Getting the best from separation counselling

Hilary Smith

Hilary Smith is a writer with Relationships Aotearoa and an experienced counsellor.

Going through a separation is hard, so make good use of all the support you can get.
Pieta House Press Pack - Counselling and Support - Pieta House (11 of 28)

One of your supports during a separation can be counselling. If you’re going through a separation you can get six free sessions of counselling funded by the Family Court.
Counselling will be different depending on where you are up to in the process, and how each of you feels. So to make the best use of this resource, work out what each of you need from the counselling.

Deciding together

Maybe you’re both uncertain about whether you want to stay together or split up. You might not be sure if you can each do what’s needed to repair the relationship. In this situation the counselling is likely to focus on what’s happening between you, how you both contribute to that, and what each of you might do differently that would make a positive difference.

You might get more understanding about what each of you is reacting too, what messages you intend to send and what messages you actually receive. You might find some new ways of looking at the situation, and develop some new skills.

In this situation you are both making a decision about your relationship. You’re looking at your own ability to change and your confidence in each other’s ability to sustain that change.

One-sided decision

Sometimes ending a relationship is a very one-sided decision. In this situation you are both looking for something different from the counselling. The leaver wants to finish things, to make the separation arrangements, and often, to feel like the person they’re leaving has some support. But the person being left is likely to be looking for ways to repair the relationship.

Often the point it becomes clear to you that your partner has decided to leave is part way through a counselling session. If this happens you will probably need some time to take your partner’s news in. You might have questions, and a range of reactions to deal with.

The counselling may start to focus on the process of separation if it becomes clear that reconciliation is off the agenda for one of you. But you are not up to that point yet. You may well be in shock, and you’re likely to have a fair bit of grief, hurt and anger to deal with.

So ask for some time with the counsellor on your own. You need a chance to catch up with what’s happening. You may want part of a session or several sessions on your own to make some headway with this. Don’t hesitate to ask for what you feel will help you.

Counselling can’t change your partner’s decision, but it can help you to deal with what that decision means for you and how you let it effect your life. You will have to live with the arrangements that the two of you make, so you need to give them some thought.

Sometimes in this position you feel so shattered that you simply agree to everything without really thinking about it. Sometimes you are so hurt that you fight for every last crumb. In the long run, both those options are likely to cause you more problems. Especially if they involve kids. Somewhere in the middle is usually most workable, but is often not what you feel like doing first off. So take your time.

You might consider making some short-term arrangements that give you a chance to catch your breath, and then at an agreed time, look at what you want longer term.

Your picture of your future is most likely all tied up with the relationship. So part of what you need is a chance to get a new picture of a future. One that’s about you. One that’s separate from this particular relationship.

So if you’re on the down-side of a one-sided decision, make sure the counselling goes at your pace. That will help you to get the best out of it.

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  • coco says
    There is definitely some good points in here
  • Lauren says
    It's good to have support like this when going through a split.
  • Anna says
    it can be a tough decision to make.. you can become so comfortable with someone that you want to stay just because you know them... so counsiling is a good idea!!
  • kano11 says
    I'm lucky that when my partner and I split we did so amicably, and as children were involved we knew it was best for them to stay on good terms! after going through the same with my parents I learnt from their mistakes and swore that I would never do the same to my own children. I personally think that counselling doesn't work for everyone, when my ex partner and I were going through problems he refused to go to see a counsellor - I think more men feel less of a man for having somebody else involved, I really don't know. It could have saved our relationship? I will never know. But I am very lucky and very glad that we have remained friends.
  • caz says
    My partner and i went through separation councilling when we were still together just to learn new strategies in dealing with a mixed child family. It was great that the new court system offered free councilling. For those of you married or in defacto relationships or have children you will qualify for free sessions. It was great spending that time together where we had to talk made it happen at one time rather than one of us trying to start a serious conversation and the other not wanting it yet. nCouncilling is a fantastic tool.
  • Starlite5 says
    The free 6 counselling sessions really made a difference when my ex husband and I separated as it really opened our eyes and looked at our relationship through the eyes of someone not so emotional attatched and could therefore see what we couldn't.
    As difficult as it was with 3 young children involved, it allowed us to not only look at our relationship but also decide what was best for our children...8 years on and not only do we have a great friendship and better understanding of each other but our children have blossomed knowing that Mum and Dad are still Mum and Dad together as their parents but also separate people getting on with their lives. It's a fantastic service that I implore more people to take up on as it could make the difference between a bad break up or even worse break up.
  • Bernadette says
    If someone wants to get a divorce isn't it legal and you MUST DO IT to have counseling.....I think my dad had already made the decision he was going to leave so I don't think the counseling really would have a made a difference....I agree with kano11, I don't want to follow my parents steps, if I was to go through something like this (in the later future might I add!!!!!!!!), I would do my absolute best to be together for the kids. It really does screw things up, which sucks :(.
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