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Preparing for divorce

The marriage vow “for better or for worse” suggests that marriage involves a commitment to a positive adjustment. Mental health professionals reflect the view that divorce should also involve the same. The new concept of divorce therapy is to work toward dissolution of the relationship in such a way as to enhance well-being. There is not much literature in the field of divorce therapy. However, most authors agree that divorce has three stages.

Dr. Douglas Sprenkle in his article “The Clinical Practice of Divorce Therapy” presents three stages of divorce: pre-divorce decision making, divorce restructuring and post-divorce recovery. Dr. Sprenkle presents a psychological “do list” to help in the treatment process of divorce.

• Accept the end of the marriage. The cornerstone of long-term adjustment is accepting that one is not, and will no longer be, married to one’s ex-spouse.

• Achieve a functional post-divorce relationship with the ex-spouse. This entails “making peace” with the ex-spouse. While an ongoing relationship is unnecessary, if there are children, parents must be capable of separating parental and spousal roles.

• Achieve a reasonable emotional adjustment. While divorce inevitably entails negative emotional consequences, it is important that divorcees not get stuck in long-term self-blame, guilt or anger.

• Develop an understanding of their own contributions to the dysfunctional behavior that led to the failure of the marriage. Awareness of personal responsibility, ways in which the marital struggle may be linked to family-of-origin issues and reasons for choice of mate are issues that are fruitfully pursued.

• Find sources of social support. The divorcee needs to develop formal and informal contacts with individuals and groups who provide emotional support or material resources while escaping the temptation to deny stress by developing another premature intimate relationship.

• Help their children adjust to the loss without triangulating them or nourishing unrealistic expectations. Parents should learn the “dos” and “don’ts” of child management.

• Use the crisis of divorce as an opportunity for learning and personal growth.

• Negotiate the legal process in a way both people feel is reasonably equitable.

• Develop physical, health and personal habits consistent with adjustment for anyone. This includes issues related to dealing with alcohol and drugs, sleep, eating habits, hygiene and grooming, decision making, job performance and financial management.

Following these suggestions can help ease the pain of divorce, which is very painful, and leaves the individual very vulnerable.

If one enters a relationship prematurely, there is a great risk that their sexual and other physical needs will be mistaken for their real needs such as security, acceptance, having someone who cares and understands, and companionship.

Finding true friends during this time is most important. One must realize that the friends with whom you share your deep pain can be someone of the same sex. A newly divorced woman crying on the shoulders of a “caring man” exhibits a high-risk behavior. There is a 50-50 chance that he will take advantage of her vulnerability. There are too many divorcees who become sexually active within weeks after the death of a spouse simply because it is “comforting”. A year later, they awake from a nightmare of pain and confusion after discovering that they were only being used. Once again, avoid emotional entanglements immediately after divorce.

Psychologist Constance Ahrons explains, “The most grueling disruptions occur during the first three transitions—the decision, the announcement and the separation. Deciding to divorce, telling your spouse and your family and leaving your mate form the core of the emotional experience. These three transitions are characterized by ambivalence, ambiguity, power struggles, soul searching and stress. Even childless partners feel out of control and crazy during these initial transitions.”

Here are a few ideas a person going through a divorce should discuss with a lawyer:

• Custodial arrangements for the children

• Visitation/parenting time

• Children’s medical, dental, hospital and pharmaceutical expenses

• Child support

• Ex-spousal support

• Division of real estate, transfers and deeds

• Dealing with debts

• Automobiles

• Restoration of maiden name

• Lawyer fees or any other expert fees

• Life insurance policies as protection for child support payments and property payments in the event of death

• College education for children and/or spouse; and

• Payments of summer camps and/or religious training and/or upbringing or other special situations involving children.

It is imperative that persons going through divorce do not bottle up their feelings. Usually, newly divorced women discuss the feelings freely. On the other hand, men are more likely to hide their feelings in workaholism and alcoholism. The divorce experience is a shocking one to all. It is a loss of status, loss of shared life, loss of a dream and loss of income.

Far too often one partner claims that he or she wants the children with them more often or wants equal time. However, they are only using the children as props to make them look good. They bribe them with sweets, give them gifts they want, but do not really sacrifice spending time with them. This is not good for children.

A divorced person is a normal individual with all the basic needs and functions as any other human being. It would be a great advantage for the divorcee to seek professional counseling to ease the pain and shock of the new life.

• Barrington Brennen is a counseling psychologist and marriage and family therapist. Send your questions to question@soencouragement.org or call 242-327-1980 or visit www.soencouragement.org.

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