Divorce is one of the most stressful and emotionally draining times that someone will go through.

One of the biggest challenges that newly divorced couples deal with is how to have a smooth divorce when everything seems to be falling apart.

We asked some of Sydney’s best family psychologists, therapists, and counsellors their advice regarding the following question:

What is your number #1 Tip for people going through divorce and why?

Divorce Tips Sydney

Build A Strong Support Network During Divorce

Ensure you have a small circle of friends and family that will support you through the process. Choose supporters who will help you maintain objectivity, composure, and good boundaries.

Find trusted friends and family to help you share the pain, and yet help you move on and enjoy life. Avoid people who fuel bitterness. As a last resort, seek professional counseling if you need help to cope.

David Bridges

Family Therapist (Parramatta), Bridges Councelling

For most people, at least some aspects of divorce are an utterly horrible, miserable experience. There are so many waves of strong emotion, so many uncertainties and added unexpected demands at the same time as we feel especially unsafe or devalued.

The earlier pattern of our lives, even if it had been unsatisfactory, is shredding away so there isn’t even the certainty of a routine to help guide the way.

We are being expected to do more with less – whether it be about the practicalities of money, food and shelter, the care of loved ones old and young, our sense of dignity, worth and belonging. It’s a major assault on our identity and place in the world.

On top of all this, well-meaning family and friends may be lining up to help by giving you advice about what you should or shouldn’t do. This is even more complicated when you really value them or if you feel there are strings attached if you don’t follow what they say.

When we’re vulnerable, it’s hard to remember their advice isn’t compulsory to obey, just an opinion drawn from their own partial understanding of you and your situation along with their own beliefs about how life ought to be.

The best way to proceed is to thank them for caring enough to want to help, and to use their ideas as one aspect of testing your own emerging view of what you need.

Every divorce, just like every life, is unique in some way. And it’s yours. You want to do the best you can to get by and there is so much to consider, to learn and to do.

It can’t all be done at once and as much as possible you need chances to test out what’s working and what isn’t, and to keep building a direction and momentum. So wherever you can, try to give yourself time – time to calm things down, time to get new information, time to think – long term as well as immediately.

Hang close to the people you know really believe in you and help you to remember the good qualities you bring to their lives as well as to yours, who value you and have the courage to disagree without judgement.

Sometimes I say to my friends, I allow everyone one “free” divorce. After that, I want to know what they’ve learned. So although divorce is tough, it can truly be used as a wonderful benefit for your future.

Max Cornwell

Family Therapist and Psychologist (Hunters Hill), Max Cornwell & Associates Pty Ltd

Keep A Clear Head When Making Tough Decisions

Clear thinking is essential to navigate one’s way through a crisis such as divorce. Keeping one’s own feelings and stress processed will allow one to make thoughtful decisions which will be beneficial for all involved in the long term.

Martina Palombi

Psychotherapist & Family Therapist (Bondi Junction), Affinity Psychotherapy & Councelling

Forgiveness Is Key When Coping With Divorce

Although marriages are lasting longer than they did 20 years ago, it is still estimated that 1 in 3 marriages in Australia will end in divorce. The pain involved in this loss can be complicated, lengthy and far-reaching to those who are affected by it.

A marriage often ends due to one or both of the partners not getting their needs met, and the relationship becoming unhealthy. How then can you navigate one of the most difficult times of your life with someone whom you have unhealthy and sometimes hostile interactions, and with whom there has been a breakdown in trust and communication?

Each partner will react and cope differently and continue to have different needs during this difficult time. There can be significant feelings of grief due to the loss of the family structure, loss of the family home, or the loss of a person’s expectations about the future.

In surviving this roller-coaster ride it can help to keep communication as open and healthy as possible, especially if there are children involved. Having a third party to mediate and assist with communication is sometimes necessary if you are having trouble maintaining healthy communication.

But, if there was only one piece of advice I could give to couples and families going through this, it would be to work towards forgiveness as soon as you are able.

Taking even a small step towards forgiveness, whether it be towards the other partner or towards yourself, will start to set you free and help you to move forward from past mistakes.

Forgiveness has nothing to do with whether the person deserves to be forgiven, and everything to do with setting yourself free from resentment, anger and bitterness.

