Separation and Divorce

Separation and Divorce

Couples may choose to undergo separation counselling after one or both partners have made the decision to end their relationship. It is a separate process to relationship counselling as that is centred on finding ways to keep the couple together.


What is separation counselling?

Separation counselling is a therapeutic process through which both parties can:

  • Consider the practical aspects of their separation
  • Consider the impact it will have on other family members
  • Resolve and have closure with each other
  • Establish communication pathways to make decisions about the future

Divorce or separation counselling creates the opportunity for couples to examine their relationship with no real pressure to fix it. This chance to step back and view the situation from a distance can give valuable insights into feelings such as unhappiness and despair. In the early stages of counselling it is possible for one or both partners to desire some form of reconciliation. They may also come to recognise and understand the underlying issues that lead to the breakdown in their relationship.

If one or both partners are hesitant about the decision to divorce, counselling provides them with the opportunity to deconstruct their issues in a neutral and supportive environment. This is a realistic stage that allows openness and honesty to replace anger and blame. A number of questions may arise such as:

  • What do the hesitations mean?
  • How did the relationship develop?
  • At what point did things begin to change?
  • What factors allowed things to become so broken?
  • What earlier lifestyle patterns were brought into this relationship and to what effect?

Sometimes one partner wants to separate and the other wants to try and work things out. This divided agenda requires an experienced and patient couples counsellor to work with both partners and show them ways to keep their paths of communication open. Once the decision to separate is definite then the counsellor can help them agree on ways they can communicate effectively in the future, especially when there are children or property settlements involved.

Having counselling at this stage allows couples the chance to gain closure on that chapter of their lives. They can reflect on both the good and bad aspects of their relationship which often helps to reduce feelings of hurt and bitterness.

The end of a relationship creates feelings of grief and loss in a similar way to the death of a loved one. The counselling process allows those involved to mourn the loss of their happier past and also for a future that will never be realised. Learning to understand the stages of grief and loss allows the individuals to ‘say goodbye’ to the relationship and leave behind the issues that caused its breakdown.

The main stages of separation are:

  • Rupture –This occurs during the first year after separation when shock and disbelief give way to anger
  • Restlessness –The first 1 –3 years can see many changes such as new relationships, moving house or job searching
  • Settling –After 3 years a new identity is usually established

How can counselling help with separation?

Counselling can assist the process of separation in a number of ways including:

  • Minimising the harmful effects on children and partners
  • Allowing both parties to make sense of what has happened
  • Creating a vehicle for change and moving forward
  • Providing perspective and closure


When do couples decide to divorce?

The failure of a relationship can be extremely difficult to admit publically. Nobody wants to admit that the hopes and ideals they once held are no longer possible. However painful this may be, there comes a point when they have to face reality and accept that something needs to change. Despair and the loss of love occur in most relationships at some point but the question of separation arises when these become too much to bear.

Separation should be considered in situations that involve:

  • A complete lack of respect or loathing of each other
  • Physical or emotional abuse or violence
  • Repeated betrayal

In most cases there are a number of factors that can be explored before the decision to separate is made. These might include deep feelings of loss and disappointment, anger due to needs not being met or frustration at imbalances within the relationship.

Spending time analysing these factors with the aid of a counsellor may create the opportunity to uncover the true source or sources of the problem. Often these are surprising revelations for one or both parties and that knowledge may help to dissipate bitterness and blame. This can help to break down some of the walls and allow a pathway forward either together or separately.


Divorce causes

There are many factors that can push a relationship to the brink of separation including:

  • An affair or betrayal
  • Sexual problems
  • Ongoing arguments or a lack of civil communication
  • Job redundancy or retirement
  • A bereavement
  • Children leaving home

Many of these can be the symptoms of unresolved or ongoing problems within the relationship. By delving deeper it can be possible to uncover the core issues that have manifested unnoticed over a period of time. Once these come to the surface they can be explored and often resolved.

This is the most rewarding aspect of counselling for everyone involved. Once the true causes are understood then an informed decision can be made about the separation. At this point many couples choose to spend more time looking for a way forward together.


Individual separation work and bereavement work

The decision to separate or divorce is not always a mutual. One partner could be left behind while the other moves straight into a new relationship. Overwhelming feelings of abandonment and loss can be quite crippling for the one left on their own and may lead to depression. The support they receive from their counsellor at this stage can be priceless.

By reflecting on the history of the relationship and cause of the breakdown and addressing the feelings of guilt, loss and anger, the counsellor can help the ‘abandoned’ partner to slowly pull their life back together and look to the future.


When is the right time to undertake separation & divorce counselling?

  • When a couple feel they cannot continue living together
  • When situation changes leave one partner feeling excluded
  • When there has been a breakdown in communication
  • When despair and bitterness are overwhelming
  • After an affair or betrayal

In many cases, this form of counselling is initiated in response to a crisis. This could be the discovery of an affair, a letter from the partner’s solicitor or after an intense argument. It can be helpful to allow a period of time between the event and starting counselling sessions as one or both parties may still be in a state of shock. This allows for things to calm down a bit and for each individual to reflect on what has happened before trying to make sense of it all.

Sessions with an experienced and trained couples counsellor can be an invaluable experience for both partners. It can be very rewarding as it creates the opportunity for them to have an open and honest look at their relationship without any pressure to make decisions about it until they are ready.


What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?

There are no official requirements for a relationship counsellor to have a particular qualification or level of training; however it is a good idea to check that they are experienced in working with couples.

Using a therapist that has recognised qualifications in some form of relationship counselling will help give you confidence and trust in them.

It is also useful to see if they are a member of a specific couples counselling organisation. Some of these may be affiliated with various religions so you may like to determine what their orientation is and decide if it fits with your own beliefs and values first.

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