The Emotional Divorce

The Emotional Divorce

A workshop presented by Larry M. Friedberg, Ph.D.

Getting a “legal divorce” isn’t easy, but getting an “emotional divorce” can be even harder and at least equally important.

A marriage is based on an attachment to the other person in which intense emotions are generally involved (even if those emotions are ambivalent, suppressed or unhealthy). Getting an emotional divorce takes time and effort, but from the perspectives of your mental health and the welfare of your children, it is just as important as the physical divorce. If your marriage hasn’t worked, your divorce is supposed to work better.

Disengaging from destructive communication patterns, from dependency, jealousy, resentment, and loyalty conflicts doesn’t happen without significant work. High-conflict divorces are fueled by the energy of a romantic relationship that has not ended, by use of communications (directly or through the children) which maintain high levels of preoccupation or enmeshment with the other party, high levels of emotion, animosity, and sometimes cruelty.

In this workshop I will talk about the processes of disengagement and grieving, the self-destructiveness of hatred and martyrdom, and the benefits of truly moving on with your life. Experience gained in my work as an adult and child therapist, custody evaluator and parenting coordinator will inform my presentation throughout. I will also talk about the impact on children of parents who can not achieve an emotional divorce, based upon research and my experience as a child and family therapist.

What is an emotional divorce?

  1. It’s a process which involves grieving or loss: marriage is based on an attachment to the other person in which intense emotions are generally involved (even if those emotions are ambivalent, suppressed or unhealthy).
    2. An emotional divorce takes time and emotional energy.
  2. The emotional divorce is different for the “Leaver” and the “Left.”
  3. Like any grieving, there are stages a person has to go through.
  4. A lot of the time you can do this alone. Sometimes you need help.

Getting an emotional divorce is difficult, and it takes time, but from the perspectives of your mental health and the welfare of your children, it is just as important as the legal divorce. If your marriage hasn’t worked, your divorce is supposed to work better.

Disengaging from destructive communication patterns, from dependency, jealousy, resentment, and loyalty conflicts doesn’t happen without significant work. High-conflict divorces are fueled by the energy of a romantic relationship that has not ended, by use of communications (directly or through the children) which maintain high levels of preoccupation, emotion, animosity, and sometimes cruelty.

In this workshop I will talk about the processes of disengagement and grieving, and the benefits of moving on with your life. Experience gained in my work as an adult therapist, custody evaluator and parenting coordinator will inform my presentation throughout. I will also talk about the impact on children of parents who can not achieve an emotional divorce, based upon my experience as a child and family therapist.

Why is an Emotional Divorce important?  First,  there’s Your Children:

I’m going to give some Examples: In every example, I have changed ages, genders, circumstances to protect the privacy of the people I am talking about.

  • Please talk to my parents…”

An 11 year old boy is sent by his divorced parents because of difficulties in school. His parents have been divorced for over a year and a half. They want to meet with me separately and spend their time bad-mouthing each other, accusing each other in every way imaginable. Their lives seem to be spent, to a significant degree, fighting with each other, and putting their one child in the middle, forced to choose sides and to become increasingly anxious, irritable, and defiant. [PRESS]

  • “She needs to know…”

A 12 year old girl comes to me, stating that she is upset because she doesn’t like her stepmom- because stepmom and dad cheated on her mom. She hasn’t talked to her dad about this, just her mom. She’s not sure she can trust him. He’s a liar.

Her mom showed her the papers from the divorce. she says .  Her mom says “she needs to know… she’s going to know someday, anyway…”

  • “My mom pulled a knife on dad, before I was born … my dad told me…”

A 16 year old, whose parents are divorced since he was 3, tells me—as part of his rationale for wanting to live with his dad, and for not wanting to see his mom any more, that his mom pulled a knife on his dad, before he was born. Where do you think he learned that? [PRESS]

  • A daughter stops talking to her dad. Her brother claims that his mother is crazy.

