Getting started, Separation & Divorce

Child Centric Approach to Separation

This article will help you transition into a healthier co-parenting relationship that keeps the main focus on your children when faced with separation. 
(2 min 57 sec read)

Karen Bonnell
Karen is a coach that has over 25 years of experience working with individuals, couples, and families facing transition, loss, stress, and change.

Separation requires one to “uncouple,” taking one on a venture through complex levels and emotions. By understanding the complexity, one can decipher needed skills, ideas and strategies, in order to reach a level of self-soothing. This will help you transition into a healthier co-parenting relationship that keeps the main focus on your children. 

Prior to separation, you were married, committed, involved daily and wrapped together in dreams of the future. You slept next to each other. Your breathing found a rhythm together, your biology intertwined. This may have extended across many months or many years.

The journey from coupled to uncoupled may include:

  • Legally married — legal uncoupling, or “divorce completion”
  • Religiously or spiritually married — uncoupling with or without actual ceremony
  • Emotional connection — emotional uncoupling which often occurs over time through “letting go”
  • Physical/physiologic connection — physical or physiologic responses to uncoupling, which often requires physical separation, time to heal and settling of your heart and nervous system
  • Other possible connections: owning a business together — restructuring the business; extended family/community involvement — negotiating participation in shared groups and shared relationships, resulting in unique and potentially complicating circumstances to resolve.

Untangling your spousal relationship has many dimensions with the potential for far-reaching impact. And because you have children, you’re called to do this “un-coupling” while building a “co-parenting relationship.” This can present difficult challenges.

You’re called to break the spouse intimate-partner bonds — the practices and patterns of “coupling”. You’ll need to re-configure many of the ways you’ve related to one-another — the shortcuts in decision-making developed out of efficiency, the recycling conflicts, the familiarity, pet-names and “we-ness.” Abandoning the old and rewriting your co-parenting process for the new is no small task and often accompanied by a great deal of wrestle, loss, anger, grief and sadness.

“Uncoupling” takes time and you and your co-parent may be on a different timeline. For the spouse who chooses to leave, they may have been “leaving” the marriage mentally, emotionally, physically for two to five years before requesting a separation. This is disconcerting to understand. Consequently, the “leaver” is often in a very different emotional state than the person who is “left.” This discrepancy can be a huge source of pain — especially if the “leaver” moves forward and into a new relationship while the other parent is attempting to find their bearings.

Sensitivity to the emotional process of your co-parent in the early stages can go a long way in establishing a strong, positive co-parenting relationship for the long term.

Recognizing the value of “uncoupling” and working together to “uncouple” benefits everyone — especially your children. While the “leaver” often experiences relief and readiness to move on, the spouse who feels “left” and the children are generally much further behind in adjustment to the divorce or separation-related changes.

When the “leaver” moves forward too quickly for the other’s emotional adjustment, particularly with respect to a new relationship, the former spouse and children often feel “invisible” or abandoned — and that what they had relied on as “family” yesterday has been deleted today. This dynamic can create enormous pain for those who feel left behind. Your co-parent is likely to feel on his or her own to do all the uncoupling alone, picking up the pieces of what often feels like a shattered family… which is actually a family in divorce or separation transition.

“Un-coupling” skillfully while parenting provides continuity in family life for kids. Unskillfully, it exposes conflict. You’re called to do this “un-coupling” while simultaneously interacting with your former spouse about and for the children. Done skillfully, you both provide a new integrated sense of family for the children.

From The Co-Parents’ Handbook by Karen Bonell

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