Now that same-sex marriage is legal in close to one-third of the states and rapidly growing, therapists will also need to consider the nuances of same-sex divorce, and what issues same-sex divorcing spouses will face as a result.
What can we expect to be different about same-sex divorce when it comes to therapy?
The process of therapy in divorce is different for every client, but the steps and actions taken over the course of treatment have similarities across people, regardless of individual characteristics, such as race, sexual orientation or gender.
The issue of same-sex marriage is a highly politicized one, and divorce is, too, without adding the same-sex component. That means there are a lot of emotions at play throughout the course of the relationship that may not be as large of a component in opposite-sex relationships.
That being said, working with same-sex couples does present some issues specific to their situation.
- Divorcing same-sex partners may find they have few family supports during this time period; support lost from coming out and the marriage. It will be important to give a voice to this fear, uncertainty, anxiety. This is part of the exploration that happens in therapy. Marriage and relationships are supposed to be stabilizing. Divorce is destabilizing and to not have the outside support one may have expected – or at differing levels, if one partner still has a strong family network – can give rise to these feelings that come destabilization and being alone.
- Break-ups are harder for same-sex partners. Any break up usually means dividing up the friends – not necessarily spoken, but it tends to happen organically – and it may be more difficult for same-sex partners because these friends may have been part of the “family of choice." This is the concept of creating your own “family” through the people you bring into your life because of the loss of blood family due to coming out, etc.
- More insecurity exists on both sides. Because of difficulties with the divorce process for same-sex couples, which is not an option for all married same-sex partners, uncertainty can come into play with splitting up property, the legal rights afforded each partner, and not feeling the divorce is being handled fairly or without prejudice.
Dealing with the divorce process can be particularly difficult in the course of therapy. Getting each partner to a place of understanding and empathy for the experiences of each other can give a sense of fairness to the dissolution of the relationship. The judicial system, with lawyers and a goal of winning, can be detrimental to the therapy process, which has given rise to the divorce mediation process, a less adversarial approach and may be the only option – for the time being – for partners in states that do not allow same-sex divorce because they do not recognize same-sex marriage.
Beginning therapy at the outset or beginning of the divorce process may seem counterintuitive, but depending on the situation, a divorce does not always mean the end of the relationship, but rather a very different type of relationship.
Brian Swope, MFT is a therapist and co-owner of PhiladelphiaMFT. He works with couples and families facing a range issues and specializes in issues facing the LGBTQ community. His therapy practice focuses on identifying goals and expectations and realizing the tools necessary to accomplish them. Follow Brian at @PhiladelphiaMFT.
It was painful, uncomfortable, and yet one of the most valuable experiences of my life. No one plans on getting divorced, but it happens, and you'll never be the same. The lessons at the end of this dark, difficult tunnel can guide you to a brighter future. If your divorce is anything like mine, total honesty will accelerate the healing and lead to peace (and so does a good divorce coach), even if that's hard to imagine now.
Blame is Easy, But it Doesn’t Help Anything
The lessons at the end of this dark and difficult tunnel can guide you to a brighter future. If your divorce is anything like mine, total honesty will accelerate the healing and lead to peace even if that's hard to imagine now.
Blaming your ex for all of the problems in the relationship is a simple way to shift your own responsibility. A divorce happens for many reasons and it is rare that you get divorced because of one specific reason. In my case, I was going back and forth between blaming myself and blaming my ex.
Young marriages end in divorce roughly 60 percent of the time, according to Dr. Phil. I was too young when I got married and I did not realize the importance of compromise, talking about our differences and working through our problems. The same was true of my ex. We both made the same mistakes, which resulted in the end of our marriage.
Become Resourceful as a Single Parent
Marriage allows you to lean on another individual, but the skills that your spouse provided are often overlooked, and it also causes you to take that person for granted. For example, I did not recognize the efforts my ex took to provide for and secure our family. After the divorce, I realized that I felt afraid being alone in the house. When he left, I spent time looking at several security companies to find ways to protect myself and my children.