A woman refuses to acknowledge, or even look at her ex-husband’s new wife. She interrogates her daughter after every visit with dad, and then files papers with the court accusing him of various misdeeds. The daughter stops talking to her dad. Their son wants to live with dad, saying that mom is, in his words, “crazy.” [PRESS]

  • Three teenage children refuse to say hello to, or even look at their step-mom.

Three teenage children refuse to say hello to or even look at their dad’s wife, even two years after the dad’s re-marriage. Their mom makes them call her “the whore”. They refuse to attend dad’s wedding,. They say they won’t come to dad’s home unless the “whore” is not there.  One of the children later accuses dad of physical abuse, He is exonerated, but the relationship is permanently damaged.

Can you see yourselves or your children in a similar scenario?

All of these were symptoms of one or both of their parents’ failed emotional divorce. They have never disengaged, never truly separated their lives from their former spouse. They seem to live to battle with one another, and they don’t appreciate the damage they’re are doing to their children. They probably think that they don’t care about their former spouse, only about their children. But they are deluding themselves.

Why is an Emotional Divorce important?   You:

  • 20 years after her divorce

20 years after her divorce, a woman has had no romantic relationships, has never dated, although a number of men have sought her attention.  She has devoted herself to her work and her now grown sons. She talks frequently about her ex-husband, whom she sees and speaks to regularly, and with whom she occasionally has sex . But her life is stagnant, and he never gives up his new marriage.

  • 7 years post-divorce

7 years post-divorce, a man is consumed by his hatred for his ex-wife. When they exchange their children, boys ages 10 and 12, he calls her names. Several times he has refused to turn the children over to her. Twice during the divorce, and once post-divorce, the police have been called. He has spent one night in jail. The couple is sent to me by the judge, who is tired of their continually coming back into court and the man’s child-like, defiant attitude. I discover that the man, identifying the children with his hated ex-wife, is physically and emotionally abusing them (putting his hands over their mouths), calling them and their mother names, locking them in his apartment when they hear their mother outside. Parenting time becomes supervised. Eventually, he stops seeing his children.

  • 4 years, post-divorce

4 years, post-divorce, a couple have been to court several times each year, over money, parenting time, custody, even medical care. They disagree so often about their children’s welfare- from vaccinations, counseling for the the children, even what private school the children should attend, that the judge decides that they can not manage joint legal custody and awards this decision-making power to the father. Father and mother both remarry. Their conflict accelerates when the man remarries; a special hatred developed between ex-wife and new wife. The former wife sees the stepmom as a persecutor, her arch enemy, and is preoccupied by preventing her from stealing her children; something which was never a realistic risk.

Folks here are just continuing the many problems that existed in their marriages. They are not really divorced. They are not leading separate lives; their emotions are not disengaged; their attention is focused on their former spouse. They are fighting the same fights, nursing the same wounds, trying to prove the same things, trying to win or dominate, or being a victim or witness or martyr to the wrongdoings of their former spouse.

Even if they are remarried, their relationship with their ex-spouse is dominating their lives. They may call on the same allies to fight with that person, who supported them during the divorce their friends or family, their attorney , their children.

Patterns of Co-Parenting 3 Years After Separation

Eleanor Maccoby and Robert Mnookin looked at patterns of relationship among couples who had separated 3 years previously, assessing hundreds of families.

Looking at these post-divorce relationship, the first factor emerged from their measures of relationships was discord: Couples who were high on discord had freq arguments, emotional outbursts, problems in transferring their children, perceived interference in parenting, refusal or threatened refusal of parenting time.

The 2nd factor was: communication: how often talk abt children, attempts to coordinate rules, talk about decisions, etc.

