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When Couples Split, Its Best to Keep Feelings In Check


Author: Camille Larsen, Registered Psychotherapist

When a couple splits, painful feelings may tempt partners to engage in “right-fighting.” However, the research is clear: children whose parents put them first from the start have an incredible advantage over those whose parents do not separate their feelings about the split from the feelings about their co-parenting partnership.

Anger toward an ex in the form of attention and prompting responses is sometimes used to keep an intimate, emotional relationship going – however unhealthy it may be. If a couple can at least conduct a business-like relationship for the benefit of their children, the entire family has a better chance of moving forward peacefully and mentally healthy.

Easier said than done, right? Consider counseling when one or more family members are in a bad place and cannot get started in the right direction in a reasonable time. Individuals experiencing feelings of loss or betrayal, or an inability to control one’s emotions when it is time to negotiate the tasks of divorce, can benefit from counseling.

While it is impossible to control other people’s actions or words, it is in one’s control to navigate a painful experience with dignity and self-respect. In doing this, parents model dispute resolution and conflict management skills for their children. Counseling provides a forum for dealing with unresolved feelings that could not be addressed elsewhere.

During a split, the focus needs to be on staying in control of one’s feelings while confronting the social, practical, and legal aspects of divorce. “Right” does not always mean “easy,” but engaging emotions in the privacy of counseling can make it easier to disengage from the ex and build a business-like relationship for the sake of the children. Understanding what is “right” includes understanding that feelings of fear, anger, and rejection are natural reactions in a divorce.

Where things go wrong is when these feelings cause unhealthy conflict that affects the children. Address these feelings in counseling and control them around the children. Like it or not, the ex is the children’s other parent. It may feel unnatural at times, but finding a path that leads to a new, productive, and working co-parenting relationship will benefit the entire family. Counseling is a way for parents to take care of themselves in order to empower them to take better care of their children through this transition.


Emery, R.E. (2004). The truth about children and divorce. New York, NY: Plume.

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