Taking another individual for granted only causes strife in a relationship. It puts undue stress on loved ones and ultimately results in a gradual distancing due to the lack of gratitude.
Recovery from Divorce is Possible
Although we agreed to separate and it was a logical choice, I did not realize how hard it was emotionally to get through the tough times. I certainly worried about the future and felt that I had nothing to look forward to. While preparing for divorce, I couldn't imagine how to replace what had been such a big part of my life for so many years. Without the guidance of a divorce mediator, tensions grew throughout the process. By the end of it, I was emotionally and mentally drained, and so began the healing process.
HelpGuide.org suggests that you allow yourself time to grieve the end of your relationship. In my case, it certainly helped when I talked about the situation with family members and allowed myself time to cry. Even though we were distant toward the end of the relationship, it was still emotionally challenging at the beginning. Fortunately, with time those feelings start to fade and you start recovering and healing.
Children Need a Friendly Relationship Between Ex-Spouses
Looking at parenting plan examples provided me and my ex with some concrete ways that made it easier to be the best parents we could be for our children, living separately. I discovered that the best way to work with my ex was to maintain a relationship that was friendly, but business-like. It is not possible to remain best friends, but anger and negative feelings only cause the children to suffer.
Happiness is a Right
The end of the relationship was hard, but it provided a valuable lesson. Happiness is a right, and you do not need to wallow in grief, sadness or depression to recover. Life after divorce requires getting up and getting out. Enjoy your hobbies and love your children. The end of the relationship is only the beginning of the next chapter in your life.
Andrea Taylor is from Grand Rapids, Michigan. She was married straight out of college and had two children before she split with her husband after 6 1/2 years.
In my work as a life empowerment coach, I have the opportunity to talk and work with lawyers and mediators. When I ask them about the challenges they face in their work to support clients in achieving the best possible legal and contractual outcome for their future, one response consistently rises to the top of the list.
Uncontrolled Emotions Can Cost You Dearly in a Divorce
What costs clients money and most interferes with the process of achieving a fair agreement are the emotions that arise in the process. Anger, fear, resentment, frustration and a sense of overwhelm cost couples dearly in terms of money, energy, and the final outcome.
Most people want the divorce process to pass as quickly and as inexpensively as possible. What interferes in achieving these outcomes is the fact that divorce is both a legal and an emotional process. Lawyers and mediators are experts in the legal aspects of divorce, and many work with a team of experts who can assist on all legal and contractual matters including custody agreements, financial agreements and property agreements.
A Divorce Lawyer is Not Trained to Be a Sounding Board for Frustration, Anger and Fear
My lawyer colleagues also say that clients often use them as a sounding board for their frustrations, anger and fears. However, divorce lawyers do not feel equipped to support clients in this way and it costs a great deal to use a lawyer’s time to vent emotions. Plus, with lawyer rates ranging from $300 per hour and up, clients end up paying more for their divorce, and unable to provide suitable support, these conversations with attorneys and mediators often leave clients feeling more powerless, unheard - and with empty pockets.
Your Divorce Lawyer is Not Your Emotional Guide
The emotions that arise during the divorce process are powerful and real and impact all aspects of the process. Fortunately, professional expertise is also available to support clients in this aspect of the divorce process. By the time many people arrive at the decision to divorce, they have already pursued individual and/or couples counseling, and many continue to seek counseling support throughout the process.
This is a positive and empowering decision. So what is the role of a divorce coach? Whereas counseling supports clients in understanding the layers that reside beneath the choices they have made and the habits they have formed, coaching focuses on clear decision-making, creating momentum, and establishing accountability to realize powerful and definite goals.
By the time many people arrive at the decision to divorce, they have already pursued, whether it be individual and/or couples counseling, coaching and many continue to seek support throughout the process. Not only is this is a positive and empowering decision - it can be a significant cost savings in the long run.
Whereas counseling supports clients in understanding the layers that reside beneath the choices they have made and the habits they have formed, coaching focuses on clear decision-making, creating momentum, and establishing accountability to realize powerful and definite goals.