They found four groups at the three year follow-up, according to the combination of discord and communication:

  1. Disengaged: seldom talk, don’t coordinate any rules or activities, and have little conflict, often because they make exchanges at times and places where they don’t have to communicate.
  2. Cooperative: parents isolate conflicts in their relationship from their children, discuss children and plans, back each other up, coordinate rules and activities. This was the group self-rated to be most satisfied with the residential arrangement.
  3. Conflicted: parents who don’t cooperate and don’t disengage. Their conflicts remain active and spill over into parenting. They seldom discuss their children, don’t attempt to coordinate parenting. But they do argue, don’t manage transitions well, may threaten to cut off parenting time, report that other parent is undermining their parenting. The kids in this group were the most likely to witness verbal or physical aggression between their parents.
  4. Mixed group- they discuss children’s welfare and attempt to coordinate schedules, but maintain high degrees of conflict. Children in this group are as almost as likely to witness altercations as in the conflicted group.

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By the third year after divorce most former spouses had disengaged from conflict.  In 25-33% percent of families displaying high Conflict at the time of divorce, high levels of conflict were sustained 3-5 yrs after the divorce . It never decreased during the childhood of this portion of their samples.

The Intensity of Conflict Changes over Time


This chart is a conceptual depiction of the data from a series of studies by psychologists and attorneys.  With this chart I am trying to make a rather simple point: conflict changes over time, needs to be studied over time, and its implications for child development needs to be understood in time.

First, at the bottom, there is a (light blue) group who keep the level of conflict relatively low over time.  The red and yellow groups might be conceptualized as chronically enmeshed in high levels of conflict. These are the 10 to 25 % of divorcing couples whose level of conflict remains high.

The group described by green triangles are characterized by acute Conflict at the time of filing for divorce, with the level of conflict diminishing over time in a series of steps. Many parents who disagree over custody, or who struggle with the emotions of breaking up, are in this category.  Like the group at the bottom, these folks achieve a successful emotional divorce.

An emotional divorce is a process of grieving or loss.

I stated earlier that an emotional divorce is a process of grieving or loss that a person has to go through to be ready for the rest of their life.  What does that mean?

At one point there was a deep romantic attachment to the person from whom you are getting an emotional divorce. There may still be one now.    When we form an attachment and a family with our spouse, this is a bond on many levels:

  1. There is a promise of Intimacy– I am close to my partner. I can confide in my partner. I trust my partner. I feel safe and secure when I am near my partner. The marital breakdown takes that away, but people have difficulty letting go of the desire for intimacy with the loved one. Even with marital conflict, poor communication, betrayal of trust, even abuse, that desire may still remain.
  2. There is an expectation of Security: attachment bonds offer safety, a freedom from anxieties. I feel protected at home. My home, and my marriage is a safe haven from which I can venture forth and return for emotional refueling.
  3. A marriage is a promise of Trust: when we place trust in a person, it is very painful to lose that trust, to see them as uncaring or even willing to intentionally hurt you.
  4. A Marriage is a bond of Identity: this is my marriage. I am defined by my marriage, my intact family, my placement in my extended family, church, community. I am my children’s parent. People define themselves in relation to their roles, as husband, father, wife, mother; a divorce, at least in part, threatens these roles.
  5. A Divorce is Loss of the wished-for marriage and family: people dream about a good, lifelong, intimate and happy marriage and family. They organize their life story around this picture. When they realize that this is not working out, they retain their wishes and have to work to let go of them.A divorce is also a Loss because when we divorce, we see our children less. This is very painful for many people. We lead busy lives. Our time with our children is limited, especially time when we can just relax or enjoy ourselves with them. Any parenting schedule has built-in times when we are separated from our children. This allows us to take care of business, to pursue new relationships, when we are ready, to have “me-time”. But for some it is incredibly difficult not to have one’s children always nearby.

 An emotional divorce takes time and emotional energy.

An emotional divorce is not something you can skip. It is like any grieving process.  Many of you have heard of Elizabeth Kubler Ross and her stages of approaching death and dying.

Before Kubler-Ross, there was John Bowlby, a British psychiatrist and the father of attachment theory, which is the most important theory of relationships in clinical and developmental psychology. Bowlby studied processes of grief in adults, children, even infants and toddlers. He studied kids who were separated from their parents during the blitz, kids who lost their parents, and adult patients who lost loved ones. He published his theory and findings in a three-volume work, Attachment, Separation, and Loss.

