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  • Writer's pictureCathy Stones

Helping With Relationship Breakups

Being Open Minded About Your Relationship Breakup



Relationship Breakups

When it comes to Counselling and Relationship Breakups, one size definitely does not fit all. Some couples come in to rekindle their relationship and love, some come in for the benefit of their children, and some come in to end things with a third party involved to ensure that all voices get heard rather than no one listening due argument flair ups.

Many couples choose to come into therapy to help with communication. This is not easy as we all have different communication styles when we are upset and frustrated. If I was to advise anyone right now with regards how they communicate during a breakup I would suggest that time is allowed for each person to say what they want to say. Quite often even in a therapy room this is not possible due to high levels of emotions and expectations of the other person. I see that people in general who can not get their needs met are often very unhappy. So start by communicating your needs. See what needs are being met, and are not being met, and then see how you can get those needs met in other ways.



During Relationship Breakups


During relationship breakups in counselling, I ask couples to write out a sort of contract (boundary setting) to set the pathway forwards. How do you want to be spoken to? What do I want to get out of the counselling process? How will this be achieved? This contract is usually largely unwritten which is where relationships falter as we have preconceived ideas of right and wrong, whats ok and not ok with in the relationship. These demands we place on the other can sometimes feel like a mountain to climb and usually end up in an explosion of emotion and dynamics in the relationship changing. Therefore, the contract is written in a therapy setting and referred back to when the contract is broken, and we start again.


A really good question to ask yourself whilst breaking up is, “am I expecting too much from the other person?”, or, “how can I change my expectation of the other person?”. There will of course be challenging moments in relationship counselling and these are used to learn more about the self, and the other. I do see that people in general find this a hard process and struggle with being responsible for themselves due to huge dynamic and emotional shifts, and so a blame game ensues. The blame game is essentially a game where no one feels ok, a way that was learned through society that someone else is wrong and they need telling for that person to then feel OK again. This simply is just another example of a destructive way of living. There is no right, and no wrong. There is what works and what doesn’t work.

“Ending a relationship properly calls for mutual respect, grace, and maturity. Here’s how to break up with someone as gently and effectively as possible.” (https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-end-a-relationship-4173954)


New Way of Thinking about Relationship Breakups

There are new ways to think about how relationships end. After completing communication and contracts, we could then start to help them design their own future based on some creative ideas currently available to them. Many couples carry with them the horrendous divorce stories of their parent’s generation. The typical divorce story of the 1980’s and 1990’s was based on old fashioned ways to think about uncoupling, depictions on the media, and tales of unscrupulous attorneys who often contributed to disaster divorces.


Within a marriage, there are several simultaneous partnerships intertwined with each other.


A marriage is a:

  • A parenting partnership

  • A sexual partnership

  • A friendship partnership

  • A parental partnership

  • A financial partnership

  • A household/roommate partnership

Relationship Breakups – Dynamics

These dynamics in relationship breakups could be seen under the context of grief and loss as we lose certain attachments which leave us feeling completely disarmed and vulnerable. These individual themes could be explored with in the counselling framework as a couple, but usually in my experience more useful if completed individually to reduce the likelihood of certain games being played out. For example – the Drama Triangle.


Sometimes, couples want to end all or most of their relationships. But oftentimes, they only want to end some partnerships, and not others. To help couples uncouple well, they don’t have to end it all.



Communication Styles


After working with the couple on communication styles, I start to prepare them for the conversation about their options. I ask a lot of questions about their fears about divorce (losing time with the children and financial hardships are the two most common) and their fears about staying together (the most common ones are about losing the opportunity to be happier, and getting too old to find new love). Once I have an idea of their fears, longings and reservations, I can help them with the design of their own future based on what they said.


Here are some ideas for creative and contemporary arrangements that I have been introducing in the last few years to couples who wish to end some aspects of their partnerships but not others. Many of these ideas are based on a family with one or more children, but they also work for couples without children. These arrangements can be temporary, but require a careful crafting of the agreements. Not all couples will be able to remain calm enough to carry these out, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many are open to doing research about the ideas I am presenting and how committed they are to avoid the horror stories of the past.


The hardest part of these conversations, it turns out, is to help each partner figure out what they each want and express it in spite of their guilt, fears and reservations that their partner doesn’t want the same thing. It’s only after they can each express their own wishes in scheduled meetings that they can work on an agreement that works for both of them.



Relationship Breakups – ‘breaking up’ well:

Relationship Breakups……


Nesting agreement.

Unlike divorces of the past generations, some couples decide to inconvenience themselves, instead of inconveniencing the children. One couple I worked with for two years, had a nesting agreement for their first year, and then got back together. During the first year, they rented a house; the children stayed in the house and the parents moved in and out of the house into their second home they shared, one week at a time. Another couple I worked with had a nesting agreement for about two years, and then decided to divorce. In this case, the nesting arrangement was a helpful way for the children to transition to the next phase.

When children are concerned, it might be a good idea to consider how this set up may affect the children. It would be important in any case to create consistency for the children, parents moving in and out may mean that the children have to understand different rules and boundaries under the same roof, which may affect their mental health. Consider what boundaries and rules are to remain consistent. The children are what is most important.


Household separation

One couple I worked with didn’t want to split up their finances, but one member of the couple didn’t want the spouse as a roommate anymore. So, they created an arrangement whereby they rented two similar flats in the same building. They continued to spend holidays, dinners, and vacations together. Another couple I worked with moved in together to a duplex and they each lived in a different space. And another couple stayed together in the same household but slept in different rooms.


Open relationship

There are many open relationship models. With agreements carefully crafted, one or both spouses can have a sexual partner but keep the parents as the primary partner. In other models, the third party can move into the household. One couple I worked with, the partners were no longer physically attracted to each other, but didn’t want to end all the other partnerships and they didn’t want a nesting or a separation agreement while their children were growing up. They decided that they would engage in occasional sexual encounters during professional conferences when they were out of town. Relationship breakups can work if people feel safe and included in the process, rather than just ‘told’.

In most of these cases, couples wanted to end their sexual partnerships but not their financial or their parental partnerships. In many cases, neither parent wanted to lose time with their children and they wanted to see them in the mornings and at night.


Separation agreements

A good separation template and agreement can be the difference between a good ending and a bad ending. During relationship breakups a separation agreement is not a legal document and should not be construed as such. It’s not an indication of precedent, but it could be thought of as a “trial run”. As we discuss the agreement, everything is on the table: living arrangements, frequency and type of contact with each other, parenting responsibilities and a time frame. I have worked with many couples helping them with separation agreements that work for both of them. Sometimes, the separation leads to a divorce, but often it doesn’t.


Parenting marriage

Staying together for the sake of the children is no longer a bad choice. Sometimes, it benefits the children. A parenting marriage is not for everyone. This works better if parents co-parent well together, if there is not a lot of conflict and if the parents are not willing or interested in splitting time with their children or their finances.


Each of the choices has its benefits and its drawbacks. It is important to remember that the binary option, either staying together or getting divorced, are not the only two options available to contemporary couples, as each couple can now design their own arrangements with openness and creativity to uncouple well. Relationship breakups are extremely hard work, but worth putting more consideration into rather than simply moving towards a negative ending…perhaps?


Please also read Couples Counselling


I also believe that couples could educate themselves with in the arts of counselling to learn how communication helps… please read this article https://ispc.org.uk/2022/psychotherapy-training-personal-account/

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