable outlook.  Realizing that some of the pain comes from the past and not the present can help a person discover that, while the person may not be right for him or her, that person is not the devil. This epiphany can both help the person see the irrationality and exaggeration of his or her reactions and to recognize that those reactions are both   unnecessary and unhelpful.

Unfortunately, often times feelings can be so painful and so raw it is almost impossible for some folks to realize that acting out of anger or revenge is not only hurtful to the spouse but that it is also harmful to the children and even delays the individuals own healing and ability to move on to the next chapter of life.  Although divorce counseling is not widely utilized now, it is hoped that more folks will come to understand that there is a reasonable alternative to acrimony for divorcing couples.

Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow AAPC   10 3 2017

P.S. Obviously, this technique also works wonders for folks who aren’t divorcing but who just want to get along better and reduce conflicts and tensions.

Photo attribution to : http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kasey-edwards/adult-children-of-divorce_1_b_2806544.html

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