There are many ways that people couple: emotionally, physically, legally, financially, spiritually to name just a few. Separation/divorce forces “uncoupling” – a dismantling, a renegotiation, a coming apart, an ending of an important relationship.
When both parents recognize the value of “uncoupling” and work together to uncouple, everyone benefits – including the children.
As parents untangle their feelings over ending the spousal relationship and sort through the loss involved in the changed family, they’re more capable of forming a business of co-parenting relationship, creating a secure two-home family for their children free from adult conflict.
Thankfully, most of the time, when a spouse ends a marriage, he/she is ending the spousal relationship – not leaving his/her children nor ending his/her role as a parent. Sometimes the leaving spouse is accused of leaving the family, leaving the children. This miss-step further threatens and complicates the re-stabilizing process for parents and kids.
Healthy “uncoupling” helps both adults differentiate what’s happening on a “spouse” level from what needs to be preserved and supported on a “parent” level.
Another highly complicated element is that the person who initiates leaving the marriage has often been contemplating leaving, bargaining with how to stay, working at or avoiding the marriage for two to five years before actually taking the step to leave. The leaving spouse (the “leaver”) often experiences relief and readiness to move on. There’s a feeling of freedom from a struggle that’s left the “leaver” battle fatigued and done with emotional attachments. Much of his/her grief-work and loss may have been worked through over the years as the marriage came apart. He or she may seem cold, empty, and unemotional. This leads to more misunderstanding.
The spouse who feels left and the children are generally much further behind in adjusting to the news of divorce/separation. For them, the change, grief, and loss are much more shocking, raw, and in need of attention, emotional processing, time to grieve and accept.
When the “leaver” moves forward too quickly for the other’s emotional adjustment, particularly with respect to a new relationship, the former spouse and children often feel “invisible” or abandoned – and that what they had relied on as “family” yesterday has been deleted today. This dynamic can create enormous pain for those who feel left behind. The spouse “left” is likely to feel on his/her own to do all the uncoupling alone, picking up the pieces of what often feels like a shattered family… which is actually a family in divorce/separation transition.
Getting support from a skilled divorce coach or family therapist during this highly emotional transition, which often occurs at a couple’s least capable time – emotional resources tapped, fear and uncertainty at an all-time high – can help parents navigate the difficult terrain of loss and change. A confident guide can help co-parents negotiate two-home family life – help them treat each other with more respect and understanding so they can provide stability for their children.