Bowlby’s four stages of grief are:

  1. A phase of numbing that usually lasts from a few hours to a week. The grieving person feels numb, which is a defense mechanism that allows them to survive emotionally. Numbing may be interrupted by outbursts of intense distress and/or anger.
  2. A phase of searching and yearning. The person protests and tries to reconnect with the lost figure, whom they hope will return. This can last for months or sometimes for years. Many emotions are experienced, including weeping sadness, anger, anxiety, confusion
  3. A Phase of disorganization and despair. The person now desires to withdraw from others and activities they enjoyed in the past. Feelings of pining and yearning become less intense while periods of apathy, meaning an absence of emotion, and despair, meaning hopelessness, increase. Disorganization may include vacillating between approaching and pushing away the attachment figure.
  4. A period of reorganization and recovery. In this final phase, the grieving person begins to return to a new state of “normal”. Energy levels increase, and an interest in reengaging in activities which lead to enjoyment returns.

Cycling emotions during the grieving process

My view is that emotions , such as sadness, hurt, despair, anger, or yearning, which are involved in grief are usually not distinct stages, but cycles that come and go over the year or more following the breakup in a normal grieving process, or longer in disordered or incomplete grieving:

  • Anger peaks, then recedes, then peaks again; hopefully its intensity gradually diminishes, but this is not always the case
  • Anxiety, sadness, and longing for reunion are the same, as are apathy, feelings of emptiness, disorientation, self-recrimination

The following graphic represents what I mean by cycles of emotion during grieving:


The emotional divorce is different for the “Leaver” and the “Left.”

Psychologist Robert Emery contrasted the difference in the reaction to the divorce of the person who first proposes to end the marriage and the other partner:

  1. First of all, Most divorces are not mutually agreed-upon. In most cases where one person initiates the divorce; that person, psychologically, has the role of is the Leaver, and the other person is the “Left”
  2. The “Leaver” is usually more disengaged from the relationship at the time of filing. He or she may have shut down, or want to be “just friends.”       He/or she may interpret his own anger a the spouse as not caring about him or her.
  3. He or she has a head start on the process of grieving. So he may be past the intense sadness, anxiety and anger, the despair or yearning which is actively being felt by the other parent.
  4. Each partner is likely to feel ambivalent about the divorce. The leaver may want to remain friends, and pursue this kind of relationship, then become frightened when friendship is responded to with affection and desires for intimacy. Or the left may respond with hurt and anger, which causes the leaver to feel guilty and approach the Left partner, which can have all kinds of consequences
  5. High-conflict couples may be described as “enmeshed.”       They respond with intense emotions to approaches and withdrawals, or to any other issue. The intensity of their anger is often a sign of the intensity of their desire for a reaction from the other person;       they care too much, they are easily hurt, easily angry. They need to disengage.

The Divorce Impasse

Why does the level of conflict, of anger, hurt stay so high in 30% of divorce couples, with ¼ engaging in lots of conflict 3 years post separation?  These couples, in my opinion, remain enmeshed, still preoccupied with one another.  What are the sources of difficulties in getting an emotional divorce, or what psychologist Janet Johnston called a Divorce Impasse.  Lets proceed from the inside out:

Intrapsychic sources of the divorce impasse: Clearly, people have different psychological vulnerabilities to loss and rejection.

Some parents respond to the dissolution of their marriage with feelings of panic, which may be linked to losses or to ungratifying experiences in childhood. Such parents desperately cling to their spouse or children, feeling unable to survive on their own.

A vulnerability to feelings of rejection, or to feelings of shame are a core psychological dynamic in high conflict divorces:

  • At the mildest level is a feeling of personal inadequacy naturally caused by the failure of the marriage, or by being left by the spouse.
  • The next level is one of extreme self-righteousness, superiority, feelings of entitlement. Such persons refuse to accept responsibility for any problems, blame others for all difficulties. They feel ownership of their children, as if they were an extension of themselves.
  • At the extreme end are persons who experience their spouse or ex-spouse as evil, who feel exploited, paranoid.

