When a couple feels that they can no longer live together, it’s all too easy to forget about the needs of the children. The reality is, however, that divorce almost always affects children negatively and in a significant minority of cases can lead to serious emotional and behavioral problems. If your marriage or relationship is in trouble, you simply cannot afford to leave your children’s needs for later. That’s not to say you should ‘stay together for the kids’. Children who grow up in unhappy argument-filled households aren’t any better off for it. What I am saying, however, is that your children’s needs have to be considered now, not as an afterthought. Fortunately, therapy at this crucial stage can make a real difference.
The first step: discernment counseling
Sometimes divorce is the right decision for everyone, children included, but not always. There are many couples who go through what seems like an impossible patch and go on to build a healthy family life together. There are others, unfortunately, who choose divorce and end up bitterly ruing their decision. Discernment counseling helps you understand each other and decide on a direction for your marriage: whether to divorce or give marriage counseling one last try to make it work. It will help you make the right choice based on a realistic assessment of what life will look like, either together or apart.
One of the factors that will be considered in discernment counseling is how you will bring up your children. Raising happy and well-adjusted children after a divorce can be done, but it’s hard work. It requires a shared commitment to keeping to timetables, not competing for the child’s love, not using the child as a weapon, maintaining consistency in imposing rules and boundaries, and a lot more besides. In short, it’s a lot of work, maybe less work than what would be involved in staying together. Or maybe not. Similarly, the decision to stay together necessitates making changes for the good of your children. It is not OK for children to witness endless domestic arguments or spend each day wondering why daddy and mummy don’t talk to each other.
What discernment counseling gives you is a realistic assessment of what both staying together and getting divorced entails in terms of doing the best for your children.
If you decide on divorce: divorce counseling
Divorce counseling may sound counter-intuitive, but it may prove to be the best investment you ever make. Acrimonious and messy divorces play havoc with the mental health of the ex-couple and have an even worse effect on the children. Making sure that the divorce process happens in a civilized manner pays lifelong dividends. Whatever happens 10 years down the line, I can guarantee you that you won’t be wishing you shouted at your ex-partner more; you’re children certainly won’t either.
As well as getting through the early months without traumatizing everyone involved, divorce counseling is the best forum for setting fair, amicable, and effective arrangements for looking after the children. When childcare is shared in a way that respects the needs of the children, as well as those of each parent, it is a lot easier to stick to, potentially helping you avoid countless disagreements down the road.
Finally, divorce counseling gives you the tools to help your children cope with this transition. Even if you do everything right, divorce imposes a burden of stress and confusion on the child. This doesn’t have to be a disaster; after all, every child experiences stress at some point growing up. The key thing is learning the skills you need to help comfort, support, and nurture the skill of resilience in your children.
Ultimately, when it comes to the well-being of your children, the most important decision you have to make is not whether to say together or get divorced: it’s whether, whatever choice you make, you decide to do it the right way or the wrong way. If you choose to stay together, then couples therapy is a must, but therapy is also invaluable if you make the other choice to.
By making the best decisions for your children, you are also making the best decisions for yourself. Contact Dr. William Ryan today for compassionate, experienced couples therapy and discernment counseling in Brooklyn.