Are you thinking of separating or have you and your partner made the decision to separate? A separation can be a very difficult time. In fact, it can be the most stressful, painful experience a person can go through apart from losing a loved one to death. Separation and the pain that comes with it can be long lasting, particularly when people don’t separate well. A particularly bad separation can see couples facing each other in the Family Court fighting over access to children, or in lengthy financial disputes.
In additional to the emotional and psychological consequences of a separation, both parties are likely to have concerns about finances, where they will live, the possible loss of extended family and friends – and the support that comes with those connections. The emotional impact on children is often the greatest concern, and for very good reason.
When separation occurs the very best people can become irrational, scared and punitive. It is common for ex partners to make accusations as they fight for access to children or for their share of the estate. Lawyers are often involved. Separation can get ugly very very quickly. Many times we hear in our work as a separation counsellor statements like “This is not the person I was married to” or “I never imagined we would end up with lawyers”.
But it’s not all bad – and separations absolutely do not have to go this way.
This article explains a little about separation counselling – and how it can help you separate well, for the benefit of everyone concerned.
What is Separation Counselling?
There are several different types of separation counselling that we do at the Sydney Couple and Family Specialists:
Helping a couple to separate: Sometimes we find that despite marriage counselling, either one person or the couple together decide to separate. If there are no children involved, then separation counselling usually only takes about three sessions. It’s a process where we help the couple to make decisions about things like living arrangements, announcing their separation to loved ones, and seeking other professional help if they have financial disputes. Sometimes the process is simply about offering the couple support to separate without negative or nasty behaviour. We help the couple set ground rules about contact, friendship groups, extended family, pets and new partners. We also educate the couple on the grieving process, what to expect when grieving and how long to expect to be grieving. At times one person will request individual sessions to support them through the process. Getting individual counselling after a separation is very important if you are vulnerable to depression, anxiety or have other mental health challenges. Or you didn’t want the separation, or the separation comes with trauma attached like your partner having an affair.
Separation counselling with children involved: When there are children involved, separation becomes more complicated and can easily escalate to all-out war if not managed well. The Family Court is currently three years behind with applications over access to children and financial disputes. The biggest casualties are the children whose lives are suspended while this plays out. At the Sydney Couple and Family Specialists we see many separating couples who have been mandated by the Family Court to come to see one of our Family Therapists. We also see separated families who have self-selected to come because their children are being adversely affected by the separation process and perhaps the interactions between their parents.
When we work with parents who are separating, we educate them on the developmental needs of their children. We help them set ground rules around communication. We help them make decisions about their children that are in the best interests of the children and their relationship with each parent. We may also interview the children involved and give them a voice so they are heard by their parents. And we help parents set up ground rules around dating new people and how to introduce children to new partners and so on. Many people tell us that accessing separation counselling at the beginning of their separation was an important step in the right direction and helped their children transition through this distressing phase.
Separation counselling for new step-parents:
Finally, separation counselling is very helpful when a new step-parent becomes involved. Sometimes this is blended family work and sometimes this is step-parent work. Regardless, many parents make the mistake of not accessing separation counselling before they introduce new partners to their children. Step-parents are often not equipped to manage their feelings and thoughts around children that come with a relationship. It is vital that before a parent makes a decision on a new permanent partner, they first find out if this new partner is going to be a good fit for their children.
It is also important that step-parents are supported to step-parent children who already have two parents. It can be complicated and confusing for step-parents, and separation counselling is about educating and supporting step-parents in their new role as a partner of a separated parent. At the Sydney Couple and Family Specialists, we teach step-parents how to respond to step-children, what to expect from their step-children, how to form a bond with step-children and how to communicate their thoughts and feelings productively to their partner. We also help parents and step-parents to understand boundaries and limitations on certain areas. And how to navigate through tricky stages in the child’s life.
Do I Need Separation counselling?