Ready to regain control of your life?
Schedule a free 30-minute phone consultation with Adina Laver, Life Empowerment and Divorce Coach.
In terms of the divorce process, a coach serves as a guide and support at these 5 stages.
- Only one person wants to move forward: In some cases, only one partner feels ready to move forward. The person who wants to move forward can feel frustrated and trapped because they want to move on with their life. The person who is not ready to move forward can feel fearful or like there are still more things to try before divorce. In ether case, coaching supports clients in clarifying what they really want and how to take the next step forward to break the indecision.
- So many decisions to make: Creating the divorce agreement involves making many practical decisions. While these are legal decisions, each one has the capacity to stir powerful emotions. The coaching process enables clients to effectively navigate their emotions so they can make clear decisions that will best serve them in the short and long term.
- Stuck and going in circles: Often times, there are one or two issues that arise in the formation of the divorce agreement that get people stuck. You and your partner have been around and around the issue and just cannot seem to make headway. Coaching is a great support for clients in this situation because it introduces a perspective and way of thinking that can break through the barriers that are keeping you stuck. Coaching helps you find the door through which you can move forward.
- Tired of complaining to friends and family: Regardless of whether the divorce process is highly contentious or fairly amicable, it occupies a great deal of mental and emotional energy. This is normal and appropriate as divorce represents a significant transition in the life of a couple and the family. While friends and family want to be helpful, relying on them for support during divorce can drain positive energy from these relationships and may bring additional negative energy toward you if friends and family feel angry or protective. A coaching relationship is not only a safe and confidential space to vent, but also provides professional support that will leave you feeling empowered rather than angry, frustrated, sad or drained.
- Finding happiness after divorce: Regardless of who initiated the divorce, once this decision has been made and the process is complete, it is time recalibrate and rebuild. While physical separation from a relationship that has not been working often provides immediate relief of some stress for both partners, finding happiness and creating your new life is a conscious choice…it does not just happen. We are creatures of habit and just because your geography or relationship may have changed, it does not automatically mean you will be happier or have the life of your dreams. This happens only when we make the conscious choice to have it. Coaching is a process that enables you to be intentional about the life you want to create!
A Word About Self-Care
Two of the most powerful gifts you can give yourself when going through any major life transition like a divorce are the gift of self care and the gift of intention. Divorce coaching is a powerful way to care for yourself (fill your bucket, as I like to say), so you can keep caring for others and tending to the tasks that need to be done as well as a highly effective way to navigate this emotionally charged process with intention and clarity.
As a life empowerment coach, Adina Laver, MBA, M.Ed, CPC helps individuals in transition, particularly separation and divorce, work past the difficult decisions they typically face. By leveraging individual strengths, Adina helps clients stay true to themselves and their values, especially during times of great pressure and emotionally-charged decisions. Contact Adina at firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to schedule your complimentary 30-minute phone consultation.
Divorce With Children Involved
It's no surprise that parental separation and divorce are difficult and stressful events for children. The emotional effects on children of divorce are many. They often misinterpret what is going on and blame themselves for their parents’ conflicts. Their sense of security and safety is threatened. They feel confused, angry, sad and lonely, as they try to come to terms with the break-up of their family.
Fortunately, when it comes to children and divorce, they tend to be resilient, and with a thoughtful approach by both parents, steps can be taken to minimize the negative impact of divorce. Those include both parents sitting down and talking to the child about the divorce, listening to the child’s concerns, thoughts, and feelings, helping the child maintain positive relationships with both parents, keeping conflicts and arguments away from the child, and avoiding “putting the child in the middle”. Time, love and reassurance will go a long way in helping children cope.
Sometimes, however, despite parents’ best efforts to make the divorce process as smooth and painless as possible, children struggle to cope with divorce. It is normal for children to respond to a difficult situation with emotional and behavior problems, but when these problems become intense and persistent, and when they begin to interfere significantly with the child’s functioning, parents should consider consulting a counselor or therapist.
