Compassionate Divorce

Divorce is painful for many, even long after the legal settlement.  For some, life progresses well, and they do not experience the constant confusion and battles over children and attitudes and property that plague those who suffer longer.  Time heals.  We’ve heard this message from our grandmothers and other wise people.  In a compassionate divorce, we aim to assist time to heal our clients’ pain more quickly. Collaborative Law divorces allow for compassion to surface.

A Collaborative or Mediated Divorce – Interest Based

One of the strategies we use is interest-based negotiation.  During the conversations between divorcing partners, we make their interests (as opposed to their assets) primary.  Some items of little monetary value might be really important to one person, and time with the children on a particular holiday important to the other. If both agree on an “uneven split”, this works for the settlement. A compassionate divorce makes room for these kinds of settlements.

These personal priorities are most finely articulated by our clients themselves, and realizing them will bring a greater sense of satisfaction after the divorce.  Our clients understand the reasons for the losses they suffer, having negotiated the divorce settlement plan themselves.  We have found that they can soothe themselves during the difficult times by remembering the good things that are theirs, due to the interest-based negotiation that helped them craft their plans. In a compassionate divorce, people feel heard and understood.

Emotional Security  – Hard to Find During Divorce Process

Emotional comfort is another important “item” which can be “negotiated” during the divorce proceedings. This might not immediately strike one as an asset, but, given some reflective thought, one can begin to recognize the infinite value of this asset. By understanding the nature of attachment, even when relationships come to an end, the couple can manage their relationship in a compassionate way, helping each other navigate through the difficult early post-divorce years, and bring their children safely into the new family arrangement, whether that includes new partners for their parents or a better relationship in their adult years. These are often part of the ruins of the divorce battle, which could be avoided by making skillful transitions. Compassion allows each person to attend to the most important needs, both theirs and their partner’s.

Attachment Theory for a Relationship in Transition

Attachment Theory, a relatively new and effective body of knowledge to couples relationships, offers insight to the negative spin that can come to dominate interactions between people in significant relationships. It has shown that the severing of a significant relationship bond affects the unconscious in such a way that the body reacts as if its survival is threatened. Even more than food, bonds to significant others create a sense of safety and well-being.  People are more confident in their work, friendships, and in themselves when “securely attached”.

Though we enjoy a sense of independence in the modern world, in reality we are dependent on many people for that independence.  Attachment is a word that sounds very dependent and even insulting to adults about their relationships, but this word comes from the attachment observed in young children. When applied to adults because of the insight it brought to parent child relationships, it was  found to have the same role and significance. The adult attachment is slightly different (we call it Effective Attachment).  Persistent arguments in adult relationships are more about being understood, heard, cared for, visible, respected, than they are about the things they end up arguing about (ie, the dishes left in the sink). These arguments produce extra pain because of the words used while each person tries to defend their fears.

The Negative Cycle – Attack and Defend 

When divorcing, parents in particular are concerned about the cooperation of their co-parent in raising their children, and, even in the case of older children, the collaborative  healing of their shattered sense of family and home.   When one parent is uncommunicative and secretive, keeping information from the other (having an avoidant attachment style), believing that communication is not necessary due to being divorced, the other parent” loses touch” (psychologically), and might feel distressed.  If the other parent has an anxious attachment style, he or she will search for connection, wanting to bridge the gap.  Connection feels really necessary, and panic ensues when unsuccessful.  In Attachment Theory, this is called Primal Panic.  This person will seem “hysterical” and “crazy” to the avoidant partner, whose life will lose its peacefulness.

In short, a Negative Cycle will begin.  The avoidant partner begins to feel justified for ignoring the anxious partner, and they will prompt each other to keep going with an unproductive argument, each getting more and more hurt or flustered.  The Primal Panic is fueling this cycle from below the surface.  Under the surface are the Raw Spots, the vulnerable spots (assumptions, or pains, or worst-case thinking), which get triggered by the partner, increasing the intensity of the avoidant or anxious behavior.  (These behaviors are hard-wired in each of us, depending on our attachment styles, and show up when we feel threatened – when our bond is threatened – which is the case in divorce).

Triggering the Raw Spots in Each Other

In order to create a plan for the divorced family in which partners and children can move forward without activating the Negative Cycle, this phenomenon must be understood.  Choosing a coach who understands Attachment Theory and is trained in recognizing Negative Cycles in clients, can facilitate a more lastingly cooperative and peaceful divorce.  Once you understand your Raw Spots and those of your co-parent, you will be able to turn Negative Cycles into emotionally healthy interactions.  You will take this skill with you after the Collaborative Law Divorce is completed.

