Co-parenting isn’t always the best choice or even possible after divorce.
Nearly everywhere you look online, you’ll find article after article extolling the virtues of co-parenting post-divorce. In fact, some even hint if not outright state that the only way to make sure your kids adjust well to the divorce is if you co-parent.
And many divorce professionals tell their clients that co-parenting is the best way to parent after divorce.
So if you’re divorced or separated and co-parenting isn’t working for you, it’s easy to understand why you might be feeling like a failure.
Yet, before you sink (deeper) into depression being afraid you’re screwing up your kids, you need to know there are some very valid and legitimate reasons why co-parenting doesn’t work for everyone.
But before getting into those reasons, it’s important to understand what it takes to successfully co-parent. Knowing what it takes will make it easier to accept and understand when and why co-parenting doesn’t work.
- Clear boundaries
- An open dialogue between both parents
- Consistency with rules and parenting styles in both households
- Pre-determined, predictable scheduling
- Willingness to be flexible when something comes up
- ZERO disrespectful talk about each other in front of or from the children
- Amicable interactions at school and extra-curricular activities
- Making plans with the other parent before making them with the children
- Frequently updating the other parent about the pertinent changes in your life
- Recognize and respect that each parent has a relationship with the children
- Basic agreement on things like healthcare, education, discipline and spiritual upbringing
- Your kids’ belief that you and their other parent get along pretty well
This list of requirements is fairly daunting – even if you had an amicable divorce or consciously uncoupled. But if your divorce was strained or even high-conflict, you can start to get an idea of why co-parenting doesn’t work for you.
So, why doesn’t co-parenting work for all couples post-divorce? Here are 13 really good reasons:
- At least one of the parents has an active issue with alcohol, drugs or other substance abuse.If a parent suffers from substance abuse, they are simply not able to be consistent in their parenting because their cognitive abilities are impaired and their behavior can be erratic. There’s just no way to predict when or if a parent with substance abuse issues will be able to behave in the ways necessary to successfully co-parent.If your child’s/children’s other parent has an active abuse problem, then there’s absolutely no way you can co-parent with them.
- One parent is incarcerated.
If this is the case, it’s impossible to co-parent because one parent is unavailable to parent.
- A parent is violent or has threatened violence against and adult, child, pet or property.A violent parent is not a fit parent. They are not in control of their emotions or behavior. At a minimum, they are not capable of co-parenting. They may not be capable of parenting either.
- A parent has inappropriate sexual or other acting out behavior.To co-parent successfully, parents need to be on the same page. If one parent behaves inappropriately and could harm the child/children, then there’s no way to co-parent. And maybe there’s no safe way for this parent to parent either.
- One parent has a restraining order against the other.
A restraining order reflects a high level of mistrust and/or fear. It also means that legally the parents aren’t to communicate. And this will prevent co-parenting.
- A parent neglects or has abandoned their child/children.
If a parent is unfit or unwilling to parent, then co-parenting isn’t an option.
- A parent has a history of frequent, unexpected moves or plans to move out of the area.
When a parent is prone to moving frequently or unexpectedly, they are not able to provide the stability children need for successful co-parenting.
If a parent plans to move out of the area, their move will prevent co-parenting. They won’t be able to spend the time necessary to co-parenting their child/children.
- One parent is engaging in parental alienation and poisoning their children against the other parent.
Parental alienation is a horrible thing because it denies children a safe relationship with either parent. The alienating parent is demanding allegiance from their children at the expense of any relationship with their other parent.
When this type of dynamic exists, there’s no way to have the open communication necessary for co-parenting.
- A parent can’t rise above their anger at, resentment of and/or jealousy of the other parent.
When a parent is stuck in strong, negative emotions about their child’s/children’s other parent, these feelings prevent consistent, collaborative communication. And co-parenting is impossible.
- The parents are incapable of collaboration.
Co-parenting requires collaboration, but so does marriage. If a lack of collaboration was prevalent in the marriage, there’s no reason to expect that once the couple separates and divorces that they’ll suddenly be able to collaborate.Parents who have never been able to work together, won’t be able to co-parent either.
