Families Change Guide to Separation & Divorce

5.11 - Relationship Changes

5.11 - Relationship Changes

As you move forward, you need to consider the changing quality of your relationship with your former partner.  The intimate relationship as a couple is over now, but the parenting relationship with your children continues.

With your former partner, you are moving from an intimate relationship towards a business-like relationship focused on the children. Business-like relationships and intimate relationships have different characteristics, rules and expectations, and a changed level of personal involvement. We can compare the characteristics of an intimate and business-like relationship. 

A positive intimate relationship is characterized by a high level of intensity and investment and will include:

  • Many assumptions based on the length of the relationship, the history of personal experience or the experiences of others.
  • Many unwritten and unspoken expectations.
  • A lot of emotional and personal involvement.
  • A lot of hearing about personal experience.
  • Not much privacy.

On the other hand a positive business-like relationship is characterized by a low level of intensity and personal investment. It includes:

  • No assumptions.
  • Explicit agreements or contracts.
  • Formal courtesies, structured interactions, meetings and specific agendas.
  • Very little sharing of personal experiences.
  • A lot of privacy.

It can be helpful to think of some of the effective business-like relationships that you have now. For example, how do you communicate with your car mechanic or plumber?  Some of the behaviors that make these relationships work well for may also work for you in your relationship with your former partner.  You may already be practicing some of these strategies. 

Unfortunately there is one difference between other business-like relationships and the relationship you have with your former partner. This difference is that unlike in any other business-like relationship you cannot go out and get a new plumber or car mechanic. 

This may be a significant strategic challenge for you. Your former partner will always be the other parent of your children.  They are the person who you have to strive to form an effective relationship with so that all the tasks of parenting are done in an effective way that keeps the children out of the business of parenting. It is important to remember that you cannot change their behavior, only your own. Even if you behave in a businesslike way it does not mean that they will, but it does mean that the children have one parent who can work as effectively as possible to ensure their needs are met.

You need to change your thinking from destructive to constructive thinking.  You will need to:

  • Accept your parenting role in a reorganized family.
  • Have love and concern for your children as the new basis of your relationship with your former partner
  • Appreciate the strengths of the other parent.
  • Differentiate your children’s needs and concerns about the other parent from your own.
  • Create new boundaries and patterns in the parental relationship.
  • Understand that the way parents think and behave towards children will be different if you are no longer intimate partners.
  • Identify and build upon the strengths of your parental relationship.

Next you will have the chance to do an interactive exercise that will help you establish positive, businesslike communication with your former partner.