24 May 2015

How Counselling Can Help With Divorce and Separation

by Amanda Williamson

As a professional counsellor I often see clients with issues around family break ups, affairs, problems with ongoing divorce settlements and conflicts about children. These issues often leave people feeling rejected and very vulnerable. Sometimes these issues can tap into old wounds from childhood.

Divorce and separation involves loss for both parties and is one of the most stressful things we can go through as adults. A huge loss like this is akin to a bereavement and it is normal to experience a range of emotions such as shock, denial, anger, guilt, sadness and depression.

The shock is particularly present for those who did not make the choice to separate and it can leave them feeling bewildered and powerless as well as impacting on self-esteem.  Guilt often haunts the person who makes the decision, sometimes for years afterwards, even if the relationship was beyond repair.

Our emotions are there for a reason and we need the opportunity to express them or we can end up stuck with them which can in turn affect our future relationships or sense of happiness. We might not always have the opportunities  in our personal lives to explore emotions without other people imposing their agenda. There may be friends and family members who mean well, but we can feel pressured to be feeling and behaving in a way that others expect of us, despite the fact that grieving is a very individual process.

Some people are used to being the “strong” or “responsible” one and do not feel comfortable sharing their difficulties with anybody in their personal lives.

One of the ways which counselling works for many people is that it provides the opportunity to talk about our inner world of emotions.  A good therapist will help their client to explore what is lying behind symptoms such as depression, anxiety or anger without imposing judgement or an agenda. In paying attention to and understanding these difficult emotions  and how they might be tied up with judgements or beliefs about ourselves we can be in a better place to move on.

There may have been relationship dynamics present in the relationship which continue to play out post separation and divorce. Perhaps one partner is perceived by the other as being controlling or manipulative. Clearly there is a limit to what counselling can do to alter somebody else’s behaviour but it can help people to have clearer boundaries and feel more comfortable in asserting their own needs. If somebody has had a lifetime of shelving their own needs then some coaching in assertiveness can really help them.

Many people are pleasantly surprised at how a different perspective from a trained and experienced counsellor can really help them get on with life in a better place. It is well worth considering, particularly if someone is struggling in the aftermath of a difficult separation.

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