433 N Camden Dr, #400, Beverly Hills, CA 90210
310-751-0616
Alik.Segal@LoveNeedsHelp.com

Divorce Therapy

Divorce with Kids

Is your divorce wrecking your life? Is your divorce making your life unmanageable?

  • Is your divorce interfering with your work? 
  • Is your divorce making you less effective as a parent? 
  • Is your divorce hurting your child? 
  • Is your divorce making you spend your child’s college fund on divorce lawyers? 
  • Is your divorce making you into a person you don’t recognize, somebody who is wounded and angry and capable of great destruction?

Divorce is a legal, financial, and emotional process that can take on a life of its own.  It can feel like all of your decisions are made for you by some one else, and that you have no choice but to take the destructive actions that seem expected of you.  For many divorcing couples, the traditional court divorce leads to mutual assured destruction— mutual emotional and financial destruction under the supervision of the court.

Many books are written on how to help kids through parents’ divorce, and many psychotherapists specialize in working with children whose parents are divorcing.  Problems include regression to developmentally younger behaviors, such as bedwetting, educational problems, and behavior problems. Parents, who want divorce without hurting their children with the divorce process should know of the potential harm and should investigate ways to protect kids.

Why is it so common for divorcing spouses to fall into the trap of destructive court divorce?  

The divorce legal system is designed to enable divorcing couples to fight in court.  It has been designed by legislators and judges who are not trained to concern themselves with divorcing spouses’ feelings, damage to these feelings, and the resulting inevitable emotional trauma.  A few changes in the divorce legal system have been implemented to give court divorce a human face.  These changes do not go far enough to protect children and spouses from emotional trauma.

Many people can be involved in deciding for the couple–lawyers, judges, accountants, financial forensic (court) experts, and psychological forensic (court) experts.  Because so many people are involved and making decisions for the divorcing couple, the divorce process can begin to take on a life of its own and to rule everybody’s lives driving spouses irresistibly toward mutual destruction.  No one, not the judges, not the lawyer, not the experts are responsible for the fairness of the outcome.  The lawyers will say that they are not in control because the judges decide.  The judges will say that they are not in control because they decide based on what has been presented to them, based on the arguments and evidence presented by the lawyers and experts.  No one person is in control and no one is responsible for the fairness of the outcome or the protection of the divorcing family from emotional trauma.

The legal system—the laws, the lawyers, the experts, and judges—orient the divorcing spouses for a fight, the traditional legal cage fight.  These professionals don’t see and can’t imagine another way to operate the divorce legal system because they are neither psychotherapists or mediators.  Divorce court judges will admonish divorcing spouses to avoid fighting words in court, but they will not pay attention to hostile feelings boiling over inside the future divorced coparents, and they would not think to reduce hostility and would not know how to soften the conflict.  Without training in psychology and conflict resolution, judges and lawyers, even if they wanted to, could not guide and enable divorcing spouses to minimize conflict and to help them to get through the grief of divorce. 

How does divorce therapy minimize conflict and helps spouses get through the grief of divorce?

Divorce is a complex life process that has many dimensions—financial, parenting, emotional, and others.  The financial goal of the divorce is to separate finances of the spouses in the most fair, efficient, and (sometimes) in the most profitable way.  The parenting goals of divorce are to protect children from one’s own and partner’s negative feelings–anger, fear, sadness, shame, etc.—and to arrange the children’s post-divorce lives in the way that is most productive for them. 

In order to achieve these financial and parenting goals, spouses need to first achieve the emotional goals of divorce.  The emotional goals of divorce are to minimize or eliminate conflict and to get through the grief of divorce.  High conflict and unresolved divorce grief will unite into a witch’s brew that will yield a harvest of expensive, protracted, and emotionally traumatic litigation.  So how does divorce therapy achieve emotional goals of divorce?

Conflict.  Many techniques for dealing with conflict have been developed for couples therapy, family therapy and for mediation (conflict resolution).  These techniques can be used in divorce therapy to minimize or eliminate conflict. 

Grief.  Marriage is the most important supportive relationship in the lives of married adults.  When the marriage is falling apart, spouses feel a profound loss.  The ruptured family connection makes this loss much more devastating than a loss from being fired from a job.  Grief is routinely dealt with in psychotherapy and, sometimes, the best mediators address grief as well.

If you have tried to explain your perspective to your ex and were unsuccessful, and you want to know why, then you need to understand the three stages in divorce therapy process.   The first stage is crisis intervention and rapport building.  The importance of this stage will be clear once we identify stage two.  The second stage is meaning making and problem solving.  Problem solving is a creative process of getting over obstacles, and meaning making is the process of seeing things differently either as a result of your own thinking or because someone else shared a perspective with you. 

