The end of a relationship means an extensive life change. Separation is usually not a quick process. All parties involved in the separation have their own individual feelings about the process, and they get through it at their own pace. The separation is usually preceded by the experience of a dysfunctional or unsatisfactory relationship. Signs that precede a separation include, for example, contempt, biting criticism, silence, constant defensiveness and unwillingness to settle arguments. Read more about the signs on the Väestöliitto's (The Family Federation of Finland) website (in Finnish).
Separation is usually preceded by a period of contemplation. Often one of the parties considers separation alone, making it come as a surprise to the other party. It would be best if the partners could discuss their feelings and thoughts about a possible separation as openly as possible at an early stage. The contemplation does not have to lead to a separation. Seeking help before the problems can culminate supports the building of a functional relationship. Talking about things together also makes it easier to process and accept the separation if that is what the couple later decides to do.
Many kinds of support are available for people who want to strengthen their relationship or who are considering separation (see the links in the side bar). Seeking external help may feel difficult, but low threshold support is also provided by peer support-based groups and online discussions, for example.
You can also go to therapy alone or together with your spouse. Therapy may provide a neutral place for couples to consider their situation. It provides an opportunity to learn to understand yourself and your partner better. Practising balanced interaction is also beneficial for the future.
Separation may evoke a range of feelings. The initial shock and panic may manifest themselves as anger, grief, depression or denial, for example. These emotions bring with them an understanding that the separation is real, and you can start thinking about adapting to the situation and facing forwards. All emotions are justified and should be processed. Talking about the separation and the feelings and thoughts it evokes can make you feel better. These discussions can be held with friends, in instructor-led peer support groups or individual therapy, for example.
In order to ensure the child’s well-being, it is important that the parents cooperate and think about matters from the child’s perspective. Hopefully, both parents will continue their parenthood and parenting relationship even after the relationship ends. The Väestöliitto website provides further information on the parenting relationship and factors that protect children (in Finnish). The best way the parents can prevent the separation from having a detrimental effect on the child is by making an effort to cooperate effectively in matters pertaining to the child. Effort and understanding are needed for smooth cooperation.
The child feels better when he or she is able to take both parents’ side and love them without feelings of guilt. Separation evokes a range of feelings in children, such as fear, anger and relief. The parents must tell the child honestly about the situation, but they do not have to expose every detail. The child may express his or her feelings or they may manifest in his or her behaviour soon or not until a length of time has passed since the parents’ separation. Asking, listening to and taking the child’s wishes into consideration strengthens the parents’ relationship with the child and may help him or her process the situation.
Familia’s Duo Project offers relationship counselling for intercultural couples in Finnish and English. The counselling is subject to a charge. Väestöliitto, the Family Federation of Finland provides relationship counselling and couples therapy in Finnish and English. (Search for relationship counselling services)
Source: psychiatrist Ben Furman, MuksuoppiAppi
In many countries, up to half of the children grow up in families where their biological parents are separated which often means that the child has two homes, the mother’s home and the father’s home.
Divorce is not automatically bad
According to statistics, the children of divorced parents have more problems than those growing up in a two-parent family. It was previously thought that parental separation automatically increases the risk of children getting problems but more recently it has been understood, that this may not be the case.
These children’s higher probability of having problems later in life can be better explained by other risk factors often present after divorce. These include distancing from the other parent, challenges growing up in a blended family, conflicts between the separated parents, and lack of parental collaboration in general.
How to support children of divorce
I have listed below a few tips on how you, as one of the parents of the child, can support your child in coping with your divorce:
- Help the child realize that there are not only drawbacks but also benefits in having two homes.
- No matter what you think about your ex, always speak respectfully about him or her to the child. Keep in mind that blood is thicker than water. By allowing your child to think highly of their other parent you are contributing to the wellbeing of your child.
- Be as flexible as flexible as you can with visitation arrangements. It pays in the long run.
- Do your best to support the relationship between your child and their other parent.
- In the case the other parent does not see the child, find ways to support the relationship in any case. You can do this, for example, by encouraging your child to send regularly emails or postcards to the other parent. Even a one-sided relationship is better than none, and in due time the other parent may well start to respond to the child’s messages.
- Avoid taking your divorce to court. Seek mediation instead. It is a decision that will save you money, time, and your nerves, in addition to being a service to your child. Remember that from the child’s perspective almost any compromise is better than ongoing conflict. In every language, there are sayings to remind us of the importance of being flexible in negotiating agreements. For example, in English there is the saying, ‘compromise is the best and cheapest lawyer’.
- If the child has any problems avoid blaming the other parent for the problem. It can make sense to do so but blaming the other parent is counterproductive and often only serves to aggravate the problem. Assume a different stance and approach the other parent as an expert by consulting him or her. Say something along the lines of, ‘I am worried about (insert the thing that you perceive as a problem) and wanted to know if you have some idea of what we could do about it?’ By approaching the other parent as an expert, you invite him or her to collaborate with you in finding a solution to your worry.
- Find ways of thanking or giving positive feedback the other parent whenever possible. For example, whenever the child makes progress, succeeds in something, learns difficult things, or overcomes problems, take a moment to think about how you could be able to give part of the credit to the other parent. By doing that you are doing a great service the wellbeing of your child.
Divorce, and separation are part of life, a challenge that a growing number of children all over the world need to cope with. As a parent, you can help your child to cope with your divorce by making decisions, and acting in ways that promote collaboration with the other parent.