I received a panicked call the other day from a father who was recently separated from his wife, fearing it might lead to a divorce. I had been working with him to assist him in coping with this devastating experience.
As if this was not enough stress in his life, he now had to manage moving out of his home, rearrange finances to accommodate two houses and deal with new concerns about his children.
“I’m not calling about me this time,” Bradley said. “I’m calling for my kids.”
“What is happening?” I asked.
“She’s telling the kids a bunch of bad stuff about me,” he said. “Now when they come to see me they are angry and blame me for the separation.”
“Bradley,” I said, “many children respond to a separation or divorce with immediate anger. Their hearts are broken and they are angry about what is happening to their world.”
Bradley expressed his understanding about this.
“But, I think it’s more than that,” he continued. “My kids are being told far too much. She’s telling the kids that I’m the one causing this situation, that I don’t love their mother anymore. She’s telling them that I’ve found somebody new, which isn’t true at all. It’s really confusing for the kids.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” I added.
“There’s more,” he said, clearly frustrated. “She is telling the kids that I won’t give her the money she needs to buy things. I’m giving her exactly what we agreed upon and don’t know why she would even say that. I don’t know why she is talking this way to our kids.”
“Separation often brings out the worst in people,” I commented. “She is probably anxious herself and her world has been turned upside down. It seems like she is on fire and that fire is bring transferred to your children. We need to see if she would be willing to talk to us so that this situation doesn’t become even more flammable.”
“Seems like it’s a little too late for that, Doctor,” Bradley said. “Seems like she is already out of control.”
“Maybe so, Bradley. But, we can try to put this fire out and save your kids from needless heartache. They already have enough on their plates without getting caught in the crossfire between you two.”
I instructed Bradley to contact his wife to see if she would be willing to have a counseling session, focused specifically on their children. I explained to him the value of a Therapeutic Separation, where a couple orchestrates how they want the separation to occur, causing as little damage as possible to themselves as well as the children. Knowing that their relationship was volatile, handling their interactions with their children held all the potential of hurting them unnecessarily.
Let’s consider some things to remember if you have children and are facing separation or divorce.
1. Your children are innocent and need to be protected.
While you may be experiencing acrimony with your mate, your children must be protected. Step outside yourself and make the needs of your children paramount. Contain your hard feelings, ideally keeping the option open for possible reconciliation.
2. Resist any intention to get even with your mate through your children.
Again, even though you may be experiencing anger and hurt with your mate because of the separation or what has happened in your marriage prior to the separation, refuse to use your children as pawns in any power struggles. They need and deserve your protection.
3. Create normalcy.
In a situation where their world is turning upside down, create a center in the eye of the storm where your children can experience normalcy. Do everything you can to keep your children in the same school, near their friends, attending the same church they did before the separation.
4. Create unrestricted access to each parent.
While you may be tempted to withhold visitation out of bitterness toward your mate, don’t do it. Even if you believe you are doing so for the well-being of your children, consider such actions carefully. Often these actions are tainted with your own bitterness toward your mate, with bitterness and resentment spilling over onto your decisions about your children and your mate.
5. Get help/support for yourself.
If you adequately take care of yourself, you’ll be less likely to place your feelings on your children or use them inappropriately for a support system. Children need to be allowed to be children, even more so during a separation when they tend to regress emotionally.
6. Remember that you are still a family.
Regardless of what happens between you and your mate, your children have one father and one mother. You are a family, and there may still be possibilities for reconciliation. Don’t destroy these possibilities by acting passive-aggressively toward your mate. Don’t fuel any fires, seeking opportunities to create peace.
Marital separation is a traumatic experience, affecting everyone. Stay focused on what you need to do to take care of your children, as well as yourself. Keep possibilities open for reconciliation, refusing to enter into any angry power struggles with your mate. Your children deserve two healthy, stable parents, and you can do much to give that to them.
Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my website www.marriagerecoverycenter.com and yourrelationshipdoctor.com. You’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled marriage, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.