If you’re currently going through, or have recently gone through a separation, you may benefit from some separation counselling. If you are going through a separation and have children, separation counselling is perhaps the biggest single area to invest your time and money in – it’s a lot cheaper than ending up in the Family Court and it also is a lot cheaper than hours and hours of future counselling for your children if your separation goes badly. As with most situations, the best results are often achieved when separation counselling starts early, as soon as you have made the decision to separate. Many people tell us they regret not accessing separation counselling when they first separated or re-partnered. The people who say that most often are the future step-parents.
If you’re still unsure about whether you need separation counselling, consider the following points. If any of them describe you, you can definitely benefit from separation counselling:
- You do not communicate well with your ex-partner and it is affecting your children.
- You have concerns about your child’s relationship with the other parent or new step-parent
- Your children do not want to visit the other parent’s house and you don’t know how to manage this.
- You argue with your ex-partner over disciplinary methods and other parenting matters.
- Your children have relayed negative things your ex partner has been saying about you.
- Regardless of any legal process you may have already completed, you still don’t feel like you have enough access to your children.
- Your children do not have a connection to your new partner and consequently, you are worried about losing either your child, partner or maybe both.
- You’re concerned that your ex-partner may turn your child against you.
- As a step-parent, you have concerns about your partner’s methods of parenting.
- You have concerns with how your child’s step-parent is parenting your child.
- As a step-parent, you are struggling to connect with your step-children.
- You have a new partner and are unsure as to how you will introduce them to your children.
- As a step-parent, you do not feel support from your partner when it comes to their children.
- You are in the process of mediation or you have or will be presenting to the Family Court.
If any of the above points strongly resonate with your own personal situation, you should seriously consider receiving some separation counselling – if not for you at least for your children. At the Sydney Couple and Family Specialists, we have witnessed many child/parent relationships break down because parents have failed to seek separation counselling. And sometimes the damage is so great that estrangements between parents and children last for many years.
How can separation counselling help me and my relationships?
Healthy communication is the foundation of close connected relationships between people. And separation counselling is about teaching those communication skills to all parties. Separation counselling also helps parents to make decisions at a time when it is easy to become overwhelmed emotionally. Good decisions reduce resentment between people and less resentment means a greater chance of good future relationships – even between ex partners.
In separation counselling, we also work with children to help them understand decisions their parents have made. This work really increases the likelihood of both parents remaining close and connected to their children.
You may feel overwhelmed or even threatened at the thought of separation counselling. Perhaps you worry that you couldn’t possibly be in the same room at your ex partner or you are too angry or don’t believe it will improve relationships or your children’s lives? But our clients tell us that legal processes are far more stressful than separation counselling. And if legal processes don’t go well, you may end up having separation counselling anyway. If your intentions are good, then the counselling process is typically productive and positive. Most of the time good intentions are there for all parties right at the start of separation – that’s why it’s important to seek separation counselling sooner than later.
At the Sydney Couple and Family Specialists, we have processes which allow for separated parents to not be in the same room at all if we believe it will make a situation worse either for them or for their children. We work within firm parameters and are very clear about the steps parents should take in order to have the best relationship outcomes for concerned – particularly the children.
Why use Sydney Couple and Family Specialists?
As the name suggests we are specialists in the fields of couple and family work. This means our therapists have had years of experience working with separating couples, separated parents, step-parents, step-children, step-families and blended families. We are familiar with the Family Court processes and work with best practice when it comes to advising and educating our clients on matters which may involve litigation.
We are also experts when it comes to managing clients who are strongly hostile towards each other. We know how to manage conflict in the room, and how to filter out behaviour that is driven by anxiety or distress. All our separation counsellors are in relationships, and we are all parents. We understand what is at stake and we want the best outcome for all involved – especially children.
We are supportive, warm but firm. We can guide you to make the best decisions for your children based on their developmental needs. We can help you to make decisions when you can’t think clearly or are frightened.
We will give everyone a voice.
And we have the skills to repair or build relationships in a positive way.
If you’re going through a separation in the Sydney area and believe you will benefit from separation counselling, please get in touch with Sydney Couple and Family Specialists.