- At least one parent is trying to control the other.
When there are power struggles between the parents, it’s not unusual that the children are used as pawns. These types of struggles prevent the collaboration and communication required for co-parenting. They also show that the controlling parent has a lack of respect for the other parent.
- A parent has a rare psychological disorder that prevents them from being able to co-parent (e.g., narcissistic personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder).
The term narcissist is thrown around quite casually these days. It’s actually a fairly rare condition, as are sociopathy and psychopathy.However, if a co-parent truly has one of these rare conditions, it is beyond their capabilities to co-parent. And it shouldn’t even be attempted.
- At least one parent is emotionally and/or mentally abusive of the other parent.
Abuse is the ultimate sign of disrespect. And without respect, it’s impossible to co-parent.
If co-parenting isn’t working for you because it can’t (at least right now), that doesn’t mean that your children are destined to be screwed up. What it means is that you’re going to have to be the strong parent that they can always count on – even if it makes you unpopular at times.
It’s by parenting your children with consistency and structure post-divorce regardless of whether you’re able to successfully co-parent with your ex or not that your children will continue to grow, thrive and blossom into the wonderful people they’re capable of becoming.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people navigate parenting post-divorce including why co-parenting doesn’t work for them. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re ready to take the first step to working with me as your personal coach, you can schedule a private first session.
Looking for more information about co-parenting with a difficult ex? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Co-Parenting.
Knowing which marriages survive infidelity can help you find hope (or know it’s over).
If your world has been thrown off its axis by an affair, you may wonder which marriages survive infidelity. You may wonder how it’s even possible to survive such a gutting of the intrinsic trust in a marriage.
And your doubt wouldn’t be unfounded. After all, nothing more completely undermines the most foundational premise of marriage than infidelity.
When your life has been turned inside out by betrayal, it’s only natural to feel confused, ungrounded, and unsure of your future. And that’s true for both the betrayed and the partner who strayed.
If you aren’t ready to sign divorce papers, knowing which marriages survive infidelity can help you assess the prognosis for your own marriage.
Simply knowing that marriages do survive infidelity — and even come out stronger than ever — can be a ray of hope.
Dr. Joe Kort, PhD believes that the frequency of infidelity is actually much higher than the numbers often cited. He also says that infidelity is the number-one reason people come to him for therapy. In his experience, these clients genuinely want to work through the trauma of infidelity and come out the other end together.
And he would be the first to say that, when these couples do reach the other side, their marriage is stronger than before the affair.
That may sound all well and good in the land of fairy tales. But if you’re in the throes of emotional trauma from an affair, you may not have the stomach for such in-a-nutshell positivity. You understandably want answers. You want to know which marriages survive infidelity. And you want to know if and how yours will be one of them.
Infidelity expert Dr. Shirley Glass emphasizes three qualities that are the strongest determiners of which marriages survive infidelity.
- Empathy from the unfaithful partner.
Is the unfaithful partner able to be empathetic when the partner that s/he betrayed comes unglued emotionally? Can the unfaithful partner step into the woundedness of the betrayed and bear compassionate witness to the pain s/he caused? And how does the unfaithful partner express that empathy?
It sounds like a no-brainer to expect a cheating spouse who wants to repair the marriage to tolerate the emotions of the one betrayed. But even the offending partner can have a breaking point. It takes a firmly staked commitment to healing the marriage to remain empathetic, especially if your spouse wants you to suffer.
Even the most mutually resolved marriages will experience their share of unpredictable emotions, crying, obsessing, hypervigilance and flashbacks. The unfaithful partner has to exhibit tireless empathy while also not playing into a perpetrator-victim dynamic.
- Acceptance of responsibility by the unfaithful partner.
How much responsibility does the unfaithful partner accept for the choice s/he made?
There are multiple and mutual areas of responsibility that will have to be accepted and dealt with if the marriage is going to survive. What is unequivocally imperative, however, is that the unfaithful partner accepts full responsibility for the choice to have an affair.
Problems that existed in the marriage prior to the affair matter and must be remedied. But they don’t absolve a spouse of cheating as a way of dealing with or avoiding them.