People in a crisis are not open to meaning making (won’t accept ideas from others, not able to slow down and think about a dilemma).  People in crisis also are not good problem solving (are not good at brainstorming and won’t accept solutions from others).  People in crisis tend to regress to fight or flight.  The divorce legal system encourages and enables fighting so people in crisis can’t resist a fight and get stuck in the divorce court, spending there years of their lives and tens or, sometimes, hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Now we are ready to look at why divorce therapy is necessary.  Unless you have rapport with your ex-spouse, and he/she is out of crisis, he/she will not accept your views and your solutions.  The problem, however, is that you, as a divorcing spouse, are coming into the conversation with your ex in a very negative light.  The therapist is coming in neutral.  You have a very long way to go from negative to positive rapport.  This may be an impossible journey.  The therapist has a shorter distance to go from neutral to positive rapport and also has training and experience in doing that.  Moreover, your ex is in a crisis and needs to be taken out of crisis before meaning making and problem solving can be done.  This can only be done by someone with whom your ex has rapport.  That is why the therapist is needed.  With time, as the relationship is repaired, you will learn to build and rebuild rapport with your ex and to take him/her out of crisis so you can talk about problem solving and changing perspectives.

The third stage is visioning, a process of developing a vision of the future relationship.  For example, divorcing parents can spend some time talking about what kind of co-parenting relationship they want to have.  This process builds trust and orients the co-parents for collaboration.   This enables parents to think about children’s needs and work together to do what needs to be done.

The above just scratches the surface of what is involved in divorce therapy and why it works.  Additional strategies and techniques and underlying theory can fill several aisles in a university psychology library.  But the above is enough to show that lots can be done to make the divorce better, faster, cheaper, and safer for kids.

But You May Still Have Questions About Divorce Therapy

Q: Doesn’t the family court provide mediation services and why shouldn’t that be enough?

Los Angeles Family Court provides free mediation for on very limited basis.  Generally, only one hour per couple for parenting time disputes is available.  The design of such a program is to harvest the low hanging fruit—to identify the couples who agree on everything and write down their agreements.  This is not designed to build rapport with the spouses, take each spouse out of crisis, take the time to explain proposed solution (meaning making and problem solving). 

Also, mediation, by its nature, is geared to resolving and issue.  If there are underlying problems in the relationship, i.e. unproductive habits of managing disagreements and unresolved grief over a failed relationship, then mediation is not going to resolve those.  Further conflicts will crop up consuming time and money and creating new hurts and new desire for revenge.

Q:  My ex and I are thinking about starting individual therapy.  Do we still need divorce therapy?

Los Angeles Family Court provides free mediation for on very limited basis.  Generally, only one hour per couple for parenting time disputes is available.  The design of such a program is to harvest the low hanging fruit—to identify the couples who agree on everything and write down their agreements.  This is not designed to build rapport with the spouses, take each spouse out of crisis, take the time to explain proposed solution (meaning making and problem solving). 

Also, mediation, by its nature, is geared to resolving and issue.  If there are underlying problems in the relationship, i.e. unproductive habits of managing disagreements and unresolved grief over a failed relationship, then mediation is not going to resolve those.  Further conflicts will crop up consuming time and money and creating new hurts and new desire for revenge.

Q:  My ex and I are thinking about starting individual therapy.  Do we still need divorce therapy?

Individual therapy is great, and it could have a positive impact on the divorce if it is focused on conflict coaching, grief resolution, and collaborative post-divorce parenting.  It often is focused on other issues and not every therapist does conflict coaching. 

Conjoint therapy (two clients in the room) is better for the divorce and conflict issues.  The primary goal in divorce therapy is to soften the conflict.  This is best done when both spouses are in the room.  Spouses come in defended.  You can imagine them with both fists raised so that they are in front of the face.  Metaphorically, my job is to get those fists to come down at the same time.  Once that happens the conflict stops.  Once your fists come down, and you become less aggressive/defensive and more vulnerable, and once your partner does the same thing at the same time, the vicious cycle of the conflict is broken.  At that point, the undefeated divorce conflict has lost Round 1.  A lot more work needs to be done to help the spouse rebuild rapport, repair the relationship, get the spouses to problem solve together, to be able to explain proposals gently and to listen with an open mind, but lowering the fists is the first step.  Lowering the fists at the same time can only happen in conjoint therapy (two clients in the room).  This is why divorce therapy is preferred.

A separate practical issue is that an unmotivated ex could skip on his/her individual therapy.  If you want to know that your ex is attending, the best strategy is to schedule conjoint therapy.

You can reduce divorce trauma and have a better post-divorce life.

Call me at 310-751-0616 to schedule an appointment or discuss your situation.  I return all voicemails and emails within 24 hours.