Divorce has become common in our culture, with almost half of all marriages ending with divorce. It can be a trying time for an entire family, but it can be hard to navigate divorce without some guidelines. Emotions are high, there is an increase in stress and it is the beginning of a major lifestyle transition for everyone involved. There are 5 phases of a divorce that can be helpful to recognize as you transition from married life to single life.

Deciding to Divorce

In a divorce the decision is rarely truly mutual. There is typically a “leaver” or the individual who is initiating the separation and the “opposer” or the individual who may feel a little surprised by the divorce. It is important to recognize that the individual who is initiating the divorce has had time to process a lot of their emotions prior to the actual decision to leave. The individual who may be the “opposer” or the “left”, is processing all of these emotions at once. It is important to recognize that the individuals who are being left may feel vulnerable at this time, have less power, and may be more likely to be in crisis mode at this point of decision making.

Announcing the Divorce

It may take some time for a partner to tell their spouse they want a divorce. This can be a long drawn out process, and sometimes even surfaces as leaving hints about infidelity, with the desire of getting caught to jumpstart the separation. It is important in this phase of divorce that both parties deal with their feelings of grief. It may seem odd to use the word ‘grief’ as no one has passed away, but there will be feelings of mourning the relationship. Each partner will need to mourn their ideal of a “perfect marriage” and the loss of their partner. A psychologist can help with this process and it is not uncommon to utilize a psychologist to help manage the planning process of divorce. It is important that once the decision for divorce has been made, it is helpful to make the separation in a timely manner. This process is particularly important for children who are vulnerable to conflict in this time.

Managing the Chaos

The physical process of separation is a complete reorganization of each member of the family’s life. It is best that this phase be navigated with both partners planning the details of the separation. If one partner were to abruptly leave, it will cause further chaos and leave the remaining partner and children feeling abandoned. Talk through each detail. Begin discussions with the children in an age appropriate manner as a team. Discuss what co-parenting will look like. Discussing finances and the logistics of daily schedules can be helpful in this process. It is important to remember that this is the phase where new roles will be defined and it may still lead to feelings of mourning former roles as a couple.

Establishing a Binuclear Family

A binuclear family is two households, each one headed by one parent. This phase is challenging as you try to navigate a way to reorganize your life to fit into this model. It will be important to prioritize meeting every family members economic and psychological needs. Try to maintain continuity with relationships with extended family and work cooperatively with the other parent. There are 5 types of co-parenting relationships that are common:

  1. Perfect Pals- The relationship is defined by an ability to remain friends and share custody of the children and their responsibilities. These parents are still able to solve problem effectively and have minimal conflict amongst themselves.
  2. Cooperative Colleagues- This relationship is defined as having a friendly and child-focused relationship, but the individuals are no longer friends. These couples may utilize mediation or therapy to solve their conflicts but they are still able to separate their marital and parental roles.
  3. Angry Associates- These couples are child focused and able to manage a working relationship. They still struggle with their marital issues so they often argue which leads to struggles over custody and financial issues. Children often feel as though they have to choose loyalty to one parent.
  4. Fiery Foes- These couples are hostile towards one another. They can no longer successfully co parent. They often view one another as the mortal enemy which leads to loyalty issues for the children and the ending of extended family relationships.
  5. Dissolved Duos- These individuals no longer have contact with one another and have one parent assume all of the parenting duties. They are truly “single parent” form.

Aftermath of the Divorce

After life has reorganized after the separation, the family dynamics will rearrange again if either former spouse decides to remarry or introduce step parents and step siblings into the family dynamic. It will be important to redefine roles and rules for new relationships.

The first two years of a separation and divorce are the most vulnerable to the family members. It is important to work closely with your partner through these times. This will help your children adjust to the divorce more successfully. Divorce is complicated time and having someone to help guide you through the process can be helpful. To book in a time to speak to a psychologist call us on (02) 6262 6157 or book an appointment online.

Related Reading:

Can Media Interfere with our Expectations and Skills in Relationships?
Making the Most out of Couples Counseling
The Importance of Trust in a Relationship

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