There is no room for blaming the betrayed spouse for the affair. S/he may have accountability for behaviors and actions that weren’t in the marriage’s best interest. But s/he did not cause the affair to happen.
- Positive degree of understanding of vulnerabilities that made the affair possible.
This component of healing is a great predictor of which marriages survive infidelity. It means that both partners are willing to examine where they left their marriage vulnerable and exposed.
Consider a house that isn’t properly sealed. A roof tile is loose. There are cracks around the windows. Small holes punctuate the foundation. Now think about what can get in when the weather gets bad or a critter gets curious.
Affairs happen in the context of opportunity. And the office is the most common breeding ground. Think about it. You show up in the morning showered, nicely dressed, ready to take on the world and reel in the profits. You’re focused, cooperative, and on your best behavior.
Perhaps you have to travel for business, and an attractive business partner travels with you or is a client at your destination. Perhaps an old high school flame reaches out to you on social media after his/her divorce, and you form an emotional attachment. Perhaps you are getting too comfortable with your personal trainer at the gym.
Part of taking responsibility for your marriage is “sealing up the house.” That doesn’t mean you hide from the world. It simply means you take control of what comes into your house.
When you understand the vulnerabilities in your marriage, you can address them head-on. What will you do/not do, share/not share? How and where will you spend time with members of the opposite sex outside your marriage, even at work? How can you strengthen your spouse’s sense of security and trust by addressing and reducing vulnerabilities?
Aside from this “umbrella” of elements that are good indicators of which marriages survive infidelity, several others add to the chance of success. Here are a few more.
- Commitment to honesty and rebuilding trust. Believe it or not, the responsibility for this doesn’t rest solely on the unfaithful partner.Yes, the nature of the honesty will be different for both partners, as will the roles in rebuilding trust. But both partners will have to be equally committed to transparency about their feelings and the affair.
And the unfaithful partner will have to accept that his/her life will be lived in a fish bowl for some time. Being proactive in assuring the betrayed partner of trustworthiness is a huge sign of taking responsibility and of a commitment to healing the marriage.
- Openness to counseling.
Recovering from infidelity is difficult enough, even in the safest environment. It’s exceptionally difficult to do with only the polarized partners.Emotional safety is a non-negotiable if there is going to be honest disclosure of vulnerabilities and feelings.
The unpredictability of flashbacks, painful feelings, and obsessions can make it difficult to put parameters around dealing with the affair. It needs to have boundaries in order to be safe and effective while leaving protected time to actually “live.”
- Willingness to work through the perpetrator-victim mindset.
It’s all but inevitable. The unfaithful partner will be seen as the guilty one who “did this” to his/her spouse. And the betrayed spouse will take on a “victim” stance.While this is understandable in the early stages after an affair has been discovered, it’s not conducive to a marriage coming out stronger. Healthy boundaries are incredibly important, especially during this delicate time of reconciliation and healing.
There’s a difference between taking responsibility for a damaging choice and being punished as a perpetrator of intentional cruelty. And there’s a difference between expressing the pain of betrayal and playing the role of a victim who has no responsibility for the marriage.
No matter who has done what before or during the affair, no one can build or heal a marriage alone.
- Willingness to work together on a new marriage.
When a couple enters therapy with the resolve to make their marriage better than it was before the affair, their marriage has great promise. They know that the marriage they once knew can’t exist anymore. And it probably shouldn’t.Will they still keep certain qualities of their “first” marriage? Of course. But in order for them to forgive one another and themselves, they have to feel the infusion of new life into what the infidelity destroyed.
The question of which marriages survive infidelity is best answered by the mutuality of determination in the partners. They both have to really want the reconciliation and healing of their marriage.
They also have to be willing to faithfully take on their respective responsibilities for making that happen.
Marriages riven by the betrayal of infidelity can come back together. And those with the greatest success are those in which both partners decide that their reconciliation won’t be in vain.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help individuals navigate the repercussions of infidelity. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.
Looking for more information about repairing your marriage? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Surviving Infidelity.
No matter how bad things seem now, you can get through this.
