Six Facts About Separation


In an article for Geelong Surf Coast Living magazine, Colleen was interviewed about the impact separation has on the family, and, in particular, children.  You can read Lynda Taylor’s article ‘Separation Anxiety’ now by picking up a copy of the autumn edition at a local coffee shop.

Here are six valuable facts about separation anxiety in families that we can learn from the article:

  1. Children cope better when they see a counsellor

Irrespective of a child’s age, they will feel the pull between both parents and can struggle to work through their emotions. Allowing your child to see a counsellor will help them with this. As the article says, “working with a counsellor provides a safe neutral environment where [a child can] vent”. A counsellor will teach your child strategies to deal with anger, anxiety and conflict.

  1. Parents must be united

Any issues that caused a relationship to break down must be put on the back burner by parents in order to care for their children. Relationships Australia says parents should provide a “composed, united and reassuring” front. This means it’s important for parents to keep the same boundaries in place for their child, and should always speak about one another with respect.

  1. Children react according to their parent’s emotions

Are you angry, confused and indignant about your ex? If you express this to your child, they will take on similar emotions. Colleen points out that if parents are upset, children are often bewildered, confused and despondent. They will also blame themselves for the situation.

  1. Be honest

How you speak to your child about the separation will depend on their age. Always be honest, but explain the situation in a way they will understand. An older child or the first-born will often take the burden of the separation, and what you share will change according to this.

  1. There are different ways to talk about separation

When Colleen is counselling a client whose parents have separated, she will use different methods depending on the child’s age, understanding and interests. An ‘anger thermometer’ is useful for younger children to explain how they feel. Play therapy is a narrative based approach that is also useful for children of various ages, and helps them to explain the family system.

  1. Take care of yourself

While your children are a priority throughout a separation, you also need to take care of yourself. Take ‘me time’ and give yourself the space and time to reflect and heal. Make sure you spend time with like-minded and supportive friends, and don’t be afraid to have fun. As Beth*, the client in the article says, “I found when I was better, my son was better.” When you take care of yourself, you help your children to heal as well.

*Name changed for privacy purposes

Are you going through a separation? Do you want to protect your children through this transition? Here’s what you need to do: Contact WatersedgeCounselling on 0434 337 245 for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation on how we can best help you, or press book now to book in our online diary.


The Impact of Separation on Children – A Case Study


Heather* knew her son’s life would change drastically when she and her husband went through a separation. In this case study shared** with Colleen and published in the autumn edition of Living Magazine, Heather talks about the impact separation had on her child, and the strategies we can use to protect children through this difficult time.

I will never forget the look on our son’s face when we told him we were separating—the disappointment, hurt, bottom lip quivering and the tears. Both Dad and I sat down with our son and explained that we were going to go our separate ways. Our son was left feeling shocked, angry, anxious, hurt and scared.

This came out in many ways—through words, emotions, behavioural issues and separation anxiety. Our priority as parents was to make the best of a bad situation. We worked through the issues as best we could and came across many hurdles on both sides through a conflict in beliefs, personality, strategies and parenting styles, and this affected our judgement in working through some of the issues. Through the conflicts, it came down to the bottom line of ‘It is a child’s right to see a parent, not a parent’s right to see a child.’ This assisted us in focusing on the child’s needs and what was best for our son.

Things that helped were reading stories and brochures around separation, providing an explanation of why we as parents had separated, putting no blame on our son and making sure he understood that it was not his fault.

Through counselling we were made aware that we had to be careful of what we said. Words can easily be interpreted wrongly in a young child’s mind. For example “I moved into another bedroom to be closer to you could be read as “It’s all my fault”. It is also important to never put the other parent down or speak harshly of them to the child.

Play therapy, using toys and colouring-in, provided opportunities within the safe environment of the counsellor’s room, for our son to give expression to how he was feeling. Teaching him strategies such as the use of a visual thermometer to identify the level of anger he was feeling at any given time and ways to help the anger to dissipate gave him a sense of feeling more in control and allowed him to settle.

Children need lots of attention, affection and must know that their world is still safe. Lessons learnt from my experience—don’t move out of the family home—this just adds to the change and routine breakdown. It would be beneficial for the main care giver to remain in the family home. Children need to feel safe in their environment and even more so after a separation. There’s already a lot going on without them having to re-adjust to a new home. It also puts more blame on the parent moving out.

Try and make the rules/boundaries the same at both households, ensure they have their own things —toys, clothes, etc. at both houses. Allow extended families to visit them at both houses—this assists in their new normal. We found it beneficial to have a calendar to show what days will be spent where so there were no surprises and our son knew what was happening when. This will depend on the age of the child. We found that any small changes in routine caused a lot of confusion and anxiety and therefore tried to keep what we could the same. For example, Dad always did the pick-up and at the same time.

