Divorcing Couples and Psychotherapy

By the time a married partner consults with a lawyer, it is usually too late to “save the marriage.” This has been my experience as a clinician. However, it is not too late to prevent or at least reduce the acrimony and the chaos that may ensue during the dissolution. Particularly in cases where children are involved, civilized resolution of financial, custody and visitation matters can prevent more serious psychological harm to all parties. Children are particularly vulnerable to the overt hostility and anger of their parents. In many cases the child may even blame him/herself for the divorce. Some parents, in a fit of anger, want children to take sides or speak ill of the other. This method of fighting can leave scars that last for a lifetime.

Psychological intervention can assist each divorcing partner in managing their anger appropriately. Revenge is a negative emotion that hurts all concerned parties. Psychotherapy also helps the divorcing couple come to terms with the end of the relationship. It can foster a continuing sense of family even though the marriage is ending. Most importantly, it sets the stage for cooperative efforts that are required of both parents in raising psychologically healthy and secure children.

Psychological intervention is also important in divorcing couples who do not have children. Divorce is a major life stressor. The end of the marital relationship even a bad one is experienced as a loss and loss is usually associated with depression. The most healthy individual will experience clinical symptoms associated with divorce. It also causes huge changes in normal routine, in social and economic life, and in self-perception. Friends are no longer available. Standard of living may be reduced. One may have to move to a different community. One may have to learn how to “date,” cook, clean, intensify parenting, or take a second job.

To many divorce is a sign of failure or shame. Some individuals may experience guilt and want to punish themselves through drugs and alcohol or social isolation. Others may not consider themselves worthy of love so they live their life alone. Still others may preoccupy themselves with their physical looks or possessions. It usually takes one to three years to effectively adapt to all the changes caused by this life event. Psychotherapy can assist in lessening the nature and extent of problems associated with divorce and enhance effective coping skills. It may also prevent emotional disorders and stress related physical disorders.

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