Phone: 604-377-5277

A telehealth service for British Columbia

Dr. Derek Swain

Registered Psychologist #1006


Relationships and Divorce

Is your intimate relationship happy? Does your partner live up to your expectations? Can you determine - when to ‘hold on' and when to ‘let go'? - what you are and are not responsible for? - what you are and are not in control of? - what you feel from what you think? - when you can and cannot ‘trust your gut'?

A sense of acceptance or belonging is a very basic human need. Who you choose as an intimate partner is a strong determinant of your stress level and overall adjustment. Sometimes people make bad selections because of their own low self-concept and perceived limited prospects, a sense of similarity or familiarity with ‘damaged' partners, an unconscious re-enactment of old family dynamics, or a simple seeking of excitement. But, your needs for support intimacy, and sexuality are best met with someone about whom you feel good. Remember that alcohol and drugs reduce inhibitions and may lead to decisions that you regret later. It is important to avoid trying to get your needs met with individuals who are not able or willing to meet your needs and so, it is a good idea to avoid sacrificing Mr./Ms. ‘Right' for Mr./Ms. ‘Right Now'.

For a lasting and satisfying relationship, forget counting on ‘chemistry'. Good relationships require numerous specific skills, one of which is the ability to set clear boundaries and realistic expectations which are important sources of pride and self-value. Other skills involve self-awareness, acknowledgement of one's own strengths and limitations, and self-acceptance of those same issues. Lack of self-compassion causes people to feel shame or a sense of un-entitlement which, in turn, causes them to ignore, deny, or even be unconscious of important emotions. And, when they don't confide these deep feelings to significant others, they become a mystery and deprive themselves of support and of allies. Another important skill involves the ability to endure conflict in a respectful manner. When people avoid issues instead of addressing them, they turn others into strangers. And, when they attack others instead of seeking help in solving a problem, they turn those people into enemies.

According to Dr. John Gottman, happily married couples behave like good friends. They show respect, affection, empathy, and connection or interest in each other. Their interactions typically involve at least a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative comments. And, in conflict, they keep talking - gently and positively, listening respectfully, and seeking compromises that work for both. They successfully avoid the ‘4 Horsemen' which prove as predictors of divorce:  Criticism - complaints or blaming which make global attacks on personality or character; Defensiveness - counterattacks to defend one's innocence or avoid taking responsibility; Contempt - criticism with hostility or disgust; and Stonewalling - withdrawal which drives one's partner crazy. If the ‘4 Horsemen' are active in your relationship, you can learn skills to interact more positively and productively.

But, when separation or divorce becomes a reality, that transition can be both painful and liberating.

Counselling can help you deal with the emotional fall-out of divorce. You can learn ways to seek happier relationships in the future and you can learn skills to help you deal more effectively with the divorce process as well as with future interactions with your former spouse. The latter is particularly important when children are involved because, as parents, you will continue to have a relationship for many years to come.

If you and your spouse are willing to try to resolve your separation issues in an honest and respectful way without resorting to combat in the courts, there is a way to end your marital relationship in a manner which is less emotionally and financially expensive. The Collaborative Divorce process offers separating couples an inter-disciplinary way of dealing with divorce during this very stressful and challenging time in your lives. This process helps protect the dignity, integrity, and long-term best interests of all family members. The approach involves a team effort of spouses, lawyers, and coaches working together to resolve whatever is in dispute - whether it relates to support, division of assets, or parenting of children. The team objective is to guide and support you in achieving a ‘win/win' resolution of your divorce disputes.