Divorce Advice From An Expert

Emotions Aren't Always Good

As a psychotherapist who specializes in divorce, Dr. Isolina Ricci knows a lot about splitting up. She's even written a book on the subject, which was just re-issued last year: Mom's House, Dad's House : A Complete Guide for Parents Who Are Separated, Divorced, or Remarried. We talked to her about surviving divorce; This is what she had to say.

The Toll Divorce Can Take

Dr. Ricci: "I'm talking about, you know it's a very sad and difficult thing for everyone when a couple breaks up. It's hard on their parents, it's hard on the grandparents, it's terrifically hard on the childrenÂ… it's hard on friends, it's hard on co-workers. People don't recognize the toll, the price, that divorce takes on the everyday life of people around you. And if that divorce is highly conflicted, or if there's a great deal of betrayal, if there's a lot of court proceedings that are a combination of costly or very contentious, it takes a terrible price."


Don and Leslie Levy, seen here early in their marriage, were the quintessential happy couple. But the relationship went sour. See photo below for more.(CBS)

The Importance Of Controlling Emotions

For more information about Dr. Ricci and her book, head to her own Web site, momshousedadshouse.com.
Dr. Ricci: "Divorce is all about emotions in many cases. But you have to still step back and not let those emotions ruin the way you obtain the separation and divorce. Because these emotions are not a good barometer of what is good for you. Or your children.

It's normal to think that your actions should follow your feelings, but in the process of divorce this is dangerous. You have to cool it. You have to be careful where you express these emotions. You cannot express them in the legal process because then you will be seen as someone who is out of control, or worse yet, as an unfit parent. You can't walk into a courtroom and start calling the other person names. You'll be thrown out. You cannot, if you're having a contentious battle over custody, you can't begin to vilify the other parent because the custody evaluator is going to recognize that this is liable to impact how you parent your child, and whether or not you're going to cooperate with the other parent.
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So What Can One Do With These Emotions?

Dr. Ricci: "You don't put your emotions away. You contain them, so that when you express them it's going to be in a time and at a place hat is not going to further complicate your legal process, impact your children negatively, or elongate your divorce. Because in my experience, it is not true that if parents express every emotion that they feel, that somehow they get through the emotional divorce sooner. I have found that a good strategy is to develop a business-like relationship, which is difficult, and to save emotions for friends, save them for private times, save them for a minister or counselor. Not that you don't have emotions -- they're just not spilling all over the place all the time. If they structure it, they get through the emotional process of divorce faster and cleaner."

How Mediation Works, To Save A Marriage, Or To Smooth A Divorce

Dr. Ricci: "Misunderstandings rarely shrink when emotions are high and there's a lot of negativity. Instead, they grow. So what you have is a misunderstanding that has grown clear out of proportion, and then it infects other parts or your relationship. It's like a virus. Pretty soon all parts of your relationship are feeling sick. The solution is learning how to listen to the other person in a courteous, non-threatening way, with the help of a neutral third party. I might say: 'This is what I hear the wife saying.' And the husband says, 'Oh, I didn't think that's what she was saying.' But the wife says: 'Yes, she's right. That is what I'm trying to say.' And then I might say, 'This is what I hear the husband saying.' And the wife says, 'Oh, that's not the way I understood it.' And the husband says: 'But that's what I've been trying to tell you.' So that's a mediation approach, and it's a very sound one if you get a good mediator."


Don Levy, now divorced from his wife, moved to California to be near his child, who had moved with Leslie.(CBS)

How Divorce Can Effect Children

Dr. Ricci: The effects can be devastating. The sense of trust or confidence in life, the sense that when you wake up in the morning your needs are going to be met when you are tired or hungry or fearful, the sense that there's going to be a parent there to look after you, that gets shaken when parents separate. Because here are two people that you automatically depended upon, and now one of them is gone, and there isn't anything you can do about it. A child's sense of confidence in life, especially in the younger age, depends on being able to command and to control his or her environment to a certain degree. Because children are so powerless. If a child were to really be totally aware of how powerless they are, they might die of fright, if you really think about it. Everything in a child's life, especially when you are younger, depends on how the adults around them behave. And so when one of the parents leaves, and especially if the child ivery attached to that parent, then that child is liable to say, 'Is it something I did? Am I the reason why they're fighting? Why did he go away? I guess I'm not important. I guess I'm not lovable.'"

Divorcing Well Can Be A Good Lesson For A Child

Dr. Ricci: "Life has conflict. It's a fact of life. And children are fortunate when they have parents who show them how to resolve conflicts by modeling it, by giving them a good example, and by showing children how to deal with a tough time like divorce with integrity. The best you can do is to show your children how to get through a tough time with integrity. You're modeling how to survive a crisis, how to make the best of a crisis. "

Some Keys To Avoiding Divorce

Dr. Ricci: "A relationship usually has about three sort of ways where people are relating together. They're relating as business partners, because they have the business of running a household, or the business of taking care of kids. So you have a business kind ofÂ… dimension. Then you have a friendship dimension, or most good relationships do, and then you have an intimate relationship. So those are three levels. Some of the most balanced relationships I know of have a good balance of this business of having a household, the friendship and the intimacy. It's a balance. It's not overloaded on one or the other. Every couple finds their own balance. Some people need more business, some people need more friendship, some people need more intimacy."

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written by David Kohn
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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