Living apart from your child's other parent can create an entirely new set of stressors in your life. Not only do you have to spend time apart from your child, but both parents have to trust that their exes, and any subsequent new partners, are on the same page when it comes to parenting. If only one parent has been the primary caregiver, and especially if there is anger and resentment present, it's important for parents to seek professional help in order to co-parent successfully after a separation or divorce. Looking into the ways couples therapy makes you better co-parents can allow you to maintain a healthy family structure, even when you are no longer living under the same roof.
In an interview with Psychology Today, psychologist Dr. Deborah Serani said co-parenting, also called joint parenting or shared parenting, is the experience of raising children as a single parent when separation or divorce occurs. Serani explained that co-parenting can be difficult and "is greatly influenced by the reciprocal interactions of each parent." For example, if you are following healthy parenting techniques, but your ex isn't, it can put your child at risk for developmental issues. Seeking the assistance of a professional can make a world of difference.
Here are four important way couples therapy can make you better co-parents.
1. It Improves Communication
In a recent interview with Romper, psychologist, Dr. Elyssa H. Barbash says that for co-parenting to be successful, each parent must be able to communicate effectively with the other. She says:
"Couples therapy is one of the most helpful ways to improve communication, learn problem solving strategies, discuss priorities and parenting philosophies, and ensure that both parents are a unified team despite not living or being together in a romantic way."
Couples therapy can help parents learn how to actively listen, paraphrase and summarize for clarity, and ask for and provide feedback in a clear and helpful way. Barbash explains that these are critical aspects of being an effective parenting team, and can reduce conflict due to miscommunication and misunderstandings. She adds that research indicates that effective parental communication without conflict has a positive impact on children and their ability to adapt to a co-parenting family structure.
2. It Helps You Develop A Clear Parenting Plan
It's important for parents who don't live together to make, follow, and share their plans with each other. Barbash explains that couples therapy can be helpful in developing a clear parenting plan which includes establishing boundaries and discussing realistic expectations between the parents. This is especially true when one or both parents begin dating or remarry.
Similarly, parenting expert Dr. Edward Kruk wrote in Psychology Today that a child's adjustment post-divorce/separation depends on consistent, safe, structured, and predictable care giving environments with minimal disruptions.
3. It Can Resolve Lingering Conflicts
If you are no longer with your ex, there's a good change that you have some lingering conflicts. Barbash says that couples therapy is an effective way to discuss and resolve conflicts with a neutral, third party in order to reduce overall conflict between parents.
According to his website, psychotherapist, Dr. Steve Zemmelman explained that counseling may help one or both parents separate their anger or grief related to the ending of the relationship from the business of on-going parenting so that both parents can focus more fully on parenting issues without the intrusion of “unfinished business” from the past.
4. It Can Redefine Relationships & Address Responsibilities
According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), during separation and divorce, family members experience uncertainty, emotional upheaval, and changes in their family roles and rules. Occasionally, parents may begin to rely on their children for a high level of emotional support and may even give them some new and major responsibilities in the home.
Couples counseling can help parents redefine their relationship and address the responsibilities of each adult and child. It helps each parent step up to the plate, and keeps kids from being tasked with more than they are emotionally equipped to handle.