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Separation and Divorce Therapy

Unlike couples therapy, separation and divorce counseling will occur in the instance where one or both partners decide to end their relationship. Rather than seeking a way forward together, this kind of therapy empowers couples to see their relationship take on different paths and make progress through the following:

Creating a new family paradigm

The changing nature of the relationship requires those involved to discover the new platform for the family paradigm and the dynamic with which it is created. Will the divorce be amicable? Will the people separating maintain consistent communication? These are questions that can be explored and answered through therapy.

Recognizing an awareness

This stage creates an awareness of the new situation by analyzing it both from the perspective of those separating, as well as that of the others involved. It helps couples recognize how family members are impacted by the divorce or separation and allows them to remove themselves from the divorce in order to focus on their children and gain an understanding of the impact the separation is having on them.

Creating new rituals

In order to move out of the pain of the separation, couples must achieve a sense of closure so they are capable of moving forward individually. Dr. Smerling uses several therapy techniques to help couples achieve this. Couples are encouraged to consider the future with regard to certain life events: How will they interact with each other at family gatherings, sports games and birthdays or graduations? How will these experiences coincide with the lives they create for themselves following the process of the divorce? These are all questions that are explored in this later stage of therapy.

The Emotional Stages of Divorce

Whatever the reason may be, when a long-term and committed relationship is dissolved, the disruption in your life, routine, family, and home can bring about many profound and deep emotions. One of those primary emotions is grief, and this is perfectly normal. Afterall, you are grieving the loss of a relationship and former time of your life that once brought you immense joy and comfort.

You will move through the stages of mourning when going through a divorce, much like you would when grieving a loss or death. Those stages or phases are:


During this initial phase, you may find yourself trying to carry on as if nothing is wrong or different. You’ll want things to feel and seem “normal.” Many in this phase may even outright attempt to ignore the entire situation and won’t acknowledge that the relationship is over. It’s a defense mechanism, and a way of dealing with the shock they are feeling.


In this stage, a person is ultimately looking to lay the blame on someone, and they find that it feels good – almost cathartic – by exhibiting their negative emotions onto someone else, who is generally their ex-spouse or soon-to-be ex. The anger isn’t always thrown at your ex, however; at times, your anger can be directed at yourself, your family members, friends, children, or even strangers that you don’t even know. You may feel an overwhelming rage inside that these things are happening, and a counselor can help you work through these feelings and to manage your emotions in a healthy and constructive way.


The most common emotion associated with this stage is regret. You may feel badly for past mistakes or for the way you handled situations, and you may even start to believe that if you can make changes to your personality, you can get your relationship and ex back.


This is very close to the bargaining phase, as you will blame yourself for things that went wrong in your relationship. You may believe that you didn’t work hard enough to save your relationship, and that if you had put up more of a fight, maybe you would still have a marriage.


As most common with depression, in this stage you’ll feel sluggish and slow moving. Many mornings you will not want to get out of bed. Many nights you will not want to take care of yourself or anything around you. While depression is certainly normal and necessary in the grieving process, we want to ensure it doesn’t needlessly worsen. It would be wise to speak with a divorce counselor and express your emotions during this stage.


At long last, this is the stage where you will come to terms with everything that transpired and accept that your relationship is over. You may still feel a sadness or a heavy heart, but you’re more at peace and ready to move on and build a new life.

What is Divorce Counseling?

A divorce counselor is someone trained to provide you with invaluable advice and support during this difficult time. They can help you cope with the extreme pain you feel, as well as everyone involved, including children, in-laws, close friends, and family members.

The sheer volume of issues that you need to address during a separation and divorce – including financial, legal, and emotional – can be extremely stressful and overwhelming. In fact, many people going through a divorce often feel paralyzed; unable to think clearly or move forward. Dr. Smerling is here to help and to reassure you that things will get better.

Marriage Counseling vs Divorce Counseling

Marriage counseling, or relationship counseling, is when a couple are making efforts to work on their relationship and communication. A marriage counselor will help you and your significant other to address a variety of issues in your relationship, ranging from dishonesty, infidelity, fits of anger, addiction, differences in parenting styles and loss of intimacy.

The primary difference between divorce counseling and relationship counseling is that by the time you are seeking a separation or divorce therapist, one or both parties are at a point where they’re ready to end the relationship, either temporarily or permanently. Marriage counseling seeks to heal together, whereas the goal of divorce therapy is to heal on your own as a newly single person.

Co-Parenting During Divorce

One of the biggest struggles that faces divorcing families is the shift to co-parenting. It requires the creation of new routines and schedules. It can bring up feelings of jealousy and resentment, particularly if you or your ex has a new significant other that they want to bring into your children’s lives. Everything will be completely different, and everyone, including children, are going to feel the impact of the divorce. A therapist can help you are your ex to shift the focus from yourselves to your children, and in doing so, help you to manage your emotions, anger, expectations, and disappointments more effectively.

Divorce may end a marriage, but it doesn’t have to end a family relationship. It’s important to communicate with your kids about what’s going on between you and your ex, otherwise they will draw their own conclusions. The last thing you’d want is for your child to think to themselves: “Daddy doesn’t want to live here with me anymore,” or “Mommy doesn’t love me and Daddy anymore.” While your urge is going to be to protect your children, you cannot shield them from the reality that the family life is going to be different. Their emotions need to be considered and validated at every stage of the separation and divorce. If you feel your child is having a particularly difficult time, you may want them to speak with a child therapist, too.

Knowing if You Need Separation or Divorce Therapy

Many people are able to successfully navigate their way through the stages of grief associated with their divorce. Perhaps they’ve been through it before, or they have experienced many varieties of loss and grief in their lives. But for some, the ending of a relationship has a crippling and overwhelming effect. If you find that you are having a hard time pressing forward with any aspect of your life – your job or career, parenting your children, maintaining friendships, attending class or school, or taking care of your physical health – then therapy is likely the right step for you.

Seeking a counselor to help with your divorce is an important part of self-care. You are making yourself and your emotional wellbeing a priority. In doing so, you are ensuring that you can give the best to your children and loved ones, because your emotional state and health must be sound in order to care for them well.

Divorce Therapy FAQ

What does a divorce therapist do?

A divorce therapist or counselor will help you to work through the emotions and situations that arise when you end a long-term relationship. There are many issues that accompany a separation and divorce, including emotional, mental, physical and financial. A divorce counselor can teach you how to manage what you’re going through, as well as to communicate with your ex in a way that is effective, civilized and non-combative.

How do I know if divorce therapy is right for me?

If you are feeling any of the following symptoms or signs, you may want to consider seeking a divorce therapist:

  • Restlessness at night when trying to sleep
  • Self-loathing or feelings of unworthiness
  • Loss of appetite, associated with dramatic weight loss
  • Withdrawing from social gatherings and isolating yourself from loved ones
  • Loss of interest in activities, even ones you once enjoyed
  • Fits of anger and rage
  • Feelings of depression
  • Suicidal thoughts

Moreover, a divorce counselor can help you with the following:

  • Working through the stages of divorce and grief
  • Teaching you coping skills to deal with your emotions
  • Providing advice, encouragement, and support

If you feel that you need help with any of the above, then divorce therapy is likely the right step for you.

How can I find the right divorce counselor for me?

Find a therapist or a counselor that has a good deal of experience in this type of counseling. You can ask them about their credentials or read through some of the testimonials on their website. You’ll also want to ensure you feel comfortable with your therapist, and that you have a good connection with them. Divorce is psychologically draining enough as it is – it’s imperative that you find a therapist that you connect with on an emotional level and that you feel you can trust inexplicably with your thoughts and emotions.

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