Divorce Advice with Children
5 signs that children may be having trouble coping include:
1) Feeling sad and crying more than usual
Your child may be sad and cry more, and it may be more difficult than usual to comfort him. He may cry for no apparent reason or in response to what looks to be a minor issue. What makes him cry may not have anything to do with the divorce, but because he is having trouble coping with the divorce, his resources to deal with other smaller problems are diminished.
2) Worrying and feeling scared
Your child may start to worry more. She may be fearful in situations that did not used to cause a problem. For example, she may feel scared to go to bed at night, be more clingy when separating from you, and worry about bad things happening to you. She may appear more insecure and need more reassurance from you than normal. The worries may or may not be related to the divorce, but, in general, her day-to-day functioning seems to be influenced by worry or anxiety more than usual.
3) Withdrawing and losing interest in activities
Some children withdraw and keep more to themselves when they feel stressed. They may stop enjoying spending time with friends and doing activities they used to enjoy. They may become more distant from their family, spend more time in their room, or otherwise do things by themselves. In a sense, your child may try to avoid the whole “divorce situation,” and you may start to worry about what is going on, because your child is not talking to you.
4) Arguing and acting up
Another response to stress can be to act up, argue and become oppositional. Your child may feel angry or out-of-control, and it may show up in how she interacts with you and others. If you find it difficult to manage her behavior at home, and if you start getting calls from school that she is getting in trouble, her behavior may actually reflect difficulty dealing with the divorce. Seeking outside support may help your child learn to talk about her difficulty rather than acting up.
5) Declining school performance
When children struggle with a stressful situation, a decline in school performance sometimes follows. They just have too much on their mind. They have trouble paying attention in class, because they are distracted by what is going on at home. At home, they can’t concentrate on homework, so they fall behind academically. In some cases, they may pretend not to care. In other cases, children feel bad about falling behind, and this now becomes another stressor to deal with. In these situations, it is important to work with the school to make sure staff understand what is going on with your child.
Even though it may be difficult with everything that is involved in a divorce with children involved, it is very important that you remember to keep close tabs on how your children are coping. If you notice a big change in how they are doing emotionally and behaviorally, if what you try to do to support them does not seem to help, and if they are getting worse rather than better, it is good idea to seek help. Contacting your child’s pediatrician or seeking out a local therapist who specializes in working with children is a good place to start.
About the Contributor
This article was posted courtesy of Lene Larsen, PhD. Dr Larsen is a licensed clinical psychologist who works with children, teens, and their parents. She specializes in treating emotional, behavioral, and adjustment problems. She provides individual and family therapy in a supportive manner, using evidence-based practices. Dr. Larsen is a member of the Main Line Family Law Center's Divorce Support Network.
Call (484)380-2645 or visit www.LeneLarsenPhD.com for a complimentary 15-minute consultation. Offices in Haverford, PA and Devon, PA.
Judith E. Rader, MA, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Bala Psychological Resources
Marital infidelity is a common issue which may ultimately give rise to a divorce action being filed. It is also one of the most challenging issues for therapists to handle. When infidelity is involved, both partners are simultaneously grappling with acute and competing emotions, including a combination of shame, grief, fear, anxiety, and anger. The level of physiological, emotional, and cognitive distress may be so high that it threatens to derail any therapeutic effort as well as any effort to amicably resolve a separation or divorce without involving a long, painful and bitter court-contested divorce.
The most useful definition of infidelity encompasses the breaching of an emotional and/or physical relationship boundary. The specific nature of these boundaries varies somewhat from couple to couple and are derived from the explicit or implicit agreements couples make about what is acceptable and unacceptable in their relationship.
Physical contact that does not progress to genital contact may be infidelity. Consistently sharing more of one’s intimate emotional life with a person, whom one is also turned on by, even if there is no touching, may be infidelity. An intense emotional relationship may progress to a physical relationship over time. Even if it doesn’t, an emotional affair can damage the marriage bond. A simple “rule of thumb” is whether someone would feel comfortable describing to his/her spouse the conversation or interaction with the “friend,” including the length and/or the frequency of contact.
