We’re Still Family

We’re Still Family

The post-divorce binuclear family, analogous to the binuclear house, is two domains; both separated and joined by, a common courtyard (the children) defined by a limited partnership agreement (the parenting plan). Most importantly even though they are now living in two separate houses, a post-divorce family is still a family, one that has changed its configuration and established two secure bases, one maternal and one paternal, which then form the nuclei of the family for the children.

Healthy adjustment of the children without long-term psychological damage necessitates:

  • Having their basic economic and psychological needs met
  • Maintaining all familial relationships that were important and meaningful in their lives before the divorce, including parents, in-laws and grandparents on both sides, aunts, uncles, cousins, pets and other extended family members
  • Commitment by both parents to a relationship that is generally supportive and cooperative
  • A custody agreement that includes free access to both parents.

It is not the divorce, but the ongoing parental conflict that is detrimental to children’s health and well-being. Cooperative co-parents manage disagreements by keeping them private and nonviolent, setting limits and focusing only on what is essential. This is the ongoing work of the Emotional Divorce, a process that is separate and distinct from the physical separation or legal divorce. The important goals for former spouses to behave in the best interests of the children are to let go of their blame and bitterness, resolve their power struggle and de-escalate their anger. Each former partner has to take responsibility for their own behaviors and their own part in the issues that caused the dissolution of the marriage.

In order to develop a functional “limited-partnership” agreement, with appropriate limits and boundaries, both parents must find new ways of relating independently with their children while they simultaneously develop new rules and behaviors with each other. This requires that divorced parents restructure their lives in ways that allow children to continue to develop and grow their relationships with both of them. Listing problems, weighing alternatives, and setting ground rules are the difficult, complex but absolutely necessary tasks. Conflict must disappear before any issues can be productively resolved.

The purposeful tasks that comprise coaching post-divorce former spouses to establish a cooperative co-parenting relationship, and at the same time pursue an individual life, are many and varied. They include:

Ronald B. Cohen of www.familyfocusedsolutions.com discusses how the post-divorce family can be functional and healthy.

  • Helping both former spouses to give up as finished the hopes and dreams invested in the marriage, stop blaming the divorce or failed marriage on the ex-spouse, and to reinvest in their own future course.
  • Helping both parents gain the necessary skills to conduct their own relationships with their children.
  • Helping both parents to understand the importance of keeping the children out of the battle and the rewards to the entire family of minimizing destructive, vengeance-seeking behavior.
  • Helping both parents to understand the benefits of declaring a “unilateral disarmament”.
  • Helping both former spouses to examine closely their role in the marital distress and divorce and prevent future conflict and emotional cut-offs.

A divorce ends a marriage, but not a family. Through their children, former spouses continue to be involved with one another as co-parents for the rest of their lives. The whole family benefits from active engagement in the establishment of a new functional binuclear configuration.

Please feel free to ask any questions or to comment in the “Leave a Reply” box below.  To request more information and/or schedule an initial consultation, click here (http://www.familyfocusedsolutions.com/contact/).

You are encouraged to forward this blog to anyone who would be interested in reading it.


Ronald B Cohen, MD, PC www.familyfocusedsolutions.com Ronald B. Cohen, MD
Bowen Family Systems Coach
1 Barstow Road, Suite P-10
Great Neck, NY 11021
(516) 466-7530

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  1. Darrell Johnson on January 2, 2013 at 11:33 am said:

    Ronald, thanks so much for this article—a great reminder that the end of a couple does not mean the end of a co-parenting relationship, nor of the family. As a family therapist I also like your sidebar quote about how individual treatment may be hazardous to a family’s (or couple’s) health!

    Wishing you the best in 2013.
    –Darrell Johnson,

    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on January 4, 2013 at 6:20 pm said:

      Hi Darrell,

      Thank you for the positive comment. Given that the current divorce rate hovers around 50% and the rate for second marriages exceeds that, divorce is no longer statistically deviant but rather normative to the family life cycle. It is important also to remember that while divorce is an option it is never a solution. Spouses divorce each other, but they do not divorce their children. Familial relationships and family ties that bind remain. Successful integration of the family reorganization process results in the family remaining a family and the negative effects on children being minimized by reducing ambiguity and avoiding enmeshment.

