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Thursday, June 9, 2011
UNDERSTANDING CONFLICT IN SEPARATING COUPLES
PART ONE: High Conflict divorce and Mild to Moderate Alienation
Correction: I mistakenly reported Dr Campbell as thperson who said, “Just as early detection of cancer can save live, Early detection of PAS can save families.” It was actually Dr Kathleen Reay who said it… so, thanks Dr Reay!
Let’s begin by answering a simple question: How common is conflict in separating couples?
Most divorces and separations have at least some conflict, but the majority of couples are said to be able to handle and work through their problems with the relationship ending on reasonably good terms. I keep reading about a statistic that states that only 10% of break-ups are actually high-conflict cases that require court intervention. I think that is a rather low figure – why else is so much attention needed and focused on helping this minimal 10% of families?
The majority of people experiencing high-conflict separations and divorces, however few or many there are, might be very surprised to read this and learn that some of their behaviour and dynamic is now considered by most professionals and experts in the field to be even more serious than most people think, and called Parental Alienation (PA).
For a long time, highly conflicted couples were taught decision-making, problem-solving, and effective communication skills because it was believed that they were lacking the appropriate skills to get along in a business-like fashion after the split. Around the same time, every city, church, synagogue, social worker, therapist, and Family Life Educators, began offering specialty Divorce Support Groups, Parenting Education and Co-Parenting Workshops, similar to all of mine at Divorce Support Plus from 1999-2005. Groups were considered to be essential forms of Adult Education and provided the perfect arena for a sense of belonging and not being the only one with such a problem. Naturally, for those who like being in groups, to hear other people’s situations and how they are handling them and to speak up if one chose to. Supervised Visitation programs and centers opened up, with social workers and psychologists on staff, like the ones in my own city, (PCAAP) Parent-Child Assisted Access Program begun with the aid of Dominic D’Abate, and AMCAL. Family Courts will overwhelmed with family court cases that were being handled by lawyers trained in the adversarial approach, so finally, Mediation began to be offered as a means of a way to reduce battling over the largest, and smallest of issues. Then, along came Collaborative Divorce and Collaborative Divorce Teams, but still many, if not the majority of theses families, were not able to be helped.
What is it about conflict during and after a divorce that makes it so difficult to be resolved and/or stopped?
Some of the issues resulting in conflict can and often do get resolved by Divorce & Parent Education Programs. For example, “After the Storm: Resolving Post-Separation Conflict” offers an excellent program that is based on sensitizing and educating parents in the skills to resolve disputes on their own. But, as good as this program is for high conflict families, those who are experiencing more than “just” high conflict, and are living through “alienation” need a different type of intervention than this service provides.
So, what is the difference between high-conflict, and alienation?
Conflict is a part of life. But, while conflict is inevitable even within marriages where the two parties still love each other and plan on staying together, many couples never resolved one of the initial stages in relationships in which we learn how to negotiate and compromise our two belief systems and views. So, if/when these couples do not seek help to save their relationship by tuning up on their communication, active listening, assertive communication, and problem-solving skills (along with some family-of- origin work) they get to battle it out and/or learn how to do all of this with each other while going through a divorce – if they have children. If there are no children, they get to go on their separate merry ways, never learning how to communicate with each other effectively, but have no need to. But, hopefully, they will learn how to accomplish this stage in relationships with their next partner.
Alienation is totally different!
Here is what the dictionary shares for alienation:
1. the act of alienating.
2. the state of being alienated.
–verb (used with object), -at•ed, -at•ing.
1. to make indifferent or hostile: He has alienated his entire family.
2. to turn away; transfer or divert: to alienate funds from their intended purpose.
And, this is what Dr. Douglas Darnall describes as parental alienation (PA):
“rather than PAS, as any constellation of behaviors, whether conscious or unconscious, that could evoke a disturbance in the relationship between a child and the other parent.”
To make it simple, the difference between high conflict divorce and alienation or parental alienation, is that high conflict is between the two parents. It might affect issues relating to the children, such as access time with them, money towards their needs, or even whose parenting style will be best in child-rearing the said child, but it is not literally trying to destroy a healthy, nurturing relationship between the child(ren) and the other parent for no apparent reason. Parental alienation has a ‘targeting’ parent and a ‘targeted’ parent.
Some typical methods of engaging in parental alienation, will include such things as:
• interfering with visitation or access time with/for the targeted parent
• telling lies to the child(ren) about the targeted parent
• making telephone contact very difficult, never private or denying any for the targeted parent
• speaking poorly of the targeted parent to the children
• speaking poorly of the target parent to other people in the presence of the children
• convincing the child(ren) that the targeted parent is either not good or not needed
Parental Alienation is the act of one parent, consciously or unconsciously, turning the child(ren) against the other parent, with no real justification, through the use of manipulation, lies, fear, delusions, false accusations, loyalty issues, threats of withdrawal of love, morality issues, and more. Parental Alienation in Mild to Moderate forms can still be prevented from turning into full-blown PAS if caught in time! Strategies used in true PAS are now be likened to those used by cult leaders to brainwash their followers.
But, not all children who do not see or do not want to see a parent are doing so because of Parental Alienation, and we will get into that in Part Two: The Difference Between PAS and Estrangement
Don’t forget to leave comments so that you can be heard… and maybe help someone else or be helped yourself! Plus keep coming back for the rest of this series, and all others following. Yes, follow me so you know when I post new blog articles!
Sharon Shenker, Marriage & Family Coach
After many years of already working with children and their families, in 1999 Sharon founded Divorce Support Plus to help couples prevent family breakdowns or to assist them through and beyond a family reconstruction - without destruction!
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