Divorce can be an extremely difficult and painful process. If you have children, one of the greatest challenges is to both separate and co-parent. The most important aspect of your relationship with your ex-spouse, your co-parenting relationship, needs to remain intact and, in fact, be strengthened.
Research has shown that the single most important factor in healthy post-divorce adjustment in children is low conflict between the parents. Therefore, when transitioning from spouses to co-parents, ensuring the well-being and future happiness of your children is crucial.
As a child specialist, I help many couples make the transition and restructure their post-divorce relationship for the sake of their children. I urge all couples to consider working with a child specialist to help them be the best co-parents possible for the sake of their children. Here are some insights from my work with families that I want to share.
Moving from a marital relationship to a co-parenting relationship is a process that takes time and encompasses several steps. The first is to grieve the loss of the marriage and the “nuclear” family. This is a process that often moves in a stop and start manner as various events occur and you experience living without your ex-spouse, and begin to re-define your life with your children.
Another step that needs to be addressed is to accept that there may not be a full resolution of the pain, anger and resentment that led to separation. All the issues that came up in the marriage that the two of you argued about and never resolved will not likely be resolved as you go through divorce. All of the patterns, behaviors and resentments that led to the end of the marriage do not simply end with divorce. This is a reality you must accept in order to begin building a healthy co-parenting relationship in which you will not attempt to pursue resolution of these old issues. You must recognize familiar impulses to engage in old conflict and then resist these impulses, as they will inevitably come up. You must both work at creating new patterns of communication and decision-making to be successful parenting partners.
Finally, you must understand that your emotional needs will not be met by your ex-spouse and should not be met by your children. Your children, even if they are adults, should not become your emotional caretakers. You have to find ways to get your emotional needs met in other activities and people, including individual counseling if needed to help you with the transition, so you can manage the business of co-parenting and be the best parent possible for your children. If you can manage to clear away residual issues in your own mind and do the work necessary to eliminate unconscious underlying expectations leftover from your marriage, you can begin to build a very healthy and effective co-parenting relationship with your ex-spouse. Because in the end, no one loves your children more than your ex-spouse, the other parent. Who better to partner with to guide their development and usher them to adulthood?
Sue Schramka is a psychologist Cornerstone Counseling Services. She provides treatment for children, adolescents and adults. Her special interests include treating anxiety and mood disorders, divorce adjustment issues, interpersonal difficulties and stress management.