Interactional sources of the divorce impasse include the following possibilities:
1) an event which makes the breakup traumatic separation (e.g., a woman discovers that her husband has been having an affair or seeing prostitutes). Traumatic separations can lead to what Johnston calls the “negative reconstruction of reality”: he never loved me, she was only ever interested in my money; we weren’t really married, I was just a sperm and money donor.

2) a continuation of marital struggles over power, intimacy, trust and betrayal;

3) the difference between being “the leaver” (the one who leaves the other) and “the left.”

4) Co-dependency: e.g. spouses who are “rescuers,” whose role in the marriage was to cure, or change their partner (very often seen in cases of multigenerational substance abuse or domestic violence)

External sources of the divorce impasse:  Allies of either party can endorse your negative perceptions of the former spouse, making these negative beliefs seem more real. Such beliefs can contribute to distrust, animosity, acting-out (even in front of the children, or putting the children in the middle).  Sometimes divorces look like Tribal Warfare, family against family.  Sources could also include:

  • Friends who reject one party, take sides, ostracize a parent in the neighborhood, church, etc.
  • Attorneys who are warriors for their client, make ridiculous and insulting allegations against you or the other party. Some attorneys lose perspective, kick it up a notch- use accusation and blame to get more parenting time or money. If that’s the legal strategy, to get you to collect dirt for the legal case, that will escalate the conflict; the conflict may even become worse than prior to the divorce.
  • Even therapists can become allies in a divorce impasse: There are therapists who do same: your husband or wife is “the worst person in the world.” They throw kerosene on the fire, to ally with their patient,  although they are only hearing one side of the story.

For example, in a recent custody evaluation the wife accused her husband of being abusive; there was no evidence to support this except her claims which were not supported by data. The therapist, without speaking to the husband, told me that I was wrong, the husband, who I had met and evaluated, was “clearly abusive.” This therapist wrote a letter to the judge: saying he was emotionally abusive, has obvious psychological problems, and that he should not have shared parenting time.  Actually its unethical for a professional to reach conclusions about someone they’ve  never met, but therapist felt she was supporting their patient. If her patient was believable, what the patient says must be true.

Can you tell your allies not to raise the level of conflict?

How to sabotage your children’s psychological adjustment-
Keep fighting. Don’t achieve an emotional divorce

If you choose to fight, to perpetuate or add to the level of conflict, here’s what is likely to happen to your children:

Children who live in highly conflict divorced families are often, and chronically, subjected to parental efforts to disrupt their relationship with the other parent.  Their parent(s) may place the child in a loyalty bind, encouraging the child to choose one side or the other, or make active efforts to program or brainwash the child against the other parent.

  • The child may become a mediator, trying to resolve their parents’ problems, which can be exhausting, subject the child to feelings of helplessness, and reverse roles between the child who takes care of the parents as opposed to the parent taking care of the child
  • The child may try to be an angel, be perfect, please both parents, believing that somehow they must be responsible for the conflict
  • The child may withdraw from both parents, who are frightening due to their lack of control, what we call emotional dysregulation
  • The child may try to act as a “lightning rod, or scapegoat”, getting into trouble to get the parents to cooperate on his or her behalf
  • Older children, particularly 9-12 years olds are very likely to form an opinion of who is right and who is wrong, in specific situations or in general.
  • Kids in 25% of high conflict divorces strongly align with one parent, refuse to visit the other parent and may actually reject and persecute the other parent. Such children are typically adopting the attitude of the parent with whom they align, who has been making active efforts to create just that sort of a situation.

Research and abundant clinical experience tell me that these family constellations cause children to become anxious or depressed, to act out behaviorally, to have relationship problems when they are old enough to have relationships.

All of these family constellations harm children.  Why?