The divorce devastated you. The affair that caused it all but destroyed you. Knowing how to get over a divorce and an affair seems all but impossible.
It’s a sobering reality that we just take for granted the “around 50%” divorce rate in the US. Even worse when you consider the higher rates for subsequent marriages, or the percentage of divorces prompted by infidelity.
But those are just statistics — pragmatic pie charts of connubial destiny in America. They tell you nothing about the feelings, histories and struggles of the people who make up the numbers. And they show you nothing about how to get over a divorce and an affair.
The list of collateral damage from divorce will come as no surprise. There is the plummet into sadness, anger, confusion and all the stages of grief. There are the financial ramifications and the short- and long-term trauma to children.
Add to an already painful experience the rip-your-heart-out scourge of infidelity, and those consequences become amplified and even more complex.
When an infidelity leads to divorce, both the betrayed and the betrayer are left with heavy consequences. How to get ovre a divorce and an affair will look similar for them in some ways and vastly different in others.
If the betraying spouse has left the marriage for the affair partner, the betrayed spouse may have a much more difficult and lengthy journey recovering. (Click here to read Ruth Ritchie’s account of what that journey was like for her.)
Going through a divorce after an affair can cause you to lose your whole sense of self — your home, friends, identity as a spouse, security and future. And you will have to overcome several major issues in order to move on and have a chance at a happy, connected life.
Some of those issues are:
Who can blame you for believing you will never trust love again? Infidelity naturally causes doubt in your own reality, your own judgment, other people and yourself.
Divorce doesn’t remedy the problem of emotional flooding. If you don’t actively address and process your experience and emotions, you may be vulnerable to triggers for years to come. Simple things like a future partner or spouse coming home late from work can trigger a massive flood of memories and their connected feelings.
It only makes sense that you would have trouble trusting again. The danger is that your mistrust could lead you to fear the faithlessness of future partners and not give them the space to be themselves.
- Risk aversion.
In order to avoid the risk of future pain, you may stop short of true intimacy in future relationships.
- Negative viewpoint.
You may end up feeling bitterness toward and mistrust of the opposite sex.
Here are some guidelines for how to get over a divorce and an affair.
- Accept that your marriage is over.
You don’t have to reach the final-stage-of-grief level of acceptance to stop fighting for what’s not going to be part of your future.
Letting go isn’t easy — it will likely feel unnatural, even impossible. But if you can accept what is and stop investing in the past, you may find doors opening to even greater opportunities for love.
- Remember that you didn’t cause the affair.
Of all the inevitable feelings that you will have — shame, embarrassment, confusion, loneliness, anger, fear — guilt doesn’t need to be one of them.
We all have choices as to how we communicate and behave in relationships. The responsibility for the affair belongs to the ones who chose it.
- Consider your own role in the marriage.
Assuming blame for the affair isn’t your responsibility. Doing so will only add to the weight of your confusion and pain.
But courageously examining your own role in your marriage will actually be liberating. It will allow you to learn and grow, making your divorce a gifting experience that can lead you into a more mature, lasting love.
It’s also the first step to forgiveness — for your ex and for yourself.
- Expect to grieve.
Grief is inevitable. Embrace it as a reality of evolution. It’s a tunnel through the mountain of loss. And if you are willing to turn on your headlights and head into it, you will spare yourself the futile effort of climbing the mountain.
- Fake a smile if you have to.
This isn’t about denying your feelings. It’s about tricking your brain into lifting your mood and lowering your stress. Sometimes learning how to get over a divorce and an affair is made easier when you’re smiling. Try it!
- Be grateful for every little thing.
When you are drowning in the memories of all you have lost, finding reasons to feel grateful can seem ludicrous. But healing doesn’t happen overnight. And sometimes just getting through the night comes down to whatever little things you can do to love yourself into tomorrow.
Put your hand on your heart and feel it beating. Through thick and thin, it beats for you. Fluff your pillow and lay your head down. Think of that simple comfort. Eat your dinner with mindfulness and contemplate how God, the Universe, your Highest Self is sustaining you in the present…and will sustain you in the future.
