…from a Mental Health Professional’s Perspective
Working as a Neutral Mental Health Professional, on collaborative teams, gives me a unique view of the process and my role. I have learned so many things from parents who are going thru a divorce, or are already divorced, and working to build a strong co-parenting relationship.
It is not unusual, when I first meet people who have chosen this process, to find two things: 1. Emotions are “running very high.” 2. Those emotions prevent the spouses from having positive, productive conversations with one another about any topic, but particularly their children. Both of those things are to be expected when one begins a separation/divorce process. It is one of the many reasons I have respect for those who choose this process; they are struggling with marital emotions yet still want to do the right thing for their children and one another. That takes strength and courage, in my opinion.
I quickly realized, in this role, that spouses can use the time during a collaborative divorce process to work on building some bridges with one another. Those bridges, when built deliberately and purposely, can have long-lasting positive effects on one another, their children, grandchildren and other family members.
Here are two examples of bridge building in this process –
- If people are choosing to separate/divorce during this time of year, it means they must face the holidays very soon. Often, it is quite overwhelming to think about what they will do, what the children will do, what extended family members may do and changing family traditions in some way. I talk with parents about letting the first holiday season be a bridge between what they have always done as a married couple/family and what they may create on their own going forward, in future years. Parents choose all kinds of options to create a bridge such as: a. Sharing part or all of Thanksgiving or Christmas Day together b. One parent has the children on Christmas and the other has them on Christmas Eve (This also allows extended family on both sides to share some of the holiday with the children) c. Both are able to acknowledge to one another that, despite the divorce, the first holiday season needs to be handled gently for all involved d. One parent has the children on Thanksgiving Day and other has them for “Leftovers Day.”
- Another bridge that is often built, sometimes directly and purposely and sometimes subtly, is spouses bridging their inability to talk to one another in a productive manner. Because this process brings parents together to my office to work on the many details for a parenting plan, talking to one another and brainstorming ideas and options is necessary. Many, if not all, struggle with that initially due to the power of marital emotions. Over time, though, most are committed to finding a new way to communicate with the other parent/spouse and are willing to work on doing so.
Bridges help all of us move from one place to another. A divorce is about moving from “one place to another”, in some ways. Some cross that bridge quickly and others need time, support and guidance. The collaborative process offers so many ways to help people build those bridges during a divorce to offer some healing and help create the chance for a respectful relationship going forward.