Once the decision to divorce becomes imminent, components of the family system must prepare for change. As a marriage and family therapist, its always my initial response to determine if the marriage can be repaired. However, when people choose to end the relationship, the best course of action is to remain engaged in a therapeutic process throughout the transition.
The couple will need to work with one another to at least determine how to make decisions required for the legal aspects of dissolving the relationship. If a couple can manage this on their own, and collaboratively and respectfully complete and submit the required documentation directly to the appropriate State department, and implement resulting legal stipulations, then this is typically the least intrusive and cost-effective method for divorce. However, most couples have a level of financial, family, possession, and interactional patterns and history to require a divorce mediator to become involved. Typically, within a few sessions, the mediator can direct a process which results in immediate and long-term legal conditions to best assist the couple in divorce.
All too often, individuals facing divorce immediately discontinue therapy because the marriage is over. This can be biggest mistake they make in the process, especially considering how many different aspects of their life will require adjustment and change. While I do not request that the couple meet together in session once they decide to divore, I strongly encourage them to remain engaged in individual therapy, and if children are involved, to make arrangements for each parent to attend therapy with their child(ren) in order to work through the questions, fears, concerns, and aspects of change they will all face, and most importantly, how to establish a new relationship with each parent individually.
Finally, without each partner exploring how they contributed to the dissolution of their marriage, they will most likely repeat harmful interactional and communicative patterns in future relationships. Even if individuals post-divorce do not have the current intention of entering into another relationship, they should engage in the work which would otherwise place them in a position where they can, in the most healthy way, be available to engage in a future relationship.
Written by Anthony T. Alonzo, DMFT, LMFT, CFLE, Director at the Holladay Center for Couples & Families