Separation often brings forth a myriad of challenges for couples, especially when it comes to co-parenting. Psychotherapists like myself can play a crucial role in guiding separated couples through this complex journey, helping them forge effective co-parenting plans whether formally or more informally. Research emphasizes the importance of post-divorce or post-separation relationships, arguing that the quality of coparenting significantly impacts children’s well-being. This blog looks at some of the pros and cons of getting help from a therapist to help navigate these challenges. It also discusses what you might expect from working with a couples therapist.
As suggested, effective coparenting has numerous benefits for children’s emotional and psychological development. Collaborative parenting with healthy boundaries and constructive communication post-separation can provide a sense of stability and security – which is important for children who often feel powerless, torn, and confused when parents separate. Studies indicate that children benefit from maintaining positive relationships with both parents – providing parents can offer a safe environment, contributing to better academic performance and overall mental health. Psychotherapists can highlight these pros, encouraging separated couples to prioritize their children’s needs and fostering an environment where both parents actively participate in their upbringing.
Coparenting comes with its set of challenges. The emotional toll of separation and conflict from the marriage itself, may result in residual conflicts, affecting the coparenting relationship. Research shows that high levels of conflict between separated parents can lead to emotional distress in children. Psychotherapists must address these challenges, working with couples
Working with these couples — even though well intentions — is often a delicate balance for therapists. While we look to establish a strong therapeutic relationship with our clients — building feelings of trust and safety — this isn’t always easy with former couples who may be unable to see or feel compassion for their former partner’s view.
In our work, I would not only help parents learn better conflict communication skills, but I would do so while working to identify and understand underlying relational factors, communication skills, unresolved conflicts, and emotional reactions, that may impact your ability or willingness to coparent. That is where plans and boundaries can be helpful. It is important for parents to understand they can help their children heal by avoiding dragging their children through their conflict by putting them into the middle.
It’s also important to define goals and expectations for the coparenting relationship. Psychotherapists and couples counselors can facilitate a collaborative process where former spouses share their expectations, discuss parenting values, and outline shared goals for their children’s well-being. This work can help couples establish mutual understanding and a shared vision that keeps the best interest of the children in mind.
From there, we work on building coparenting skills — by teaching communication strategies, conflict resolution techniques, and fostering flexibility. Encouraging joint problem-solving and emphasizing the importance of consistency between households can contribute to a more harmonious coparenting dynamic. Challenges in coparenting therapy are to be expected, and may include resistance from one or both parties, unresolved emotional issues, and difficulties in communication. Navigating power imbalances and ensuring that both former spouses feel heard and respected are ongoing challenges that require sensitivity from the therapist.
In summary, psychotherapists and couples counselors can play a pivotal role in assisting former spouses with coparenting plans and the creation of effective coparenting arrangements that prioritize the well-being of the children involved.