RESTRUCTURING - Handbook of couples therapy

After a decision to divorce has been made, the therapist’s initial job is to help the couple, and particularly the one who was not the initiator stabilize emotionally and accept the reality of the divorce. Divorcing Couples 421 422 SPECIAL ISSUES FACED BY COUPLES Some individual therapy and medication may be necessary if emotions are disturbing or as in a minority of cases, there are symptoms of acute breakdown or possible violence. Normalizing the feelings of dysfunction, disbelief, and disorientation helps clients realize they are experiencing a temporary, albeit intense, crisis for themselves and their families. If there is significant anger or acting out, using crisis management tools as discussed in the prior section is useful to de-escalate the conflict and stabilize emotions. Ego Reparation Even couples who manage to negotiate feasible divorce agreements and amicable postdivorce relations must first overcome an initially hostile, oppositional dynamic . This conflict stems from many sources that all lead to ego loss. There may be resource or power differentials affecting separation decisions. The adversarial legal system may generate more conflict. Conflict is also engendered by feelings of being hurt, humiliated, abused, or betrayed by a divorcing spouse or shamed and stigmatized by divorce. The sacred is coming undone, and the dream/fantasy one had about the partner and what he or she would do for one is hard to give up. Thus, the symbolic dimension in divorce is also useful to explore in helping parties understand their strong reactions and resistance to divorce. Ego reparation is a primary goal of divorce therapy and a need stemming from the ego loss or object loss in divorce leading to narcissistic wounding. Ego reparation is more easily achieved if the person gives up not only the blame mentality, but the unrealistic ideas and symbols of what the partner and marriage unconsciously represented. Narcissistic repair of self-esteem can become maladaptive to the degree that a person must distort reality to regain a sense of equilibrium. This dynamic work is not typically achieved in the divorce therapy sessions with both partners. These sessions are generally brief and more focused on practical readjustments. Repairing self-esteem is more readily explored in postdivorce individual therapy . In the middle of divorce, however, both parties need to realize they must accept the inevitable and make some necessary plans to move on. Here is where the therapist can help clients in making necessary personal and pragmatic adjustments to being single and living alone. Role Restructuring The practical tasks necessary during and after divorce directly relate to the second primary goal of divorce therapy, helping clients with role restructuring stemming from the multiple role losses in divorce, all of which can lead to disorientation. Role loss after divorce involves more than losing the marital role as husband or wife. The client realizes that there is the potential for loss of extended family, family of origin , a partner in parenting, couple and personal friends, and the societal status of being married. The latter involves both financial and social status. Taking on the single-adult role, although certainly an adjustment, is easier than assuming the single-parent role. For many fathers, it may be the first time they are solely responsible for their children, although for mothers it may be the first time they cannot be in an overseeing role of the father’s parenting behaviors. Another look at Table 23.1 in the Therapeutic Tasks category shows how so much of good divorce adjustment for children involves cooperative co-parenting, parenting that is both affectionate and authoritative by both parents, and that does not parentify the child . When parents cannot achieve this goal, referral to preventive intervention divorce groups for children can be highly effective and lead to less substance abuse, mental health problems, and social maladaptation in later years . The therapist also needs to strongly encourage fathers to stay involved with their children and needs to work with the couple in accepting this necessity and implementing its reality. This may also involve reeducation work with mothers, particularly gatekeeper mothers. Some research has found that the degree of parental support from the former spouse is the most important predictor of continued involvement in a father’s co-parental involvement and interaction, since 70% of mothers retain custody . Mothers may feel greater security and be more cooperative in custody arrangements when there is adequate, regular child support from fathers. In the past 30 years, however, there has been no change in the proportion of eligible children receiving child support, hovering at only 30% in the United States . Therapy discussion can include the fact that children’s well-being has been found to be significantly associated with fathers’ payment of child support . Relationships with same-sex parents may be particularly vulnerable in the event of parental separation, such as when boys experience father loss. Opposite-sex parents constitute a significant influence on adolescents’ depression, leading most clinicians to work toward involving both parents in joint custody . Exceptions occur when there is violence, mental instability, parental abuse or rejection, substance abuse, or problems with relocation. The advice to clients is that their adjustment to separation and divorce and that of their children depends in large part on how the divorce is positively managed. This advice bears frequent repeating in therapy. Parents can be reminded that despite the dissolving of the marriage, they still have one common goal: the welfare of their children. I find it makes an impact in divorce therapy when I tell parents that we have solid research demonstrating that children fare better when they maintain a good relationship with preferably both parents; when they are kept out of the middle of parental conflicts; when there are fewer disruptions in their lives, including economic ones ; and when there are flexible and adaptable custody and child support arrangements that can be easily modified as the life and financial situations of the parents change . Divorcing Couples 423 424 SPECIAL ISSUES FACED BY COUPLES
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