Children in the middle

Children in the middle

Kids need the love of both parents going through divorce

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 12/12/2013

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Dear Patti,
My wife Lydia wants a divorce. I believe in many ways I was a good husband, but somehow, after 14 years of marriage and two children, we ended up in a pretty passionless marriage with only the children keeping us together. 

I tried to get Lydia to work with me to try to salvage our marriage but she refused, saying the emotional connection between us died a long time ago. Finally, I gave up and moved out. I left so Lydia could stay with our children, because I knew they needed her and I didn’t want them uprooted from their home.  Right before Lydia wanted to leave she started to go to counseling, and that’s when things between us became worse and worse. 

Lydia opted for individual therapy rather than couple counseling and it seemed like her therapist cared only about her rather than our marriage or our family. We have a son, 12, and a daughter 8 and I don’t think my wife understands what’s involved with breaking up a marriage and all the heartbreak and pain involved. I do; my parents divorced when I was young and it was horrific.
Lydia’s a great mother and knows I’m a good father and we’ll both try to put our children first, but I still worry about my children. 

— Jesse

Dear Jesse,
Sometimes in therapy, patients, such as your wife, present the life-altering decision of whether or not to stay married and if deciding to divorce, their lives and the lives of their families are forever changed. I agree that such a decision should never be taken lightly. 

Before making such a decision, patients should do serious therapeutic work on themselves as well as marital counseling, finding out what marriage therapy can accomplish for their particular marriage. A complex therapy is needed to match the complexity of such a serious dilemma and not an oversimplified therapy just focusing on the individual’s personal satisfaction. It’s a therapist’s responsibility to remain as neutral and objective as possible, supporting  patients to clearly face their feelings and experiences and make their own life decisions and focusing on the serious possibility of preserving the marriage, as well as enhancing  individual life and personal emotional growth. Ideally, both goals should coexist in therapy, but this can be difficult when patients come in believing their marriage is not worth saving.

Your children may be confused and upset for a long time and will need both you and Lydia to come together as much as possible as parental partners  that reliably nurture and protect both of them regardless of how estranged you may feel from each other. Your children will need you to help re-establish their lives, taking into account their individual developmental needs; your 8-year-old daughter might have very different practical needs than your 12-yerar-old son.

It’s important to understand the systemic nature of family relationships in so far as they relate to separation or divorce. Since you’ll probably be spending little time with your estranged wife, if she’s depressed or works long hours to make ends meet, it may not personally affect you, but it will affect your children. If one of your children starts raging, it would affect his/her sibling. Your request to have Lydia stay at the home to protect your children is an example of taking into consideration the whole family system. 

Be honest with your children and without putting their mother down speak candidly (and age-appropriately) to each of your children about the reasons the marriage ended. Talking truthfully to them may also include apologizing for causing them pain. .
Appreciate the major influence you have on your children’s future intimate relationships, as studies show they’ll be more apt to enjoy successful and rewarding marriages if they have parents and or stepparents who pay caring attention to them. This awareness should include all their important relationships, such as grandparents, siblings, friends and even pets, their feelings, schooling and social activities that are truly important to them. Consistent attention will help them feel valued. Sometimes divorced parents feel too displaced, angry or guilty to pay attention and they’ll need you whether you live with them or someplace else.

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email Visit her Web site,


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