You would think that a domestic violence educator would be familiar with divorce counseling. While I hear many emotional stories from my clients about their relationships and marriages, I focus on the issue of power and control, and moving from power and control to a position of offering choice, and I believe that is what divorce counseling ultimately ends up working to establish.
Actually I am not at all familiar with the ins and outs of divorce counseling, so I really enjoyed the following article by retired judge Ann Kass.
"I often surprise divorcing couples, or couples who were divorced long ago but who are back in court, by suggesting that they get "divorce counseling." The most common reaction is confusion because they don't know there is a difference between "divorce" counseling and "marriage" counseling.
Marriage counseling is aimed at keeping a marriage intact. Divorce counseling is aimed at taking a marriage apart, but doing so with dignity and respect.
Divorce counseling is a good idea for almost everyone. It should be strongly recommended for people who have children, and it should be mandatory for people who get mired in their hurt and anger.
People who are stuck in their hurt and anger often show up in court over-and-over, sometimes year-after-year to argue about issues that often seem silly.
For example, one couple had several court hearings to argue about dog ashes. That's right, dog ashes. During their marriage, they had two dogs; both had died and been cremated. Obviously, the pets had been well-loved members of the family, but these folks spent hundreds of dollars to pay lawyers to file court papers and to go to court to argue about ashes: Who should get the ashes? Did each really get half the ashes? Were the ashes each one got really their dogs' ashes?
Obviously dog ashes weren't the issue. Dog ashes were only the conversation piece, the excuse to continue interacting. Couples like this have a need to stay involved with each other. They seem to have things to say to one another, but they aren't conscious of what it is they need to say. So they talk about dog ashes.
Lawyers and judges aren't trained to help these couples figure out what is at the root of the problem, so lawyers and judges find themselves also talking about dog ashes, with straight faces and in legalese. Generally we are able to find the right legal answer to the dog ashes question, but when we solve the dog ashes problem, these couples come up with a new conversation piece. It may be a crock pot or a rocking chair or whether Christmas visitation should start at 7:00 a.m. or 8:00 a.m. Whatever the conversation piece may be, the legal system is set up in such a way that these couples can keep each other in court practically forever.
The only way to really resolve disputes like these is for the couples to get divorce counseling with a professional counselor who can help them find their way to peace. It's a matter of helping them become aware of their hidden agendas--helping them become conscious of their subconscious needs and pains.
Parents who get divorce counseling save money in the long-run. They also can teach their children valuable skills by role-modeling respectful cooperation and perseverance. Most importantly, they can give their children the invaluable gift of peace."
For more Anne Kass articles, go here to select from complete list of 97 articles
Can Divorce Be Cooperative and Affiliative?
So the marriage counseling has not worked, or been tried, and the divorce counseling has begun.
Neutrals have been hired and the couple are working their way through the legal process of divorce.
From my perspective, I think the folks, including the children, involved in this process need to move effectively through a number of internal processes which involve a significant amount of self-awareness, and commitment to effective self-talk and assertive communication, which is not usually easy because of the emotions involved in the divorce process, which can spill over at any given moment.
I think the John and Julie Schwartze-Gottman workshop called The Art and Science of Love offers an excellent model for some of the emotional issues and communication issues which are sure to arise. I recommend their model because it is straight forward, with video instruction and paper and pencil exercises. While primarily focused on marriage counseling, the communication and self-talk modules can be helpful for individuals to model in divorce counseling.
The Gottman's advocate for the emotion of anger that the individuals take their pulse, and if their pulse rate rises above 100 beats per minute, then the couple or the individual needs to take time outs, and calm down.
It is particularly important that men do this, because the male physiology around alertness and aggression demands a minimum of a 20 minute calm down period.
I want to suggest that a biofeedback tool called Heartmath for both or maybe all the participants to the divorce counseling process would be extremely useful, because Heartmath trains an individual to move from an incoherent heart rate consistent with adrenalin and cortisol or stress hormones, which demands a large action, to heart rate variability coherence, which is associated with cooperative and affiliative behaviors.
One can create and sustain heart rate variability coherence for long periods of time with practice, and even one calm person can move the divorce counseling in very positive (not perfect) but positive direction.
So can you imagine all the parties to the divorce getting on the same heart beat, and cooperating to end the marriage and rebuild lives?
Subsequent to the legal process, then I think it is important to attend to a grieving process, and/or reconciliation and forgiveness if need be.
Certainly children need the opportunity to talk about their perceptions, fears, guilt, remorse, anger, and hurts.
Divorce counseling which involves education about or encouraging the experience of the stages of grief I think would facilitate the process of healing.
We as humans are supposed to grieve when we lose something important.
The model of grieving that we are most familiar with is the Kubler-Ross model, which involves five stages, one of which is anger (#3).
It would be helpful it seems to me to educate folks that their anger about the divorce and the other's role in 'causing' it is part of the healing and letting go process, and does not need to be acted out in the community.
And the last stage of the Kubler-Ross model of grieving is acceptance.
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