Divorced Parents – Intact Families

Divorced Parents – Intact Families

In response to two recent blog posts, The Emotional Divorce and We’re Still Family, several have questioned the validity and feasibility of an approach based on the premise that a family with children is always a family regardless of the status of the parents ongoing intimate partner relationship. There have also been questions about nuclear and extended family members potentially benefiting from the maintenance of both filial and in-law relationships.

A common misconception about divorce is that it needs to be bitter and contentious. Parental conflict can hinder children’s adjustment and good co-parenting skills are vital to a child’s adjustment. It is not the divorce per se, but the ongoing parental conflict that is detrimental to children’s health and well-being.

I was recently interviewed for a book on strategies to make divorce less adversarial. After listening to my presentation on The Good Divorce the interviewer commented that her “preconceived notion” that some people are constitutionally incapable of completing a “friendlier divorce” and demonstrating compassion and empathy with their former spouse no longer held. Instead, she now understood that many of “the people who are acting out and doing these terrible things” could be capable, with appropriate therapeutic coaching, of being cooperative co-parents. One colleague commented, “A family systems and service based approach that offers value-added inputs to the families makes much more sense than merely a brokering of deals.”

It is necessary to address the Emotional Divorce before there can be any hope of a cooperative negotiated/mediated legal/financial/custody divorce. It’s not what one does to complete this second set of tasks but how one gets there that really matters. Application of family systems theory offers practical solutions. Coaching for a good emotional divorce helps former spouses gain sufficient objectivity about the relationship to reduce bitterness and achieve personal goals.

One of Murray Bowen’s core concepts is the multigenerational transmission process. Translating this to the “professional family” I’d like to quote an observation from Betty Carter, who was my mentor, John W. Jacobs, MD’s, most influential teacher and supervisor;

“Working with divorce requires a complex multilevel approach. A therapist who chooses to work with divorcing families will need to tolerate a high level of conflicts and cope with complex painful emotions. Therapy with divorcing families is a challenging and difficult process for both the therapist and the family. Working with a family and taking them through the process, helping them to emerge as a healthy, functional binuclear family is a goal worth striving for.”

Dr. Ronald B Cohen of www.familyfocusedsolutions.com continues his discussion on how it is best for everyone involved for a family to remain a family after parents divorce.The generic first task is to help people be less angry and less critical. In high conflict situations I do couples therapy individually. That is, I work with each partner separately on differentiation, self-focus, decision making and family of origin issues to help them reinvest in relationships and stay functionally connected with their families of origin and social networks. Resolving power struggles and de-escalating anger helps to establish a cooperative co-parental relationship.

Conversely couples who haven’t begun to resolve the Emotional Divorce are much more likely to end up in a protracted, destructive, financially-draining and family-destroying legal process.  Divorce is an option but never a solution. Spouses divorce each other, but they do not divorce their children. Divorce ends a relationship but not a family. Families in which the emotional issues of divorce are not adequately resolved can remain stuck for years.

Co-parents in a post-divorce family should be helped to develop a willingness to maintain financial responsibilities, continue parental contact with their ex-spouse, and support contact of children with their ex-spouse and his/her family. While few former spouses can remain perfect pals, many can be saved from the devastation of angry associates, fiery foes and dissolved duos.

The families we make are the legacies we leave. What are your future dreams?

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 (https://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. Nina A. White, PhD, LMHC, LPC, MFT, NCC on February 4, 2013 at 12:18 pm said:

    Your articles are always very enlightening and certainly educational. Thank You

    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on February 5, 2013 at 10:53 am said:

      Hi Nina,

      Thank you for your encouraging and supportive comment. Hopefully as systemic thinking gains greater prominence more families will develop the strength to transcend traumatic crises and transition and emerge better able to live happy, productive and loving lives.



  2. Carolann Mazza on February 6, 2013 at 4:31 pm said:

    Yes! The Emotional Divorce must be addressed first! Usually the first person contacted by an angry, hurt, betrayed spouse is a lawyer. If that lawyer serves to fuel the fire instead of dousing the flames, the couple is much more likely to end up in a protracted, destructive, financially-draining and family-destroying legal process. Until we lawyers recognize and embrace our roles as healers, families will continue to be destroyed.

    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on February 7, 2013 at 11:57 am said:

      Hi Carolann,

      Thank you for your supportive comment. Unfortunately what you wrote is all too true in my experience. I tell my patients “you want to send your kids to college, you don’t want to send the lawyers kids to college”. Even worse the judge doesn’t care at all about your children. An adversarial process can never help a family heal.



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