Mental Health Considerations & the Dissolution of a Family
May is Mental Health Awareness month, and there’s little doubt that changes in a family’s structure presents a mental health challenge to everyone impacted. In her most recent podcast, “The Emotions of a Family Divided,” Kate Reese had a great conversation with Phyllis Palombi, LMFT, MS, a marriage and family therapist in the Northern Virginia area. These two experts talked about some of what they each know about the emotional toll and the benefit of working with trained professionals to get through this difficult phase.
Like Grief, Divorce Emotions Come in Phases
For most couples, the decision to separate doesn’t happen overnight, and usually, one person gets to that point before the other. Coming to terms with the end of a union is difficult, and denial is often the first phase. A common emotion that drives actions and decisions is anger, which can be a reaction to the hurt experienced at the failure of the relationship. Even if a party wants out of the relationship, guilt also comes from looking at one’s own role and circumstances. Finally, many people experience depression and anxiety as part of the process. Working through all of these emotions with a trained therapist can help.
It’s Not Just the Couple Dividing
When a union ends, the entire family is impacted. Children of all ages need to come to terms with a new situation and grieve the loss of the fantasy of a family unit that probably included some good times. However, research has shown that children have better outcomes from a low conflict separation than from the parents staying together. As the process proceeds and is finalized, children need to learn how to relate to their parents and handle the many changes. Parents need to help establish new rituals around holidays and make and communicate any changes to issues like education and vacations. In addition, relatives like grandparents may have reactions to the separation that impact the reset of the family, so parents and children need to cope with these additional changes.
Don’t Go Through the Challenge Alone
Both Kate and Phyllis agree that a permanent separation, and all its emotional landmines, is better handled with professional help. In addition to working with an attorney, taking care of your mental health while going through this process can help make it less difficult. By also working with a trained mental health professional, the natural, but complicated feelings can be dealt with instead of getting in the way. A mental health professional can help a party figure out what they want and decide whether they are taking a position in the separation that comes from need or anger. They can act as a translator of feelings, which helps to reach an understanding of what is happening and gain some assurance that there will be life afterwards.
Make Mental Health a Part of the Divorce Process
Collaborative law is the only process where a mental health professional is included. Working with a couples’ counselor or in individual sessions, the parties can proceed through what is generally thought of as a “kinder gentler divorce.” Processing the emotions and working through the relationship will always be hard in the beginning, but it can shorten the divorce and eliminate damaging escalation. In collaborative law, there is space to talk through feelings, so results are often more fair – not necessarily balanced, but they meet interests and needs which creates a comfort for each party that they are going to be ok.
If you are considering terminating a long-term relationship or a divorce, working with legal and mental health professionals can be a huge help in achieving a satisfactory outcome. If you have questions about your situation, contact Reese Law to talk about your options.
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