Research has shown that forgiveness can improve our mental and physical well-being, making us healthier and happier (Professor Everett Worthington, 2015). Making the decision to not hold a grudge will help you to cope better and move forward, the emotions will follow over time.

Claire Marsh

Psychologist & Manager (Epping), Adventist Counselling Services

Civilised Communication Between Parents

Divorce is rarely a hastily-taken decision, and by the time a couple gets to that stage, there is much water under the bridge and dirty washing out on the line. Frequently, painful and hurtful things have been said which can’t be unsaid, and both parties are in a place of pain and sadness.

We all want to connect with another person to form a close, supportive bond, and when that fails there is a sense of grief at the loss of all the hopes and dreams.

But having decided on divorce, there are a few guidelines which can help the process:

  • Stop with the blaming, shaming and criticism. It doesn’t help and its very toxic.
  • Try and see the other as your ally on the new path towards separation. There is no point now in dragging up old arguments and frustrations – move forward by ignoring any provocations and aim to be the most mature and calm.
  • Even at this late stage, it’s never too late to try to listen to what the other is trying to say. Poor communication is the most common experience of separating and divorcing couples, but by listening and acknowledging the other you are not necessarily agreeing with them, you are helping them to calm down.
  • Acknowledge that the other was once someone that you loved, and try to honour and respect that. A divorce may be inevitable, but that doesn’t mean to have to forget all the good times.
  • Aim to be respectful, discreet and courageous – it will pay off in the years ahead. You next partner will be judging you on the way that you deal with this situation.
Annie Gurton

Psychological Therapist and Imago Couples Counsellor (Manly & Freshwater), www.anniegurton.com

Years ago, a senior divorce lawyer told me, “Susie, I tell my clients to work out their financial settlement and custody arrangements mostly themselves. Use legal guidelines. Find a way to be civilized. Put the children’s welfare above all else. Decent parents make happy children.”

“Or else, leave a blank cheque with my secretary as you go out.”

I have quoted that back to many clients since. The ones who take heed end up richer, calmer and with children who feel comfortable interacting with both their parents. Try this motto for the hard times:

“Sometimes, it’s hard being an adult, but as the adults, that’s our job.”

Susie Tuckwell

Relationships Counsellor & Psychotherapist (Sydney CBD, Surry Hills & Randwick), Susietuckwell.com.au

Agree on some ground rules on how they communicate with each other. Communication should be limited so that each person can get on with grieving.

If there are children involved it is even more crucial that there are some ground rules in place. For example, maintaining boundaries about when you contact your ex partner about a child, how you do a handover of a child from one person to the next. If this can’t be managed, then post separation counselling sessions or mediation can help with this.

Jacqueline McDiarmid

Director, Couple & Family Therapist (Paddington), Sydney Couple & Family Specialists

Always Act In The Best Interest Of The Children

The #1 tip that I would give parents is to separate how they feel about their “ex” as a partner versus as parent.

Children’s perception of their parents shapes their developing self-identity. They need to know that both their parents are OK to know that they are OK. They also need to know that both parents love them and that they are allowed to love both parents.

Alison O’Neill

PhD candidate, M.Psych (Clin), BA (Hons) MAPS, Alison O’Neill is a clinical psychologist and director of LSC Psychology (located in the Sydney CBD) who specialises in the assessment of families going through separation.

Every situation is different. Why and how a relationship ends is very complicated. When there are children involved, the children’s interests are paramount and should be a top priority.

Speaking about the other parent in front of the children is not a good idea. There are reasons you are getting divorced, but you need to have ways and appropriate avenues to vent and not to involve the children in your “therapeutic outlets”.

Going beyond your immediate needs and stepping into the eyes of the kids is a skill to learn.

Sometimes it better to not aggravate the other parent because it is in the children’s interest to not have that parent stressed. Sometimes it is about not speaking badly about your ex-partner in front of the children. Sometimes it’s making transitions as smooth as possible and not discuss and having arguments in front of the children.

It’s easy to say, but it can be very difficult to do. There is so much emotion involved and often a lot of bitterness. For whatever reason the relationship has ended do not involve the children. Children don’t understand the complexities of adult relationships.

Dr Fiona Martin

Clinical Director / Educational and Developmental Psychologist (Mosman), Sydney Child Psychology Centre

“The decision is final – we are going to get a divorce!”

