John and Mary had been married 10 years, they had three children. Over the years the relationship had always been somewhat rocky but in the last three years, it had taken a turn for the worse. John had lost his job and Mary had become the sole earner for the family. Life as a stay-home dad proved difficult for John to adjust to. But Mary also found the situation difficult as she went to work daily and at her return would find waiting for her the chores that John had not thought to tackle.
The children were in school during the day and John would pick them up and take care of them till Mary came home. Slowly, however, something had crept up on him, a sort of paralysis, a negative mind-set about himself, as well as a tinge of jealousy that Mary was doing so well in the workplace – and the doubt that he would ever do as well again. As if to compensate for this, he had become more domineering in the relationship, especially with the household finances. The imbalance further taxed their already strained relationship until Mary just couldn’t cope any more! She had tried to help John with his confidence and self esteem. She supported him to look for work but eventually was worn out and burned out. She felt she had nothing more to give to the relationship.
At her request John reluctantly moved out, however he had no friends, no family and with no support, John’s behaviour became more vindictive, aggressive and obsessive. He had a need to punish Mary and inflict as much pain as possible.
John chose the legal route to take custody of the children away from Mary. This was the beginning of a terrible two years. Both lawyers did their best to WIN. Exaggerations and outright lies got mixed with a semblance of truth, and after a long and bitter battle, the judge decided the custody of the children would be shared. For them both, it felt like a defeat.
And whereas they had had somewhat of an understanding of each other before the proceedings began, now that they were going to HAVE to work together in co-parenting, they HATED each other.
Such a weak and difficult position to start a new page in their life as co-parents. Both were terribly wounded by the legal process, and whatever trust they might have had in the past towards each other, was now sorely in deficit. The words that were said during the court case, the exaggerated accusations, the depersonalisation of the court case, were hard to forgive and forget. It would hang forever between them.
The events will remain etched in both of their minds as “absolutely traumatic”.
It was shortly after John and Mary’s divorce that Peter and Sue found their relationship in trouble. Sue and Mary had been friends and Sue had been a pillar when Mary needed a friend. Now it was Sue’s turn to need support. She had found out that Peter was having an affair, a serious affair. They had two children and Sue had given up her much loved career and her independence to raise the children while they were still small. Peter was away a lot of the time for work and Sue was often home alone and lonely. She was devastated! And she was angry, resentful and SO angry! She asked him to leave and wanted to never see him again. Mary was there for her and was a listening ear to her friend. She couldn’t help but worry however about the divorce procedure. She was still scarred from her own divorce.
She had since become aware of a conflict coaching service for couples in their area. Sue was in no mood to make concessions for Peter but she knew very well the intense trauma Mary had gone through with the court case and after some pondering, she decided to call and book an initial coaching session for herself.
The session revealed itself very therapeutic. Sue talked about her marriage, her pain and the coach listened and listened some more, empathising and giving her time and space to unravel her emotions. People in pain can be extremely irrational. Sue greatly benefited from the initial coaching session and agreed to have another. After a few sessions, the validation and coaching she received from the couples’ coach enabled her to get to a place where she could look at her situation more rationally. By then, at the fore of her concern were the children. Now that her anger was somewhat abated, she realized that the children loved and needed both of them, and she cared about them too much to try and deprive them of their father. Not that she hadn’t thought of it when she was angry. But talking it over with the coach made all the difference. She recognised that Peter was a good dad, and however difficult it was to admit, she couldn’t deprive her children of his care.
The couple’s coach asked whether Peter would like to see her and he agreed. He also was distraught by the way things had turned out in his marriage. He was especially missing the children. He was struggling with feelings of guilt and ambivalence between his relationships. But he was determined he wanted an arrangement for the children. He would go the way of the courts if necessary but he was willing to give coaching a chance.
After a couple of sessions with Peter, and at the couple’s request, the coach set up a joint meeting. This was a meeting with a specific future focused agenda, where they could communicate about the specifics that were important to each of them. The conflict coach was merely a facilitator.
They both agreed that their primary concern was about the children. Sue felt that she was going to need to go back to work. Childcare needed to be arranged. Peter also, needed to make some big adjustments if this was to work. He realised how much he had leaned on Sue for the running of the household, and he was now considering taking the children part time.
The agenda had already been set with the help of the coach and both Peter and Sue were poised and sober throughout, although Sue struggled a few times and had to pause. The emotions were still raw, and in this initial joint meeting, they agreed on a temporary arrangement for Peter to have weekend visitation, to be reviewed a month later. In the meantime, Sue would be looking for work. In the next meeting, they both agreed to an alternate week parenting. Peter had to made some changes in his work and could now accommodate being a single parent every other week, with the assistance of some childcare.
Once the parental responsibility was agreed, it was easier to work on the rest of the issues. A specific plan was laid for financial responsibilities and communication about important decisions concerning the children.
The benefit of couples coaching in separations is that the outcomes are fully in the hands of the parties, not a judge, lawyers, or anyone else. The conflict coach is merely a facilitator. The parties decide and that is crucial. It is much more difficult to accept a decision that feels like a loss when it is “imposed” on you, as it is with a judge’s decision.
In the end, the decision they made was the same as the one their friend John and Mary were handed down by the judge but the difference in the process, the gentleness and “humanness” of the couples coaching process had made it possible for both of them to start healing from the onset and to lay a foundation for their future lives joined by co-parenting.
After seeing the tug-a-war and suffering both John and Mary went through in the divorce by going the legal route, they both felt an inner sense of relief that it had gone so well and they had passed the rocks and pitfalls of emotional early breakups with the support of a couple’s coach. It laid the foundations for clear communication in their co-parenting.
Break ups happen and if you have children they can be a very difficult experience to go through. Don’t be afraid to reach out for some support if you need it. Get in touch.