Christmas is Often a Catalyst for Divorcing
Posted by: Sue Atkins
I often find that I get clients coming to see me after Christmas about how to separate after spending more time together during the festive season. Christmas acts as a catalyst for change and the New Year offers a new beginning for many.
It is a fact that it’s not divorce or separation, in itself that causes the greatest amount of harm to children; it is the levels of conflict that they experience between their parents that does the most damage.
Many questions I receive in my “Don’t Stew – Ask Sue” radio phone -ins are mainly all around conflict, anger and resentment.
Dealing with conflict is the major area to resolve if you are going to learn to complete your emotional separation, so that you can heal, recover and move forward in your life.
Separation is not an easy business because it’s not simply a question of deciding not to live together. Separation is an emotional, psychological as well as a physical disentanglement.
I often use the analogy of separation being like a tangled ball of wool, full of knots – and my job is to help the person I’m coaching to tease out the tangles one knot at a time so that they avoid feeling completely overwhelmed.
Regardless of how relieved, happy, bitter, humiliated, elated, guilty, angry, surprised or furious my clients are, there is a process that they will go through, because as I said to my client last week, “Divorce is a process, not an event.”
Elizabeth Kubler Ross describes the emotional process of healing as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and the difficulty is that you or your partner may not be going through this process both at the same stage or speed.
But it’s important that you recognise where you are in the process so you can provide the stability that your children need from you at this stressful and challenging time.
Separating from your ex partner is about reclaiming yourself as an individual and going from the “We” mentality to the “I” mentality and this takes time, courage and a change in mindset and confidence.
I also find that the parents I work with need to mourn the ending of their relationship and I do some exercises around this whole are of letting go to help their grieving and sadness.
I often notice a pattern with the parents I work with where some of the partners had remained entangled emotionally with their ex.
The screaming, shouting and fury paradoxically keeps the relationship alive, albeit in negative but attached way, because conflict is often one of the devices parents unconsciously use to prolong their emotional connection.
If you find that you are regularly infuriated about things that your ex says or does, or you find that you can’t separate your children’s relationship with their other parent to yours, then it is very likely that you are still connected at some level emotionally.
Emotional separation is crucial if you are going to build a more positive parenting relationship with your ex for the sake of your children. Otherwise you are in danger of using your children as pawns in the middle of the process keeping alive and feeding your negative connection to your ex partner.
The question I ask my clients is:
“Are you able to talk to your ex without getting angry, anxious, frustrated or annoyed?”
It’s not always easy, but getting to this point is important because for some people who are unable to let go, conflict becomes a means to hang on to the relationship even if it has become totally negative and destructive.
I help my clients break their negative patterns and I teach them new ways to communicate, more effectively from a more detached, relaxed and confident place.
From here they can begin to let go of what their ex is doing or saying, and start to focus on their new opportunities ahead one small step at a time.
It’s about handling and dealing with your ex in a more detached, business –like manner.
It’s about finding support, clarity and empowerment while letting go of the past, and is all about finding positive ways forward while putting your children’s emotional well being at the centre of all your communications.
Children do adapt and thrive in a separated family but it doesn’t happen by magic. It takes a conscious intention to make this happen positively.
It is your job as the adults in this process to make this possible and to make it happen – it is not the job of your children.
It’s important to recognise that the only person you can control and empower is yourself as you have no control over what your ex says, does or how he/she behaves.
So I always start by helping my clients explore where they are on the scale of healing.
I always get my clients to imagine that it is 50 years from now and that they are sitting in their rocking chair by the fire looking back on their life, and I ask them to tell me how they handled this transition.
It helps shift them into the bigger picture and helps them handle the transition with dignity and respect for their children and helps them see their children feeling loved, nurtured and cherished through change.