What does it take to be a spouse and what does it take to be a parent?
Fact: Most separating couples do not consider that they have to separate their spousal relationship from their parental relationship.
During the course of the marriage one hardly pauses to determine whether you are communicating with your partner as a spouse or a parent. Once you are getting separated or divorce you have to introduce this artificial separation in your communication and conflict patterns.
All relationships are marked by two components, namely communication and conflict management.Communication is marked by the interplay of emotional closeness and distance between two people. Relationships frequently break down because of difficulties that couples experience with the emotional closeness and distance between them. These difficulties will be described elsewhere. At the time of separation and after divorce, fluctuations in closeness and distance are a common occurrence. During this time period most couples prefer emotional distance in their relationship but are forced into continuous closeness because of their shared parental responsibilities. These fluctuations of emotional closeness and distance between parents could cause great discomfort for parents and children.
Children are not passive bystanders in the relationships that their parents have and exposure to ongoing conflict will impact negatively on them. Conflict is mostly inherent to the manner in which parents interact at the time of divorce. It is a fallacy that all arguments and conflict creates distance between people. When you are fighting, you are engaging one another. You are creating emotional closeness. This closeness might be destructive but it is still closeness. Alternatively people create so much emotional distance that they refuse to talk to one another. This is also not useful to the resolution of problems. In conflict ridden relationships children often act as the communication link between parents. This is a situation fraught with difficulties.
Conflict between parents leads to compromised communication. A lack of communication leads to a lack of trust. A lack of trust feeds uncertainty. If one or both parents live with stress as result of uncertainty and not knowing what to expect from the other parent from one meeting to the next, how much more will children be affected by such a situation?
Parents need to take conscious steps to put their spousal relationship aside and to focus on their communication and conflict management as parents. This is easier said than done. The drafting of a Parenting Plan could assist greatly in structuring the communication with your co-parent. This plan will define the relevant issues in the context of your parental relationship and will assist you in making the transition to communicate along these lines only. If you find that you continue to fall back on old communication patterns, it might be necessary to consider psychotherapy to address issues that continue to cause difficulty for you.