Sometimes children cannot express what they are feeling by using words, and this comes out in behavioural issues. In times like this we turned to books written by Tracey Moroney When I’m feeling angry, When I’m feeling scared and others in the collection. These were very beneficial as they were written in a way that children can relate to and understand. We also found the Kasey Chambers, Pappa Bill and the Little Hillbillies CD very beneficial, as it has songs and lyrics that were applicable but partly sung by children.

It’s important for any parent to take care of themselves. As a single parent, you are dealing with the challenge of your life being turned upside down and the feelings around failure and separation—but you now have the feelings of another person to address as number one to your own inner turmoil. It is important you get plenty of sleep, have some alone time when you can, social interaction when you need it and try and find a balance between closing yourself off to the world and being a part of it. You need time to yourself to reflect and feel your own emotions and grief caused by the separation, but it’s just as important to be around positive and like-minded people. I found that when I was better, my son was better.

We have been faced with many challenges and emotions throughout this journey and have learnt many lessons, some positive and some negative. We have decided to focus on the positive as we cannot change the past. Number one tip for any parent going through a separation—ensure that the child feels loved, safe and secure and this will make it easier for them to accept all other changes.

*Name changed for confidentiality reasons.
**This case study has been published with permission of the client.

Are you going through a separation? Do you want to protect your children through this transition? Here’s what you need to do: Contact WatersedgeCounselling on 0434 337 245 for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation on how we can best help you, or press book now to book in our online diary.

How Movie Therapy Can Save Your Relationship

Movie Therapy

Can watching a romantic movie with your partner potentially save your marriage? That was the question that motivated Professor Ron Rogge, a Clinical Psychologist at the University of Rochester, to pursue research about the effectiveness of ‘movie therapy’. The results were published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Ron had observed that in America, 50% of marriages end in divorce, and he wanted to find an effective and relatively cost free solution to this troubling and rapidly escalating statistic. He went about his task by recruiting 174 engaged or newly married couples who he found attending bridal showers in the Los Angeles area. The couples were randomly assigned to one of three categories:

  1. No treatment
  2. Movie intervention
  3. Marriage preparation classes in a workshop situation focusing on a couple’s relationship skills

The couples were followed for three years.

Now before you go home and tell your partner that all you need to do to fix your relationship is watch a romantic movie together, there were some requirements that participants in this category were expected to follow. Having picked 5 movies from the suggestions provided, each couple were expected to watch the movie with a particular focus on the following questions:

  • What main problems did this couple face?
  • Are any of these problems similar to the problems you have faced?
  • How did the couple handle arguments or difference of opinion?
  • How did the couple in the movie handle their hurt feelings?

It turned out that the Movie Therapy was equally effective as the Marriage Preparation classes, and over the period of three years, the divorce rate for these 2 groups of couples was halved.

As I said, it is not the movie in itself that was effective for many of these couples, but the conversations that ensued from it. These movies sparked conversations between couples because they could identity with the characters portrayed, observe and reflect upon how their strategies were beneficial or otherwise to the relationship. By using these key questions, couples were able to have an intentional dialogue around issues that frequently trip us up in our relationships.

If you would like to use Movie Therapy to enhance or repair your relationship, here are a few suggestions:

  • Couple’s Retreat
  • Four Christmases
  • Terms of Endearment
  • When a Man Loves a Woman
  • Funny Girls
  • Two for the Road
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  • Your, Mine and Ours

If none of these inspire you, there are plenty more movies about relationships out there. For instance ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’ shows a fighting couple and is also a great action movie. We would love to hear your suggestions to add to our list—just comment below.

By the way, you will notice that I didn’t mention how the ‘no treatment’ fared. Predictably when we do nothing to nurture and support our relationships, it will only survive at best and at its worst, it will end in divorce.

Are you have relationship issues? Do you want to strengthen your marriage? Here’s what you need to do: Contact WatersedgeCounselling on 0434 337 245 for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation on how we can best help you, or press book now to book in our online diary.

5 Tips to Help Your Couple Relationship Not Only Survive but Learn to Thrive

be_kindThe top ten reasons couples decide to call it quits is the subject of a survey conducted by the law firm Slater and Gordon, and published in March 2014. A total of 1,000 divorcees were interviewed on questions pertaining to their reason/s for divorce and the process by which the decision to leave the marriage was made. Some of the information from this surveyed is captured in the infographic below.

The results inform us that ‘the average person spends 24 months and 12 days thinking about a divorce before going ahead with it’. This suggests that a majority of couples are able to tolerate significant difficulties in their relationship over a sustained period before one or both of them ‘decide to call it quits’. Over this 24 month period, the average person spends 18 months attempting to repair their relationship.