Revelation of an affair is a traumatic event for the injured party regardless of whether the infidelity is discovered or disclosed. The injured partner may experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress including flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, racing thoughts, intense anxiety, and difficulty eating, sleeping, and focusing. Flashbacks may be triggered by something as innocuous as being introduced to someone who shares the name of the third party or passing a motel.
The discovery of a betrayal shatters the injured party’s assumptions about their marriage, including beliefs about who their partner is as a person and the meaning of their relationship. Just a few of the agonizing questions and racing thoughts the injured partner grapples with include: How could my partner so calculatingly commit lies of commission and omission to protect an intimate relationship with another? Will there ever be a sense of “We-ness” again? Will I ever be able to trust again? Has our whole marriage been a lie?
Post-traumatic stress symptoms take many months or years to resolve, depending on how emotions are addressed and processed. Paradoxically, the unfaithful partner becomes the healing agent if symptoms are to abate within a continuing couples context.
Symptoms of the Unfaithful Partner
Unfaithful partners are often blind-sided by the depth of crisis that discovery precipitates. The infidelity could only be maintained by using some combination of rationalization, justification, and compartmentalization. The unexpected traumatic responses of their spouse typically obliterate any protective cover that these defenses afforded. Unfaithful partners are suddenly confronted with the breadth and direness of potential consequences such as losing a marriage, losing an intact family, and having their actions exposed to family members and friends. Therapists help them manage and process emerging feelings of fear, guilt, shame, worry, anxiety, and anger. If the affair has been emotionally intense, the unfaithful spouse may need months to mourn the affair, or may attempt to remain in contact with the affair partner. Therapists may intersperse individual sessions amongst regular couple sessions to help each partner process their respective emotions.
Determining Ambivalence or Resolve to Work on the Relationship
The partners’ desire to recommit to and work on their relationship should be gauged throughout therapy. Understandably varying degrees of ambivalence will emerge and recede based on, among other things, the quality of the marital relationship before the infidelity, the injured partner’s ability to process difficult pieces of new information, and the intensity of emotional connection between the unfaithful partner and the affair partner. Normalizing this ambivalence and patiently sticking to helping partners process ever-changing emotions is highly therapeutic at this juncture.
Co-Creating the Story of the Affair
If and when both partners agree to work on the relationship, the task of co-creating the story of the affair begins. Injured partners continue to seek and get answers to any remaining questions. At first glance, this continued attention to clarifying details may seem counterintuitive.
How could determining the number of times extra-marital sex occurred possibly help? What benefit could there possibly be in determining whether there was phone contact with the third party during the couple’s anniversary vacation?
Simply put, human nervous systems have less difficulty processing difficult information than remaining in a perpetual state of “not knowing what’s what”. Hence, the obsessive quest for answers to provide relief from the “not knowing”. When injured partners finally know “what it (the extent of the infidelity) was,” they also blessedly know “what it wasn’t.” And then the important grieving process can truly begin.
Research suggests that piecing together the story of a traumatic event is vital to recovery. The reason support groups and debriefing are so helpful is that they satisfy this basic human need to heal by creating a coherent story of traumatic events and thereby gaining mastery over the previously emotionally unmanageable information.
Therapists encourage and coach the injured party to ask troubling questions. If certain answers do not “add up” or seem incomplete, therapists continually reassure the unfaithful partner of the importance of complete truthfulness in order to heal the relationship injury. While some therapists do not encourage focusing on details of the sexual relationship or obsessive ruminations over details of the events, others support the injured partner determining the level of detail needed. Therapists also encourage complete transparency in current behaviors; for example, allowing the injured partner access to email passwords, cell phone records, etc., until they are able to feel safe enough to let go their vigilance and concern. Because secrets and withholding create barriers and guardedness, the process of collaborating over questions and answers begins to restore intimacy and authenticity to the relationship as partners begin to co-create their new story together.