When two people share a child in common, the relationship between the two of them is hard to sever entirely. Certainly when the children are young there is a lot of physical care that goes into parenting; but even as they get older, there are shared decisions and shared events that bind the parents together.
If you are not currently with the other parent of your child(ren) – whether due to divorce, separation, or never having been together in the first place – or are considering separating, you may be wondering whether you need couples counseling, co-parenting help, or both.
The basic premise for thinking about this question is this: co-parenting is very, very hard. Trying to provide stability for your children between two households is absolutely doable, but it’s not easy. There are a lot of moving parts that co-parents have to contend with, many of which you will only discover once on the job.
Moreover, the problems that may have led you to break off the relationship are likely to still be there, now just folded into the co-parenting interactions instead of the relationship ones. This can be a real source of frustration and disappointment for partners who thought breaking up was a way out of those difficulties.
If a relationship between you and your co-parent is not a completely foregone conclusion, you stand to gain quite a lot by considering whether it’s possible to repair or resurrect. Which one is right for your situation – co-parenting or relationship counseling – depends on a variety of factors. Here some questions you can ask yourself to help you decide which path to take:
- Can the two of you get along?
- Are there specific barriers to staying together?
- Have you tried everything?
Can the Two of You Get Along?
If you and your co-parent still have feelings for each other, it is certainly worth looking into whether professional guidance can help you save or reconstitute this relationship.
But even if the romantic feelings are gone, if you still feel decently friendly about each other, it may be worth considering whether a romantic relationship can redevelop. The truth is that any good marriage is based on a solid friendship – two people who like and respect each other.
Love isn’t something that has to strike you or that comes and goes against your will. Love can be built, or rebuilt. So if there is still good will between the two of you, giving the relationship another shot – with the assistance of a counselor to guide you – is something you may want to give some real thought to.
Relationships take work. Co-parenting arguably takes more. Your co-parent will be in your life in some form or another for a long while. If you can front-load the effort, you can yet come out with a really meaningful, happy relationship.
Are There Specific Barriers to Staying Together?
When a relationship ends because partners can’t quite get along or don’t feel emotionally connected anymore, there is a lot of hope that things can be improved. But what about when there are specific factors that make a sustained romantic relationship impossible?
The primary example of this would be abuse. If one partner is physically, verbally, or emotionally abusive, trying to restore the relationship is probably inadvisable. (In fact, couples counseling is not recommended at all when one partner is abusive.)
There may be other specific reasons a relationship isn’t going to work: if someone has an addiction or mental illness they refuse to address, that can be an unlivable situation. Or, if two people have significantly different life goals – he wants to raise a family, she wants to travel the world and avoid having kids; he wants to bring up his kids as Catholics, she thinks religion is foolish – it may be impossible to create a workable relationship out of that.
Note that a single incident rarely indicates that a relationship can’t work – whether that’s an argument that got out of hand and escalated to a physical fight, or an affair, or some other major relationship problem – these are obviously not desirable events. However, so long as it’s not a pattern, it can almost certainly be overcome. You can of course choose not to try to overcome it, but an incident that damages the relationship, even severely, need not necessarily spell the end of the relationship.
Did You Really Try Everything?
Ostensibly there were certain things that drew you to your partner originally. It’s likely those are still there, but they got overshadowed by the things that you don’t like about your partner. You should know that it’s absolutely possible to find your way back to the joy in your relationship. Couples counseling works. If you haven’t tried it, it is worth a least a fair shot. And if you have tried it, consider finding a different therapist and trying again.
This is by no means a judgment on anyone who chooses not to pursue a relationship. Rather, it’s simply an acknowledgement that splitting up into co-parents instead of significant others is frequently harder than people realize, and that generally speaking, everyone – kids and parents alike – ends up happier when a relationship can be made to work.
If you feel certain that you cannot live with your co-parent and that you cannot have a relationship again, co-parenting counseling can be of great value. You can learn how to work together well for the sake of your children’s well-being.
As noted, however, it is likely that the same problems that tanked the relationship will make it hard to work together as co-parents, so be prepared that it won’t necessarily go smoother because you’re no longer together. (On the other hand, sometimes it does go more smoothly when the pressure of a relationship is taken off. You just can’t count on it being that way.)
Both couples counseling and co-parenting counseling can be of great help to families in conflict. If you are looking for either one of these, or need help figuring out which one is for you, reach out to us today to speak to a counselor who can help.