Given that these results are based on the experience of people whose relationships eventually failed, I wonder what the results would look like if we surveyed another 1000 people with similar relationship issues whose couple relationship was revived and has thrived in the aftermath. What makes the difference?

Here are my 5 tips to help your couple relationship survive the crisis and go on to thrive

  1. Timing – When is the best time to seek professional help for your relationship difficulties? Ideally, the best time is when a couple notice and acknowledge that they are having significant issues that remain unaddressed causing ongoing tension and unhappiness. In my experience, a majority of couples make counselling their last option instead of their first. All too often, the relationship has deteriorated to the point where communication is an invitation to attack their partner as each seeks to protect themselves from further hurt. Read more here.
  2. Secrets – Don’t keep them! The power of a secret withheld from your partner only grows over time, eventually becoming toxic to a relationship. Whilst the ‘secret-keeper’ often has very valid reasons as to why it is necessary to keep the secret from their partner, secrets have a way of surfacing and causing havoc in a relationship. All those ‘valid’ reasons sound empty to a devastated partner who feels betrayed and ‘duped’. The question of trust takes centre stage as your partner wonders if they can ever take you on ‘blind faith’ again. Read more here.
  3. Hard Work – Yes, relationship repair is not for the fainthearted – it is super-hard work. Personal effort, time, vulnerability and the willingness to learn, acknowledge and accept, not only your ‘flawed partner’, but also your ‘flawed self’ will be necessary to the process of repair.
  4. Patience, patience, patience – The longer a couple are willing to sustain the process of couple counselling, the more likely that their relationship will be able to be repaired and thrive. ‘The problem is never the problem’ sounds like an oxymoron but it is the inevitable truth. Our complexity as human beings is many layered and the issues that bring a couple to counselling will have roots throughout those layers. A couple counsellor can assist you to trace the issues, from the presenting difficulty that sits on the surface of the relationship, and digging down into the hidden places that are often just outside of your awareness. This process takes time, being both confronting and complex in the ongoing implications for you and your relationship.
  5. Ability to tolerate emotional distress – As I work with couples I am convinced that for repair and growth to occur in a relationship, a couple must be willing to tolerate the emotional distress they experience as the process unfolds. A strong, mature relationship has suffered and survived the disillusionment that we are both flawed individuals with differing needs, thoughts and dreams. That is the reality of a long-term couple relationship however it does not have to be the end of the story. That there is more is the journey ahead for the couple who are able to tolerate the pain of disillusionment and distress.


Marriage Breakdown & Divorce

Source of infographic

If you are experiencing difficulties in your couple relationship and need direction and support to repair your relationship so that it not only survives but also learns to thrive, then here’s what you need to do contact me on 0434 337 245 for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation on how I can best help you or press book now to book on my online diary.

The Best Predictor of Divorce

What would you consider to the best predictor of divorce in a relationship? Is it betrayal or cheating, perhaps financial stress or is it boredom? Dr John Gottman, world renowned relationship expert, has researched this very topic and come up with one single quality that, more than any other, predicts the demise of a relationship.


Unfortunately, we don’t have to go to school to learn criticism. It seems to be a part of human nature, easily tripping off our lips and often directed toward the person closest to us, but rarely with a positive impact. Criticism seeks to find fault in others, ignoring what is working so that the ‘object’ of the critic’s contempt feels unappreciated, diminished and disrespected. In fact, over time, criticism corrodes love by its abrasive and mean-spirited nature.

Are you unhappy in your couple relationship? If you took a measure of the amount of space criticism has in your relationship, what score would you give it out of 10?

According to John Gottman, ‘criticism is a habit of mind that the critic applies to everything’. Where one, or both people in the couple relationship, are highly critical of the other, there is minimal space for change unless the critic recognizes their own need to change. You see, contrary to the opinion of the critic, it is not the other person who needs to change. The real work needs to be done within the critic whose critical nature is but a reflection of how they see themselves.  Self-loathing and self-contempt often hide behind the mask of criticism, urging the critic to seek out the failure of others rather than dwell on their own failure. It takes a strong and courageous person to confront their own self-contempt.

So how do you train yourself to refrain from criticising your partner? Dr Gottman’s answer is to choose  not be involved in looking for your partner’s mistakes but look instead for what’s working  and what’s right in your relationship. Learn the practice of cultivating a culture of appreciation for your partner and take notice of the ways in which it begins to change your relationship.

Watch the video below as Dr John Gottman speaks on this subject of criticism in relationships.

Are you unhappy in your couple relationship? Is your couple relationship marked by criticism and contempt for the other?  You can learn how to cultivate a relationship marked by appreciation and respect. Call Colleen on 0434 337 245 for a FREE 10 minute consultation on the specific needs of your couple relationship. If you are ready to make an appointment, you can do so by clicking on the orange icon on this page BOOK NOW and follow the prompts.