You “coupled.” Divorce/separation requires that you “un-couple.” Before we go any further with jumping into emotions, let’s get clear about the complexity and levels of “uncoupling.”

That way, you’ll know what skills you’ll need, ideas to help ground you and strategies for self-soothing along the path. You were married, committed, involved day-to-day, 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 includes some or all of the following:

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

Untangling your adult/spousal relationship has many dimensions with the potential for far-reaching impact. And because you have children, you’re called to do this “uncoupling” while building a “coParenting 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 re-cycling conflicts, the familiarity, pet-names and “we-ness.” We hope to support you in abandoning the old and rewriting your coParenting process for the new. No small task, and often accompanied by a great deal of wrestle, loss, anger, grief and sadness.

“Uncoupling” takes time and you and your coParent may be on a different timeline. For the spouse who chooses to leave, he/she may have been “leaving” the marriage mentally, emotionally, physically for two to five years before requesting a divorce/separation. This is disconcerting to understand; startling to realize. 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 a attempting to find his/her bearings.

Sensitivity to the emotional process of your coParent in the early stages can go a long way in establishing a strong, positive coParenting relationship for the long term. Recognizing the value of “uncoupling” and working together to “uncouple” benefits everyone—including 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/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 coParent is likely to feel on his/her own to do all the uncoupling alone, picking up the pieces of what often feels like a shattered familywhich is actually a family in divorce/separation transition.

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 an integrated sense of family for the kids, or done unskillfully, exaggerates the rift in the family. If we’re successful, you’ll learn to tease apart your feelings about this person as a former-spouse, from feelings about this person as the kids’ other parent. By separating your feelings for your former-spouse from your feelings about him/her as a parent, you have a much greater chance of maintaining an integrated sense of family for your kids.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Karen Bonnell’s book, THE PARENTING PLAN HANDBOOK.


About Karen Bonnell

Karen has over 25 years of experience working with individuals, couples, and families facing transition, loss, stress and change. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Karen has been Board certified and licensed as an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner since 1982. She served on the faculty of University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University & Seattle Pacific University before beginning full-time private practice in 1984. She continues to be a provider of Professional Continuing Education to both health care and legal professionals.

Karen served on the Board of King County Collaborative Law and Collaborative Professionals of Washington. She is a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and Academy of Professional Family Mediators.

Her work is found through Unhooked Books: