Couple, Depression/Anxiety, Training Notes

Divorce, Co-Parenting, and Mental Health

divorce and mental health

I am currently at the National Council on Family Relationship 2017 conference (11/16). Today, I attended a session about changes in the family system.

The changes in the family system are either adding the members or losing the members. The focus of the session I attended was divorce. For any children who are minor, it means that you either lose a father or mother in your residence. After the divorce, if the parents are remarried, a child gains a stepparent in the family system.

There were four papers presented, discussing the factors influencing co-parenting decisions, the impact on the children’s development, and the mental health issues due to the divorce.

The ideas of “gatekeeping,” “gender role,” “divorce” and “mental health” comes to my mind. Here are some takeaway points. For your information, you might want to read the entry about “Divorce & Co-Parenting” before continue to read this entry,

3. This connecting with the previous point, how you end your spousal relationship is also an important consideration. When you end the marriage with hostility, it is very likely to cause the emotions spill over into the next relationship. Divorce is a very difficult process, emotionally and financially. It is hard not to have emotional reactions. However, as I often said to my couples: “you can win this argument but lose the relationship.” Many times, you want the fairness in divorce. However, what’s the justice? Divorce itself makes everyone lose something in the relationship. So, if losing something means winning more in the long run in the co-parenting relationship, what would you do? More importantly, when you consider the long-term conflict in the couple’s co-parenting and spousal relationship might be the main reasons leading to mental health issues, you might want to ask yourself what is the definition of win or lose.

4. Divorce and Mental Health
We all lose something in the divorce process. I have always said this: “there is never a good timing for divorce. It is about how you handle the process but not about when you get a divorce that has a bigger impact on everyone.”

Divorce is a stressful process, for both partners and children. However, when and how does divorce become so stressful that it becomes a mental health issue?

The research result showed that there were three factors needed to take into consideration: chronic stress, personal resources, and coping strategy. Here are some specific questions:

1) How have we co-parent before the divorce/separation?
2) How have our couple and/or co-parent relationship have caused me stressed me before the divorce?
3) What is the personal strength I have to handle the divorce stress?
4) What are the coping strategies I have to cope with the stress?
5) How do you make sense of divorce and co-parenting relationship now?

Self-efficacy is found to be the main predictor of mental health to turn the divorce stress into a mental health issue. One of the vital self-efficacy is to know that your “stress” is more than just “stress” has turned into a mental health issue. Seeking help professionally or support from family or friends are essential when you have sensed your adjustment of stress is beyond your coping.

The prior co-parenting and spousal relationship are found to be essential predictors in the process of divorce. If you perceive your former partner being a competent co-parenting, it helps to decrease the stress. At the same time, if the conflicts between the couples have been long-term and stressful, and the co-parenting relationship before the separation, they both become added stress to the divorcees, and the individuals are more likely to experience mental health issues.

This is one of the most interesting findings for me as I have worked with many couples and some of them are contemplating divorce. Few takeaway points here:

Once again, the perception of the former spouse’ competence of parenting and co-parenting is an important factor. It teaches us that, for you and your own children’s sake, make yourself a good parent to your children and your partner in the marriage or after the divorce.

It is essential to know the symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. When your experiences/emotions go beyond your can manage, seek help. Your feelings might be situational due to divorce. However, if you don’t take action to take care of your mental health, it might turn into chronic issues that will, in turn, cause your personal and your children’s wellbeing.

If you are in Massachusetts, you can check out my interview with Attorney Joseph Ingaharro, Esq. about the divorce process in Massachusetts.

My final words are:
1. Invest in your couple relationship and don’t let it become the bottom of the priority.
2. No matter you agree with your spouse about your co-parenting strategies or not, always invest in your relationship with your children.
3. Be considerate about the impact of your conflict with your former spouse on your children in the divorce process.
4. A stepparent is part of the co-parenting system. Treat your decision to become a stepparent with serious attitude and careful consideration.
5. Seek help when divorce process has become more than just a transition in life. Don’t wait.

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