      Regarding therapists’ qualification, as Bill Doherty wrote, it gets even worse, “A dirty little secret in the therapy field is that couples therapy may be the hardest form of therapy, and most therapists are not good at it. Of course, this would not be a public health problem if most therapists stayed away from couples work, but they don’t. Surveys indicate that about 80 percent of therapists in private practice do couples therapy. Where they got their training is a mystery, because most therapists practicing today never took a single course in couples therapy and did their internships without supervision from someone who had mastered the art. In other words, from a consumer point of view, coming in for couples therapy is like having your broken leg set by a doctor who skipped orthopedics in medical school.”

      Best wishes for a happy, healthy, prosperous and peaceful New Year.



  2. Liz Pardey on January 10, 2013 at 7:50 pm said:

    I was interested to read about the concept of the children being the “courtyard” between separated parents.

    In my work I usually speak to only one of a separated parent by phone.

    I would like to know how I can apply this to a Narrative approach in relaying to one of the parents the importance of co-operative parenting. For example, what questions would be appropriate to motivate a separated parent to enthuse their child/ren to move willingly through this “courtyard” to spend time with the other parent?

    Kind Regards

    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on January 17, 2013 at 8:35 am said:

      Hi Liz,

      Great questions. You are obviously much closer to the origin of Narrative Therapy than I am, and, full disclosure, it is not something I am all that knowledgeable about or experienced with. Nonetheless if we take the concept of externalizing the problem, the level of functioning of divorced families, as indeed all families, is predicated on the nature of the relationship between the parents. I work to engage both parents beginning with the initial consultation. In my practice the patient(s)/client(s) is/are the relationship(s). The focus is on learning to solve problems. Not to push the analogy too far but both parents are responsible for cultivating, nurturing, and nourishing the garden thereby helping the residents of the courtyard to flourish and bloom.

      The chief mechanism for passing the program (system) along from generation to generation is the triangle so I would steadfastly avoid using the child/ren as a conduit. Rather I work towards a unique one-to-one, though limited partnership co-parenting, relationship between former spouses. I help co-parents in a post-divorce family develop a willingness to maintain financial responsibilities, continue parental contact with their former spouse around parenting issues, and support contact of children with both parents and their extended families. A gentle reminder that whatever is not solved in the current situation is left for future generations to resolve is often a sufficient inducement. Hope I answered your questions in a helpful manner. If not please ask again.



  3. Katherine G Levine (@KGLevineBooks) on January 30, 2013 at 4:29 pm said:

    Ron, so many think of their needs and not the child’s. Thank you for this. A favor please, get someone to help you put up some sharing buttons. I was able to Pin it, and will try from that to get it to Facebook. Please make it easier to share.

    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on January 31, 2013 at 12:02 pm said:

      Hi Katherine,

      Unfortunately all too true. When divorce is highly conflictual, or cold and distant, children usually suffer and develop symptoms. As detailed in my follow up post Divorced Parents – Intact Families it is our job to help divorced parents resolve their bitterness and decrease their emotional reactivity.

      If I’m not mistaken the sharing buttons are in the bottom column one in from the right. Perhaps I should move them up to the top of the page. I will consult with my technical team. Thanks for pointing this out. Thank you also for passing my concerns and suggestions on to others. I hope my thoughts are helpful and thought provoking.



  4. Ica Iova on April 3, 2013 at 1:28 am said:

    I agree. Excellent points. It seems that we share the same views on parenting after separation. Check out my Society’s website http://www.brokenhomesociety.com It is very important that parents find common ground to be able to co-parent together. Unfortunately many get entangled in cross-allegations, which are ruining them financially, and emotionally with their children caught in the middle. Thank you for your work.

    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on April 3, 2013 at 2:53 pm said:

      Hi Ica,

      Thank you for your positive and supportive comment. I couldn’t agree more with the statement on your web site “When we speak of high conflict separation however, we are talking about angry parents who get caught up in high conflict litigations, not realizing the negative impact it has on the entire family, especially the children, who suffer life long psychological damage.” For more of my thoughts please see The Emotional Divorce, Divorced Parents – Intact Families and the most recent Detriangulating the Post-Divorce Binuclear Family.



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