One of the things that I have noticed over the course of my career as a family law attorney is that people going through the divorce process have an unwillingness to go to therapy even though they could benefit greatly from the process. “I don’t need help, I’m dealing with it” or “I need a divorce, not therapy” are refrains I have become used to hearing.
What seems counter intuitive to me, though, is that seeking counseling after the death of a loved one has no stigma attached, while many individuals going through divorce believe getting therapy after the death of a marriage does. The goals of the two are the same: To help people get on with their lives, and when children are involved, helping their children deal with these significant changes in their lives as well.
One shouldn’t have to feel embarrassed about getting help.
If you are having a difficult time coping with a divorce or with the changes in your life that are the result of a divorce, guess what. That’s normal. A divorce is a traumatic event in a person’s life and it takes time and often outside help to heal. The good news is that you’re not alone. It is natural in your position to need someone who will listen to you and help you adjust to your new life and the death of your old life. Seeking help in your time of emotional need from a professional is not only nothing to be ashamed about, but in a lot of cases, the most prudent step you can take. Even if your soon to be ex-spouse tries to make it an issue in a custody dispute, chances are that the court won’t see it as an issue, because the Judge gets that you are seeking help to better adjust, and that is something to be commended not condemned.
If children are involved, they need someone to talk to.
Children are not always “resilient” as is commonly claimed. They may try to act brave, but imagine how difficult and confusing it is for a child to be caught in a tug of war between two parents, going from one house to another, or not getting to wake up in the same bed every morning. Many parents think their children don’t need therapy because the child can talk to them, but seriously, if your parents were going through a divorce, would you want to talk to mom about dad and vice versa? Would you feel comfortable telling your parent you aren’t happy with him or her? Children of divorce have their own set of issues and you should be open to your child seeing a mental health professional.
Your actions affect your children.
Consider the harmful effect on the children when parents don’t communicate well. For example, something I’ve seen over and over again is the “I don’t even mention him/her” syndrome.
“My child is secretive about what happens when she is with my ex and whenever we discuss her feelings she tells me one thing and tells my ex something else. She can’t know how much I hate him because I never bad mouth him. In fact, I don’t mention him at all.”
If you think not mentioning your ex is helping your child, you are wrong. This type of behavior teaches children that they can’t mention their other parent when they are with you because it is a taboo subject. They get that you don’t like your ex and your child is worried that if she takes your ex’s side not only will your feelings be hurt but that you will get angry as well. Not mentioning the other parent is the same as bad mouthing him or her.
Another trap that is easy to fall into is<strong> “I don’t interfere” disease</strong>.
“I’m not going to interfere. I’m not going to tell my children they have to abide by our parenting plan and go with their other parent because I’m not going to take sides.”
If you think this is not taking sides, you are mistaken. By not telling the children they have to go, you are telling them they don’t have to go. In most states, the parent with residential/physical custody is obligated to have children abide by the parenting plan and if they don’t obligate the children, the residential parent is in violation of the parenting time agreement.
You may not even realize that you’re placing your children smack in the middle of your divorce issues, but a therapist can help show you how to better handle these discussions with your children so that you do not transfer negative messages to them, however inadvertently.
Going to therapy will make your life easier.
So many of my clients have come into my office angry, and everything they do in the divorce process is motivated by that anger. There are others who are depressed and so crippled by it that they want other people to make their decisions for them. In both situations neither is happy with the final decisions/agreements. Some divorcing individuals have difficulty moving forward, and again the inability to move forward affects their ability to go through their divorce process. Most clients vent to their divorce attorney but really? Why are you paying your lawyer $250, $300, $400, $500 an hour to vent your anger when you could be paying the therapist for a hell of a lot less?
Whether it’s a mediation session or a settlement conference or your attorney is trying to have a meeting with you and you have all this anger, how can you reach a proper settlement? Or if you’re so depressed, how can you reach a settlement? If you are stuck in the mud because you can’t move forward, how can you make the best decisions for your future?
In my perfect world, both parties would seek therapy to guide them through the difficulties of divorce and help them learn how to deal with each other as divorced parents. lf divorcing clients could be more civil to each other and were able to think clearly while negotiating the issues, they would save so much time and money. In the Collaborative law process we have mental health professionals who are trained as coaches to help the parties deal with each other in a more civil manner. Even parties who are not divorcing through the collaborative process still can benefit from the training and experience of these individuals.
Almost all of the members of a divorcing family can benefit from therapy and depending upon the circumstances, insurance may cover some or all of it. From what I have seen in my practice, just having a professional there to listen to and talk you through what you’re feeling provides benefit. <strong>Don’t let your fear of being labeled prevent you from seeking the therapy you need.
By Lorraine Breitman