A recent TV series on mediation for separating couples reminded me how distressing the breakup of a relationship can be. The person you planned to spend your whole life with has become someone you do not know. Sometimes you are left wondering if you ever knew them.
Who am I now?
A breakup is a time when you analyse who you are. Personal identity and perhaps even status change as you move from being part of a couple to being single. Even if there is a sense of relief at the ending of a relationship, there is inevitably a sense of loss. When we lose something, we love or have worked so hard for we need to grieve. The bitter irony of separation is that in such a moment of great loss we would usually turn to our partner for comfort.
The break up process creates a time of hyper-arousal. It means we are sensitive to every trigger; a comment, a look, even the inflection in someone’s voice can create distressing feelings. If you have experienced this or know someone who has, you will be familiar with feelings of bitterness, anger and frustration.
Mediation for separating couples
However, for many of the couples in the TV series mediation on its own was ineffective.
Mediation tries to avoid what can be costly and often bitter legal battles between separating couples. Determining the division of financial assets and custody of children through mediation can help settle arrangements out of court.
The effectiveness of mediation relies on the couple reaching a stage where negotiation is possible. The animosity that comes from the emotional hurt, distrust and hyper-arousal can stymie the mediation process. Combining couple counselling with the mediation process can facilitate a more effective negotiation.
Counselling at the end of a relationship
Combining counselling with mediation can be highly effective for 3 particular reasons:
1. Separating amicably
Counselling can help couples to stop, listen and talk about their distress. Acknowledging the joint sadness that their relationship has ended helps each individual create an emotional connection with the other that is not driven by negative emotions.
By jointly analysing and taking responsibility for the relationship breakdown, counselling can help can take the animosity out of the separation and help the couple to begin to end the relationship on better terms.
2. Parenting apart
Particularly where there are children involved, partners can develop such a narrow focus that everything else is out with their perspective. Separating couples often talk about their children but they can be very angry (though of course behind that anger is huge hurt). For some, this can stop them being ‘there’ for their children. Others want to cling to their children and keep them safe, shutting the other parent out: “They left me and the children! How can they be any good”?
For couples with children it is important to jointly parent their children. Deepening their understanding of themselves and their ex-partner through counselling begins this process. Animosity that remains following the separation/divorce will make the process of parenting apart incredibly difficult for each parent and most importantly, for their children.
3. Future relationships
Couples who undergo counselling at the end of their relationship often find that the issues that contributed to the separation date back many years. Counselling aims to pinpoint such issues and help couples properly understand them.
Working with a counsellor can lead to a better understanding of how those issues negatively impacted upon their current relationship. In doing so couples can prepare to make the best of their future relationships with a new partner, their former partner and their children.
Combining counselling and mediation
Mediation is a useful intervention to steer a couple through the immediate arrangements to settle the ending of their relationship. The effectiveness of mediation however can be determined by the ability of the couple to negotiate amicably.
Counselling for separating couples can help them build communication and empathy to smooth the end of a relationship. Thus helping to get the best out of the mediation process. In addition, counselling can enhance personal development for each party, therefore supporting future separated parenting stability and successful relationships in the future.
Counselling and mediation
If you are in or about to enter in to mediation and feel that counselling could be of help, The Spark is able to help. We provide expert private counselling for couples working through mediation and help achieve an amicable separation.