Parents’ Secure Connection the Basis for Children’s Security 

Children do better too, if parents understand this in themselves.  Children have part mom and part dad in their heads and hearts, looking to them for security and safety as they go out in the world (this is unconscious, but very intensely important in allowing children to find secure attachments).  When there is dissonance between the parents, the minds of the children have dissonance, and they take this with them into adult life, needing to find resolution later in life themselves.  There is a much-used bit of advice about divorced parents, which says that you must not argue in front of the children.  This wisdom is good in many cases, but it would be naïve to think that children do not pick up unspoken dissonance.  They are finely tuned into their parents, and unspoken negativity just feels like mysterious content without reason.  Better still would be an explanation from the parents about how dissonance comes about, and what children can do about it to keep themselves whole and safe in the larger world, and attached to their parents.

Include Attachment Coaching in the Divorce Process

When using Attachment Theory as a necessary part of the divorce process, the partners can come to a relational calm, accepting each other’s styles during distress, and using simple strategies for effective attachment to calm themselves and their exes.  Human beings come to peace in certain prescribed ways, and, like warring countries, peace agreements come through negotiations of a particular sort, and not just any kind of agreement.  Having split up the goods, they still have to figure out how to keep the peace, both internally and externally.


Sex Therapy

Sex Therapy, a sensitive issue

Sex is still a very sensitive issue, even though it is popularly displayed in the media. When individuals or couples encounter stress in their sex lives, they might wonder how to get help. How does one talk about such a topic? What if no one else has similar problems? Am I a freak or an addict? These are some of the questions that hesitant clients have in their minds before signing on for sex therapy.

Talk Therapy

Some people are not sure what is involved. I want to assure you that it is a Talk Therapy. We discuss your difficulties and find something you can try at home. Then report back. Nothing sexual is an unwanted concern or question. In my training as a sex therapist, I became familiar with styles not my own, and in therapy in general, I have a compassionate and curious and facilitative approach.

Sexuality is multi-faceted

Sexuality is informed by your preferences, your core pattern, your culture and your peers. And then there is your body, which might encounter some medical issues. All of these are addressed and explored, in ways relevant to your concerns.

Find a Certified Sex Therapist

Many therapists have not undertaken specially focused sex therapy training, but are competent in doing sex therapy, but some are not. There are certifications which require extensive knowledge and supervision, and you can be sure that these certified therapists specialize in sex therapy. Find someone you can trust, and ask questions about the kind of treatment you might experience with him or her.

Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy – the strategy

It is quite clear now that couples “attach” to each other. Even though this might seem like a dependency, “attachment” is a healthy reliance on your partner – a reliance that creates a safe bond, and a sense that you are known and understood.

Disappointing Relationships

During your life you learn what you can expect from relationships, and if you have had some disappointing ones, your mind remembers them. Even in a new and hopeful relationship, your mind will be keeping one eye on signs of possible disappointment. You learn to guard against those, and to enjoy the parts of the relationship that please you. Rightfully so! However, when couples seek help with relationships that are making them unhappy, they usually have gone quite a long time without having their disappointments recognized. Having tried all the strategies in their books, they feel hopeless.

The Relational Bond

Emotionally Focused Therapy does not focus on the events that disappointed, only hearing them briefly for context, but focuses instead on the underlying bond of safety that has eroded. This is why I prefer EFT. It is efficient. From the studies that Dr. Sue Johnson did with couples, she began to notice that distressed couples spoke about their arguments in extreme terms, such as “I felt completely alone, completely devastated. I just wanted to leave forever, and never come back. I was so hurt that I wanted to die.” She recognized that the lack of connection felt like a threat to their survival.

A Threat to Survival

In EFT we treat the broken bond as a threat to survival. To modern couples this sounds too extreme in its description of their adult relationship, but in therapy, when couples understand the needs that lie underneath their partner’s extreme responses, they can attend to the fears that are prompting such intense escalations in what often seems like very minor disagreements.

How to Spot an EFT Moment

When you recognize that your fights have a familiar feel to them, and the behaviors have a similar ring, you know that you have a negative EFT pattern. Working with a therapist to restore your ability to support your partner in an escalation is very effective to restoring the trust in the relationship. From that point, many of the difficult issues can be resolved.


When someone feels threatened, the body prepares itself for an extreme response. Digestion or deliberation are put on hold, and adrenaline floods the organs. The eyes dilate. The brain reacts, and nothing of much sense comes from the thinking brain. People often don’t recognize this altered state, and try to discuss their problems. In this escalated state, people feel unsafe. In EFT we teach couples to calm each other down so that they may discuss their issues more effectively.

Building trust

When couples have experienced being heard and having influence, their relationship flourishes. They are then able to tackle the difficulties together. It turns out that human beings prefer this, and many studies show that health improves and longevity increases for couples who are well connected. There are many side benefits. It is as if they can “have it all.”