Parents provide a model for the child to imitate.  Do you want to create a model of male-female relationships dominated by anger, by inability to resolve conflict, manipulation, unhappiness, aggression, anger and bitterness?

Parents who engage in high levels of conflict provide a model for aggressive, poorly controlled, and anxious behavior. Their poor relationships are very likely responsible for findings of relationship difficulties in adulthood which are demonstrated more often by children whose parents are divorced.

Some studies show that in high conflict cases the children are witnessing verbal abuse on a frequent basis, once per week, and in a substantial number of cases they witness physical fights or abuse post divorce.  They are exposed to one or both parent speaking badly about the other.  They are used to pass insults and messages to the other parent.  Their parents are more likely to ask the child to make decisions- e.g. “do you want to go up North with me or go with your father.”

Cherlin et al found that controlling for conflict substantially reduced the correlation between divorce and children’s behavior problems.  Similar findings were noted in the New York longitudinal study: parental conflict in early childhood, but not whether parents were divorced or remained together, predicted the quality of psychological adaptation, particularly relationship difficulties in adulthood

The quality of parenting is likely to be impaired in high Conflict families.   Conflict between parents tends to preoccupy and distract them from their children, so that they can not attend to their children’s needs. For example, one study showed that parents who are mired in conflict are less warm towards their children, perhaps as a result of residual anger. Hetherington found that with marital break down and increasing conflict, parenting practices such as disincline become less consistent, more coercive.

Post-divorce conflict is the best predictor of the negative effects of divorce on children’s psychological adjustment

Children of high conflict divorce, particularly boys, display two to four times the national norms in the prevalence significant clinical disturbance of emotions and behavior.  Physical aggression between parents has been most clearly associated with behavioral and emotional disturbance

A number of psychologists reviewing this literature have concluded that post-divorce conflict is the best predictor of negative effects of divorce on psychological adjustment.  Forty percent of children who experience moderate, intense or extreme divorce conflict develop behavior problems.  Post divorce conflict has been associated with higher rates of:

  • anxiety and aggressiveness in preschoolers
  • aggressive behavior problems, depression. and anxiety in school age children.
  • antisocial behavior, lower grades, anxiety and social isolation in adolescents.

Judith Wallerstein, in her in-depth longitudinal study of families following divorce, found that very significant problems were demonstrated by half of the 62 children she followed into adulthood. Children of divorce , for example, were four times more likely to experience failure in   own marriage. She felt that the children in her sample developed two problems: a fear of rejection and a lifelong vulnerability to loss

Other studies were more optimistic in their findings:   30 to 50 % of children of divorce appear to display  short-term problems   Additionally, children of divorced parents are more likely to have long-term problems, including problems in their adult lives, including depression, needing therapy, dropping out of school, teenage pregnancy, unemployment and divorce.

In a study published in 1991, Andrew Cherlin and his colleagues published in the journal Science the results of two longitudinal studies:  one very large sample in England and one sample of over two thousand children studied in the US. They found that boys whose parents divorced had more problems at ages 11 and 16. However, they found that controlling for behavioral difficulties and parental conflict eliminated any significant differences between boys from divorced and intact families. These preexisting conditions reduced the effect of divorce by half. The effects of controlling for pre-divorce behavior for girls was smaller, but still significant.

Johnston, Campbell and their colleagues have a series of studies on high-conflict families:  88% of these families had experienced episodes of physical aggression, and children witnessed over half of these incidents. About 40% of the children responded with passivity and anxiety. A large number, almost 40%, became partisans in the dispute. About 25% became aggressive themselves. Even after physical abuse or conflict ended, patterns of depression and withdrawal were shown.

Children, particularly girls whose parents demonstrated high levels of conflicts, (and with either substantial time-sharing or lots of transitions between parents) were more likely to 1) be depressed, withdrawn, or aggressive;  2) to display physical symptoms of stress (stomach aches, headaches, etc;  and 3) have problems with peers.