As a relationship counsellor I have heard these words after a number of sessions and wondered if I could have given better guidance. I am reminded that the role of the counsellor is not to repair broken marriages but to ensure the safety and ongoing wellbeing of all parties involved.

I remind my clients that ‘divorce’ is not the problem – it is the ‘solution’ to a set of circumstances that have resulted in a decision to call it quits.

Due consideration has been given to all the ramifications of this decision. When marital bliss turns sour – for whatever reason – most of the hopes, dreams, aspirations, plans and goals will be terminated. But, ‘responsibility’ may take on a more important role. Especially when there are children involved.

The ‘parenting’ will require constantly being reminded that all future decisions are; ‘in the best interest of the children’. Even though the parents are heading in different directions – when it comes to the kids there must be solidarity.

This will require, that while Love may have died – and sometimes even Like is missing, they will need to find space for respect/regard for one another at various times and while this is the end of a relationship it is also the beginning of a journey – the start to the rest of your life.

Rob Montgomery

Psychotherapist (North Ryde), Blue Gum Counselling

Consider Post Divorce Councelling & Therapy

I don’t think anyone goes into a marriage with the view that they will end up divorced. One usually chooses the unity of marriage as a life-long commitment. In the event of a divorce, regardless of the circumstances, there are likely to be feelings of grief & loss and possibly a sense of shame or guilt.

So my number one tip is to seek support from a professional such as a psychologist. A psychologist is able to offer a safe, non-judgmental and confidential environment in which one is able to work through the grieving process.

Also, by speaking with a psychologist, one may explore the reasons leading to the marriage failure and gain insight into their own contribution (large or small) towards the relationship break down.

Note, this may in itself be a painful process. However, with such knowledge, a person is less likely to repeat mistakes and more likely to enter into a future relationship with more confidence.

Rosemarie Nugent

Counselling Psychologist, Manly Pittwater Psychology

Before going ahead with the finality of divorce proceedings, consult a Relationship Counsellor.

Couples whose relationship has fallen apart are ‘blinkered’ by their own view of the difficulties because of personal pain.

Counselling will enable each individual to explore their problems, to communicate effectively their needs and hopes for a better tomorrow, and to find ways to work through their issues toward a resolve. When both are committed to this through counseling, couples are in a much better place to make informed decisions.

Wendy Estall

Marriage Counsellor (Liverpool & Fairfield), Emmaus Counselling

Couples going through a divorce often struggle to keep emotions and resentments out of the legal process. To this end, I always suggest individuals attend some kind of therapy in order to name past hurts, express old or continuing resentments and work with a therapist to prioritise the facts of the separation over the feelings that the divorce generates.

Divorce can be a time that triggers very old wounds, or opens up new fears for the future. Because feelings are not facts, it is important to sort through each feeling and strategise the most painless way of moving through a separation by assessing the facts.

Divorce is painful, if not for both, then often for one. It is a major life transition and requires support. I encourage people who find themselves in this process, to seek out their own personal therapy, address the hurt and then move forward with their lives. As one lawyer colleague said to me, “Lawyers are very expensive therapists!”.

If there are children involved in the process, here at Baby and Beyond Parental Counselling, we offer family therapy so the entire family unit can get onto the same page. Husband and wife team Melissa Hughes and Nick Garay combine individual, couples, sibling and family sessions to ease the pain of divorce and provide families with coping tools and strategies.

Melissa Hughes

Founder, Director, Perinatal Psychotherapist & Group Facilitator (North Sydney), Baby and Beyond Parental Counselling

The fact is when people are going through a divorce they not only need to resolve legal and financial issues they need to resolve emotional issues to move on especially if there are children involved and the relationship needs to continue.

Being angry will make the process longer, more hurtful and possibly more costly. Staying calm, letting go and having a vision for the future helps keep the couple focussed through this difficult time.

When people are going through a divorce there are many well-meaning family members and friends offering “good advice”, sometimes this makes the situation emotionally more complicated.

Talking it through with a psychologist in a private, confidential setting can help individuals and couples work on their emotional and behavioral issues so they can move forward. I always remind couples in relationship counselling to go hard on the problem, not the other person.

Janice Killey

Principal Psychologist , Psychologists Southern Sydney

Tell us: What helpful tip do you have for someone currently going through divorce?

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