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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