While most people consider couples therapy as a tool to work on the issues of your relationship, and to hopefully fix them and mover forward, that is not it’s only purpose. While it may seem contrary to many, it is an excellent place to have an unbiased third party help you to safely and calmly, negotiate the details of the end of your relationship. Relationships are hard, and the end of them often feels harder. Emotions are high, people are hurting, and they might not be thinking of needs over wants. They may want the other person to hurt like they are, or they simply are so overwhelmed, that they cannot think clearly about what it is they really need to walk away from the relationship with.
This is where a couple’s therapist comes in. They are an unbiased third party, who can calmly, and in a mutually supportive manner, help guide you through these next steps. They can clear the way of personal attacks and high emotions, and really help each person hear what the other is trying to say. They are also able to step back and hear what each person is genuinely saying they need, and help to name and identify those things for them. Sometimes we are so overwhelmed, we are unable to clearly articulate our needs, but a couple’s therapist can summarize your thoughts and feelings and help to clearly state what is important to each person.
Once communication from each person is clarified for the other, and the couple’s therapist can better understand the needs that each person feels they must walk away with, they can help to open a supportive dialogue about the others ability and willingness to meet those needs. There may be things that one person thinks they need, but through discussion, realizes they do not. Or, the other partner may not want to concede to a certain issue or item, but once they are able to hear the other person’s reasoning for needing it, are able to agree to let the other have it.
There are some major issues that need to be resolved, and something are easier than others. These can include the living situation, finances, pets, and children. If you own a home, or both of your names are on a lease, deciding who gets to stay, and who will move, may not be an easy choice. A rule of thumb is that typically the person who has decided to end the relationship is the one who moves, however, if the break is mutual, you need to decide who it makes the most sense for to live there. Who can afford to cover the costs? Who lives closer to work? Who will have primary custody and needs the home to not disrupt the children’s lives? With this decision, we also enter the area of what is fair and equitable custody. The days of dads on weekends and every other Wednesday are long gone, and 50/50 shared custody is far more common. Helping each person to be honest about their needs and abilities helps to have a productive conversation about what works best for everyone, and what is in the children’s best interest.
Two other tricky issues can be the division and separation of finances, as well as who gets custody of the family pet(s). Finances should be fair, and make the most sense by who needs to pay for, support, and cover which expenses. No one wants to be in a bad position, and the truth is that maybe each person can only walk away supporting their own half of things. This is more and more common with costs of living. However, when children are involved, there are many more areas to consider in terms of support and finances. Another emotional issue is who will get custody of any family pets. You each love them to death, and cannot imagine life without them. Is this another case of shared custody, or does it make more sense for one of you to have them?
As you can see, there are many issues to cover when a relationship ends. However, making these decisions can be extremely difficult and adversarial without an unbiased third party to help foster a productive and fair conversation between each person. Ending a relationship is never easy, and deciding the many issues we discussed above can feel impossible when trying to handle it on your own. Consider the usefulness and support a couple’s therapist can offer each of you in working your way through the process in as collaborative a way as possible.