CBT - Family Breakdown and Divorce

Couple’s therapy: Building Stronger Communication in Relationships

The turning of a year is the time of the resolutions and for some to make more drastic decisions. For me, as a CBT Therapist January brings couples who are thinking about a divorce. The decisive element in this is that they have decided to seek CBT Therapy to give their relationship one more chance.

If you are thinking about this sad event, you are not alone — requests to solicitors to divorce spouses peak in January in the UK, according to Helen Howard, family law specialist at Richard Howard and Co. However, CBT can help.

There are many reasons why this time of year sees so many of us beginning the process of ending our relationships.  Xmas is a time when we’re at close quarters with our partner and families, and stresses which are something CBT has evidence for treating that we endure at other times tend to become unavoidable.  And if we’ve thought Xmas was “the last chance” to sort out our differences and been disappointed with the result, then we may choose the New Year to give up on it and make a fresh start.

And if you’re unlucky enough to be or have been in a violent relationship, the chances are things may have worsened over Xmas.  As Nigel Shepherd, a family law partner at Addleshaw Goddard explains, tensions that surface at Xmas may be increased by large amounts of alcohol that we tend to drink during the festive season.  Helen Howard agrees that police domestic violence units see an increase in cases on Xmas Day and New Year’s Day. Hopefully, this is not where you and your partner are, and CBT can help prevent your relationship from escalating to this level. Admittedly, I have had couples that ended up divorcing after CBT but in a much more positive process which often includes children.

Coping with the breakdown

Couples do talk about heartbreaking stories around childcare, financial hardship and emotional distress as you think about and go through relationship breakdown and divorce.  The collapse of a relationship can be one of the most stressful and distressing events that we go through.

So firstly, CBT recommends that you remind yourself that it is normal to be very upset at this time in your life.  Try to arrange emotional support for yourself, whether from friends or relatives (but NOT your children – they need help from others).  You may also wish to consider professional assistance from a CBT Therapist. Here at Onebright, we are a group of private CBT Therapists and you can self-refer without having to see your GP.

Managing your children

Try very hard not to talk about the split with a third party in front of your children, unless it is with your spouse/partner and you are dealing with practical issues. Don’t criticise (this is generally not recommended in CBT) your spouse and their new partner in front of your children.  It will only upset them and may rebind on you. Talk to your children about the split as honestly as you can and answer their questions and anxieties as much as possible.  You may want to consider your children to talk to a CBT Therapist, as well.

If you and your partner cannot agree on where the children should live or how many contacts they should have with the other partner, try family mediation and the family law court.  The top priority in arrangements is the children’s best interests.  Mediators can help you and your spouse/partner find an agreement that is acceptable to both sides. If you have to go to court, remember that sometimes an outsider may be better placed than you and your partner/spouse to decide what is in the children’s best interests, with information from both sides (and from your children). These more or less legal steps can be helped if you and your partner can communicate well, e.g. by applying the relevant CBT tools.

Dealing with your partner/spouse during the split

Although you may be feeling outraged and hurt, try to be civil and polite with your partner and use CBT tools to manage arguments and avoid conflict. In CBT we talk about trying to find compromises that both sides can agree on.  Splits and divorces can bring out the worst in people, so you may see it easier to deal with practical arrangements through a professional. If you’re going to need a divorce lawyer, get one from the Solicitors’ Family Law Association and don’t enter negotiations or agreements without getting their advice first.  If things get complicated, tell your partner to speak to their solicitor and get your solicitor to deal directly with them. But that will hopefully not be necessary if you have good and sound communication.

Take all the support family and friends can offer and remember to try and arrange the occasional treat to cheer yourself up.  An evening out with mates while a family friend or relative looks after your children, for example, can help lift your spirits during this challenging period.

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