- Don’t drown in legalities.
If you live in a “no fault” state, no amount of wishing for recourse is going to make your ex pay for having an affair. It’s important that you have wise representation and a fair divorce agreement. But letting go of ongoing court battles will give you a head start on healing.
- Get tested.
Yes, it’s insulting that you have to walk into your doctor’s office and ask for an STD test. But if your ex was having sex with you while also having sex with someone else, you need to protect yourself. Ask any future partner(s) to do the same, and be transparent with the results. This is about your health and safety.
- Build your village.
As old friends drift away (some will, and some will stick by you like Velcro), fill those open spots with new, supportive friends.
Find a therapist, coach, support group, and/or online support system. Welcome into your life others who have been where you are and can assure you of the light at the end of the tunnel. They can help show you how to get over a divorce and an affair.
Just don’t isolate yourself, no matter how alone your experience makes you feel.
- Set long-term goals.
You will know that you are at least on the road to healing when you start envisioning your life down the road.
Short-term goals may be steeped in survival. But long-term goals require a vision of thriving. Go ahead and write them down. Dream a bit. You are always allowed to change your goals as your heart heals and your mind opens to new possibilities.
You will never forget. But you can release the ball and chain of relentless anger and bitterness. Forgiveness is never about a disregard or diminishment of harm done. It’s about choosing to walk out of bondage into the light of hope. Remember to forgive yourself, as well.
- Take good care of yourself.
No matter what…Just. Be. Kind. To. You.
The key to getting over a divorce and an affair is strategically buried in the process of developing a positive, forward-moving mindset. But in the context of the wind being kicked out of your life, that positivity may sound dismissive.
Know that every little step you take — first for mere survival, then for a little more — is a courageous step into that mindset. Hanging on takes energy…and an inner voice that says you are worth the effort.
And you are most definitely worth it.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people learn how to get over a divorce and an affair. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.
Looking for more information about how to get over a getting over your divorce due to infidelity? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Surviving Infidelity.
There’s the end and then there’s finality.
Divorce is often compared to death in terms of the experience of loss and grief. But despite their similarities, dealing with grief after divorce is different from grief over death.
When you’re suffering from any kind of pain or loss, the last thing you want is a comparison of your pain to others. “At least you still have (this),” “At least you didn’t lose (that),” “It could have been so much worse.”
Making comparisons, even with the best intentions, can minimize the sufferer’s feelings and reality. It can also lead the one making the comparisons to mete out compassion relative to the judgment made.
When comparing the ways that dealing with grief after divorce is different from grief after death, no such judgment is intended. Those who have experienced both divorce and the death of a spouse can best attest to the entanglement of their similarities and differences.
Some of the obvious ways that dealing with grief after divorce and dealing with grief after death of a spouse are similar include:
- There is the painful loss of a spouse, and often the loss of self-identity as a partner.
- Both divorce and death mark an end to your hopes, dreams, plans, routines and all things familiar.
- You are left to navigate life without your partner — emotionally, physically, financially, legally, parentally.
- Both divorce and death can blindside you. Divorce may be rooted in betrayal, and death may be sudden or accidental.
- Divorce can feel like a slow death when there is a slow deterioration of the marriage, even when there is a fight to keep it alive.
- Both can make you feel that you have lost control of life and your purpose.
Some of the differences in dealing with grief after divorce and dealing with grief after death are obvious, and some lie in the stages of grief themselves. Both losses share the stages of grief — in many ways similarly, in many ways differently, in all ways uniquely and profoundly.
Here are 10 ways that dealing with grief after divorce is different than dealing with grief after death.
- Death is permanent.
There is no second-guessing, no going back to communicate regrets or even anger, no co-parenting the children. There are no accidental encounters, no showing up for major life events and feeling gratified that you have healed from what once shattered your world. You will never see, hear or touch this person again.
- Death isn’t a conscious choice.
With the exception of suicide, which leaves the bereaved in a wake of psychological and physiological difficulties, death isn’t voluntary. We all die, and only God knows the moment.
