People often know that their relationship isn’t healthy, but are unsure what to do about it or whether there is anything in their power to improve it. Pre-divorce coaching is for people who want to individually explore whether their relationship is viable or could become so. By taking a realistic look at what is possible given their circumstances, clients get clarity about what is and what is not in their control, next steps with their partners, next stops in their own growth, and whether enough of their relationship values can be met by staying in the relationship. If they decide to work on the relationship, they may be referred to other resources for couples work. If they decide to end the relationship in its current form, coaching can help to maximize the chances that the partners can go through the letting go and grieving process in a respectful way, maximizing empowerment and communication and minimizing harm to all affected, particularly children.
Even for a spouse who reaches the point of no return well before his or her partner does, divorce can be overwhelming. Divorce almost always involves the death of a dream and a set of expectations you once had. Because of the parallels with the grieving process after a physical death, the model of grieving developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is a helpful roadmap. While she identified the stages as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, it is important to emphasize that it is not a linear, or “one size fits all” process. Most people experience a period of deep ambivalence before deciding to divorce. During the divorce process itself, anxiety and having trouble focusing are common experiences.
In addition, John Bowlby’s well-researched Attachment Theory teaches that humans are designed to need one or more attachment figures as a “secure base” from which to express ourselves and explore the world throughout life. For most people, divorce is a major disruption to primary attachment relationships. When our “attachment behavioral system” is put on alert, we experience a cycle of protest, despair and ultimately, detachment. For more information about the emotional process of divorce, click here.
At the very time that one is adjusting to the loss of what for most people is their primary attachment figure, divorce requires people to make a number of complex choices. These include (1) what process to use for the legal divorce (the traditional adversarial process, mediation, “kitchen table” negotiation or collaborative law) (2) how to choose divorce lawyers, mediators, neutral experts and other divorce professionals (3) for the initiating spouse, how to break the news to the partner (4) how to communicate during and after the process (5) how and when to tell the children (6) how to negotiate with your spouse and (7) how to manage your own reactivity when it gets triggered in the process.
A coach can be invaluable for getting clear, keeping perspective and developing new communication skills as you navigate all of these choices. While divorce coaching does not involve legal advice, it can assist divorcing spouses in developing objectives for the legal process as well as for relationships with partners and children. With the support of a coach, you greatly increase the chances of coming through the divorce knowing that you were true to yourself and took positive steps for healthy post-divorce dynamics. Coaching also assists clients in using lawyers and other professionals effectively.