“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton.
You may as well make it dance.”
— George Bernard Shaw
The theoretical model for understanding the post-divorce binuclear familyand obtaining family systems change through individual coaching is based on work by Carter & McGoldrick, in The Expanded Family Life Cycle: Individual, Family and Social Perspectives and Constance Ahrons in The Good Divorce: Keeping Your Family Together When Your Marriage Comes Apart. The style of relationship within the divorced family is usually based on the nature of the relationship between the divorced spouses. Marriages most often die as they have lived. Co-parents in a post-divorce family must show a willingness to maintain financial responsibilities, continue parental contact with their ex-spouse, and support contact of children with their ex-spouse and his or her family.
The post-divorce couple has the difficult task of terminating the marital relationship while redefining the parental one. They must work to separate their marital roles from their parental roles, not allowing the former to contaminate the latter. As former spouses, each parent must find new ways of relating independently with their children while they simultaneously develop new rules and behaviors with each other. The task is made doubly difficult by the lack of adequate role models for good divorce and the lack of external resources. Time is also a factor as it takes on average two to three years for the family to adjust and adapt to its new structure, and that assumes that all adults are fully invested in the process and there are no cut-offs.
Three primary objectives of the family reorganization process are:
The family remains a family;
The negative effects on children are minimized by reducing ambiguity and avoiding enmeshing children in the divorce drama; and
Both ex-spouses integrate the divorce into their lives in a healthy way.
Application of family systems theory offers practical solutions to binuclear co-parenting families. Coaching for a good emotional divorce helps former spouses gain sufficient objectivity about the relationship to reduce bitterness and make it possible to achieve personal goals. Tasks include developing other primary relationships, learning to communicate about children and money with minimal reactivity, and functionally connecting to families of origin and other social networks.
Healthy adjustment of children without long-term psychological damage requires that divorced parents restructure their lives in ways that allow children to continue their relationships with both parents. Children need to have their basic economic and psychological needs met. They need support for maintaining the familial relationships in their lives that were important and meaningful to them before the divorce. Factors that contribute to children’s healthy adjustment and well-being include the parents’ commitment to separating acute marital problems from ongoing parental responsibilities and creating a cooperative climate in which each parent supports and encourages the children’s relationship with the other parent. Children benefit most when the relationship between their parents is generally supportive and cooperative and the custody agreement includes free access to both parents.
Conflict must disappear for issues to be resolved. Resolving power struggles and de-escalating anger helps to establish a cooperative co-parental relationship. Each ex-spouse must take responsibility for his or her own behavior and its repercussions. Gaining sufficient objectivity about the relationship to reduce bitterness and make it possible to achieve personal goals is the ultimate objective of a good emotional divorce.