Therapy and Divorce

Divorce can act as a rite of passage—an initiation into a new life.

By describing divorce in this way, I am not saying that it is a good or a bad event. But it does happen, and it happens frequently, and finding meaning and perspective during the process of divorce is crucial to healing and transformation.

Many of my clients have felt stuck in a marriage or committed, long-term relationship. On one end of the spectrum, partners may grow in different directions and struggle with feeling limited by the relationship. Other marriages face more damaging patterns. In these relationships, partners unconsciously hurt each other. Often these damaging patterns stem from early life relationships with parents and get replayed with the partner.

Couples therapy can clarify what’s been wrong and lead to renewed connection. Sometimes this renewed connection allows for a relationship that works well for both partners. Other times it becomes clear that the couple will separate.

If either or both partners have felt stuck and miserable for a long time, separating can release a great burst of energy that was bound up in the difficulties of maintaining an unhappy state together.

Whether splitting up brings this release or not, it still hurts. The life the couple dreamed of having together comes to a stop. Profound feelings of loss and grief can last for some time, and when one or both partners didn’t really want the divorce, these feelings can go on even longer and cause more suffering.

Some individuals will find themselves plunged into a depression during or after divorce. The question then becomes whether this dark time is barren of new life, or instead can become a kind of pregnant darkness that initiates the person into a fuller experience of his or her life. This is one area where therapy is especially helpful—to help midwife the client’s newly emerging life and provide support during a hard time.

After a divorce, my clients report a whole range of feelings, all of which are important to feel and work through in therapy. Feelings of grief, uncertainty, excitement, fear, loneliness, new potential, anxiety around finances, and many other feelings are part of the mix.

Questions of self-identity and the future often come up. Who am I apart from this other person and my relationship with them? Will I find another partner? Do I even want a relationship? Will I replay my own old patterns? How will I parent my kids (if there are children from the marriage)?

Divorce is a rite of passage that often comes during the midlife years from about age 35 through age 60. For so many, these years are a time of deep changes in many areas of life—relationships, parenting, health, and career. Clients find themselves turning inward, searching for answers, exploring complex feelings, redefining self-identity, and wondering about the future. This is an excellent time to find a therapist who can help you navigate these waters and embrace the new life that is waiting for you.

Intimate Relationships

Intimate Relationships

Name me one issue that causes more people more confusion and pain—and more hope and joy—than intimate relationships.

I don’t generally work with couples in my practice. I tend to work with individuals, but we often talk about hopes, dreams, difficulties, and conflicts in that person’s intimate relationships.

This work opens up awareness of the underlying patterns that may plague a client’s relationships. It takes some time to sort this material out. For example, the client’s relationship with mother or father while growing up usually shows up in this process. The way we relate to an intimate partner has a lot to do with how we related to our first loves—our parents!

Feeling judged, disappointed, neglected, rejected, or abandoned by your partner? Does that feel familiar? It could be that you’ve ended up with someone who triggers old feelings that mom or dad brought up for you. We all tend to repeat the past unconsciously.

Do you continually seek the perfect soul mate to the point that you give up on relationships without giving them a real chance? It could be that you are unknowingly trying to re-create a perfect relationship that you had—or didn’t have but longed to have—with mom or dad.

Did you experience trauma of some kind when you were a child or adolescent? Do you find that those old hurts intrude on your current relationships? You’re not alone if you do.

Of course, it’s not this simple at all. It’s complicated on many levels, but I’m offering examples of common issues.

We seem wired to seek a special partner in life, and we pour a lot of longing and expectation into finding this mate. In fact, take a look around, and you’ll see that there’s a whole industry of self-help, special therapies, couples’ counseling methods, and workshops that promise to fix this very human conflict around achieving fulfillment in an intimate relationship.

Have you ever noticed how often (I’m not saying always) the hoped-for fulfillment seems to exist on the other side of a gulf we can’t seem to cross? It’s as though we stand over here on this side of the gulf, with longings for what we believe must exist over there, on the other side.

We cling to an idea of how a relationship is supposed to be, and we don’t live in the actual reality, right here, right now, of our relationship. Real relationships are messy—full of contradictions, and include happiness and frustration, aliveness and boredom, health and illness, fulfillment and disappointment, and togetherness and separation.

When I work with a client, our conversations often spend at least some time on questions of how to be in an intimate relationship that challenges, stimulates, and meets basic desires. Sorting this all through helps the client discover what he or she wants and doesn’t want, how to avoid sabotaging good relationships, and how to avoid getting stuck in bad ones. It also helps the client discover how to ground a healthy relationship with another person in a healthy relationship with his or her own self.