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Separation Counseling: Brief Interventions for Divorcing Couples
10 CEUs Separation Counseling: Brief Interventions for Divorcing Couples

Section 12
Cooperation after Divorce

Question 12 | Test | Table of Contents | Couples CEU Courses
Counselor CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

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In the last section, we discussed substance abuse and misuse.  We discussed the five steps in the adjustment phase of substance use.  The five steps in the adjustment phase are erosion of trust, avoidance and control, the family becomes reactive, communication breakdown, and monitoring.  We also discussed the frustration towel twist and the feelings excavation technique as ways to begin to treat substance abuse and misuse. 

In this section, we will discuss dealing with the ex.  One technique for dealing with the ex is revealing hidden issues.  I find that even though it often wasn’t done in the marriage, after a divorce revealing hidden issues can still be productive.  Four indications of hidden issues are wheel spinning, trivial triggers, avoidance, and scorekeeping.  As you listen to this section, consider your divorced client.  How can his or her communication or interaction with his or her ex benefit from revealing hidden issues?

When a couple splits up, the partners may fantasize about never having to see each other again.  This was true for Mike. Mike, age 43, stated, "I have been with Heather for 20 years. I thought we were going to be together until one of us died. To not have to think about spending any more time with her is such a relief!" As I stated to Mike, however, most separated clients continue to have some sort of relationship with each other, at least for awhile. I stated, "The old relationship is of course, dead; but there’s usually some form of continuing contact, and how you handle it can make a big difference to your happiness." 

As you know, this is especially true if children are involved.  However, as with Mike, even if there are no children involved, and little need for continuing contact in the long run, it may still be necessary to communicate on matters of mutual interest or concern.  For the divorced or separated client, I find that this contact generally happens at the time when it’s most difficult and painful to do so. 

Mike stated, "When all I want to do is forget about Heather and this stupid, dead relationship, it seems I just can’t avoid discussing the little shit like who gets the sound system, the cat, those dumb plates.  I just want to tell her to take it all so I don’t have to deal with her. Isn’t there a way to make this kind of communication any easier?"

How might you have responded to Mike?  I stated, "There is. Basically, you have to learn to recognize where your ex-partner is coming from psychologically when he or she says those things that upset or irritate you, or just plain drive you up the wall. Realizing what your ex is going through may not necessarily change your feelings toward him or her, but it will help you understand the fears that drive his or her actions. And that, in turn, will help you deal constructively with any negative, anxiety provoking behavior that might be inflicted on you."

♦ Technique:  Revealing Hidden Issues

Because Mike were dealing with several hidden issues, I asked him to try the "Revealing Hidden Issues" technique. I explained to Mike, "There are four signs that can help you start recognizing when your interaction with Heather is relating to a hidden issue."

4 Indications of Hidden Issues

1. Wheel Spinning

 "The first of these is wheel spinning. Wheel spinning happens when you start an talking about something and you start thinking, "here we go again"; if you never really get anywhere by talking, you probably are not discussing the real issue."

2. Trivial Triggers

I continued, "The second sign to watch out for is trivial triggers." As you know, the arguments between divorced or separated clients are often good examples of a trivial trigger. Although the event itself is a small one, it triggers powerful arguments driven by issues of power and caring.

3. Avoidance

In addition to wheel spinning and trivial triggers, I explained to Mike that a third sign of hidden issues to watch for is avoidance. 

4. Scorekeeping

I then stated to Mike, "A fourth sign to look out for is scorekeeping.  Scorekeeping can mean that one person does not feel recognized for their efforts, or that he or she feels controlled and is keeping track of all of the times they have felt the other person has taken advantage of them. Whatever the underlying issue is, scorekeeping can be a sign that there are important issues that each person is documenting instead of discussing."

I then explained to Mike that once he began to recognize the signs of hidden issues, he could ask Heather to "pause" the argument, and use the "Speaker-Listener" technique, as we will discuss in the next section.

Do you have a client like Mike or Heather who would benefit from learning to recognize these 4 signs of hidden issues? 

In this section, we have discussed dealing with the ex.  One technique for dealing with the ex is revealing hidden issues.  I find that even though it often wasn’t done in the marriage, after a divorce revealing hidden issues can still be productive.  Four indications of hidden issues are wheel spinning, trivial triggers, avoidance, and scorekeeping. 

In the next section, we will discuss the Speaker-Listener Technique There are six basic steps to this technique.  They are the speaker has the floor, share the floor, no problem solving, avoiding mind reading, don’t go on and on, and stop and let the listener paraphrase.  

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Nash, B., & Chapman, N. A. (2019). Building a culture of caring: Lessons learned from managing professional expectations while navigating the emotional upheaval of divorce. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 29(2), 95–107. 

Øverup, C. S., Ciprić, A., Gad Kjeld, S., Strizzi, J. M., Sander, S., Lange, T., & Hald, G. M. (2020). Cooperation after divorce: A randomized controlled trial of an online divorce intervention on hostility. Psychology of Violence. Advance online publication.

van Scheppingen, M. A., & Leopold, T. (2019). Trajectories of life satisfaction before, upon, and after divorce: Evidence from a new matching approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication.

Question 12:  What are four indications of hidden issues? To select and enter your answer, go to the Test.

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