Disengage from Conflict with Your Former Spouse


  • you are stuck in the cycle of grief and unresolved emotion; you will not be able to move on in your life;
  • you are preoccupied by your former spouse, regardless of the strong emotion (longing, hatred, jealousy);
  • you want revenge, payback- to inflict humiliation, isolation on him or her;
  • you need to get your kids on your side

You will not be able to move on in your life.

War is a bad thing- for you, and for your kids.  Enmeshment in the old (bad) relationship is bad for you, and for your kids.  Focusing on your hurt and your anger, or any other kind of intense emotions which show that you are more enmeshed than disengaged, prevents you from dealing fully with your other emotions, and from getting on with your life.

Can you end the fights, solve the problems, end the love-hate push-pull of a failed but enmeshed relationship?  Can you close the book on your marriage, or act like an old fashioned record that keeps skipping back to the same point in the song.

Disengage from conflict:  Most people are able to see that war is a bad thing.

  • Can you tell your attorney, your family or friends not to distort the truth and make things worse, not to raise the level of conflict, not to tell secrets, air your dirty laundry?
  • Do you want an ending to the war?
  • Do you want a collaborative or a disengaged relationship? Or a conflicted one?
  • Do you want to solve problems or perpetuate them?

Can we move out of fighting old fights with our spouse? A divorce is like an armistice.  It supposed to call an end to the problems in a couple’s intimate and romantic relationship and focus on what is left, the parenting part of the relationship.

Some people don’t do that, they turn the romantic aspect of their relationship into a hate relationship, which is as intense and close, we might call it an “enmeshed” relationship (overly intense, overly interdependent, preoccupied and insecure or ambivalent).

Do you want an ending, to go on with your lives, or for your problems to continue?

You lose a lot of capacity to influence another person when you get divorced. You can’t withhold affection, or attention from your former spouse, or show them you are angry and expect to get anywhere. If you are trying, maybe you imagine you are still married. The other person may not see any reason to end conflicts with you; its ok to dislike or even hate you.

What’s left is the power of rationality:  of persuasion, negotiation, conflict resolution.

That’s hard, because at the end of an intense relationship, the story you have of the other person is based on your feelings. If you have been hurt, or are angry, that biases or distorts your perception of them. Our stories of other people are coherent. It takes work to say, “Well he was a disappointing husband, or he said bad things about me or acted like a jerk during the divorce, but he’s a good father, or has both good and bad qualities.”

A divorce, ultimately, creates two equal partners. One may have more time with the children, but major decisions are decisions between equal parties.  A healthy div relationship is more like a business relationship than a romantic relationship.

Can you move from a romantic relationship based on intimacy, trust, affection, cooperation, problem-solving and support- or their failure- to an objective, business-like relationship which isn’t focused on hate, recrimination, power-struggles, paybacks, putting the children into the middle? Can you effectively run the most important business you will ever run, raising your children?

Support for Your Emotional Divorce

When people have trouble in separating from their marriage, in getting an emotional divorce. I recommend the following to help you with this transition:

  • Divorce support or divorce recovery groups: There are a number of these that provide peer support for individuals who are recovering from a divorce.
  • Self-help books
  • The court provides programs specifically designed to help divorced couples mired in high conflict (like ADEPT in Oakland County_
  • Counseling or psychotherapy: especially if the divorce felt traumatic or the intensity of emotion could be described as an obsession, a a war, as paranoid relationship; and especially if you might be sacrificing your children’s mental health to stay engaged in conflict.

The Future

Here’s what I hope for you, in the near future:

You’ve made it!

  • You got through your legal, and then your emotional divorce
  • You closed the book on a relationship in which you and your spouse could not solve your problems
  • You let go of the wished-for fantasy relationship, in light of the reality that it just didn’t’ work
  • You began a co-parenting relationship based on your children’s needs- either a cooperate or an emotionally disengaged relationship
  • You opened a new book of your life, with a brighter future, for you and your children!

Thank You!