When a spouse dies, the relationship is left in its final state. Did you have an argument the same morning that your husband had a fatal heart attack at work? Did your wife discover your affair just minutes before driving off in her car and getting into a fatal accident?
Death doesn’t leave an opportunity for reconciliation and healing in this realm. Divorce, on the other hand, at least holds the seed of opportunity for the parted spouses to resolve their differences, to learn, and to forgive.
- Divorce means children have both parents.
They may not have them together, but they still get to have a relationship with them both.
When a spouse dies, a parent also dies (assuming there have been children). And that changes life in a permanent way for both widow(er) and children. Parenting now belongs to the bereaved spouse alone.
- Family and friends react differently.
Divorce can be a rending force to friendships and families. It’s understandable that in-law relationships may weaken or disappear, as the “blood is thicker than water” principle goes into effect.
With both types of loss, there is often the weight of social expectation to get through the grief and move on.
The immediate shock of divorce or death can leave you physiologically and neurologically overwhelmed. When denial is employed as a temporary defense mechanism, it can protect you from the effects of overwhelm so that you can do the work of surviving.
If allowed to endure too long, it can lead to irrational behavior. A jaded spouse may stalk his/her ex or act as if the divorce isn’t real. A person facing the inevitability of a spouse’s imminent death may refuse to accept and prepare for that reality.
- Pain and fear.
Loss of marriage and loss of life are both terrifying, life-changing events with long-term, even permanent, effects. Suddenly you are alone to deal with life. How will I go on alone?
In the case of death, that pain and fear are surmounted by the reality that the departed is never coming back. S/he can never again contribute in any pragmatic way to your life.
In the case of divorce, the pain may be exacerbated by feelings like anger and betrayal from events that culminated in the divorce.
Both divorce and death leave plenty of room for anger. Divorce is commonly riddled with anger — for betrayal, dashed hopes, insensitivity, indifference…
Death, too, leaves plenty of room for anger. Doctors and hospitals may fail, misstep, or simply not care as much as they should. Even the departed spouse may have left this world with unresolved discontent.
Sometimes you are angry at yourself…and sometimes at the circumstances themselves. But in the case of death, you are left to deal with that anger alone, with no hope of getting any clarification or comfort from your spouse.
It’s not abnormal to make a last-ditch effort to save what is important to you. At no time is that bargaining more poignant than when a person’s life is coming to an end.
A spouse grieving divorce may bargain with an ex by promising certain behaviors in an effort to reconcile. And impossible as it may sound, a widow(er) may continue to plead with God for the restoration of the departed’s life. What if…? If only…. Please, please….
Marriage and divorce are two-way streets. Both spouses contribute, both withhold. But even in divorce there is the opportunity for atonement if both people are open to that kind of healing. And forgiveness is always a choice that can move life forward without the weight of resentment.
When grieving death, however, it’s only the bereaved who can feel guilt, and who must find a way to heal, atone, and forgive. Could I have done more to save him/her? Did I ignore the signs? Would s/he still be alive if I had done xyz? I wish I had/hadn’t said/done (whatever).
- Depression.Depression will look much the same whether you are dealing with grief after divorce or grief after death. It is the longest and most long-lasting stage of grief, and can become debilitating on many levels if left untreated.If you have lost a loved one to death, you may have an especially difficult time with depression as you try to heal. You may still feel married, and therefore incapable of moving on into a new relationship, a new home, or a new life.
Depression after divorce may be experienced in the shadow of an ex who is a constant reminder of what you once had but lost. Depression after death is always experienced in the absence of that same reminder.
Dealing with grief after divorce is both similar to and different from dealing with grief after death. The stages of grief are the same, even though they may be experienced in profoundly different ways and in an unpredictable order.
The biggest difference between the two is also the most obvious. Divorce, while most likely permanent in terms of the marriage, isn’t permanent in terms of life.
And where there is life, there is also the hope and possibility of mutual forgiveness…and healing.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach, who works with people just like you who are in search of support discovering things to do when dealing with grief after divorce. For free weekly advice, register for my newsletter. If you’d like to explore working with me, you can schedule a private 30-minute consultation with me.