Unresolved personal/relationship issues and relationship history

Unresolved personal/relationship issues and relationship history

One professional commented that in cases where there is protracted conflict between the former partners there was usually:

a really problematic relationship and then it just continues … There has been absolutely no communication since separation between the parents … and they don’t want there to ever be any … I think they focus on that rather than coming up with solutions for the child. (Case manager, RDM)

This statement was met with much agreement. Another mediator suggested:

The obvious thing is communication … Characteristically they are blown if their communication is broken down. They get what we call negative intimacy. They make negative assumptions all the time and then they start to communicate less because it’s too hard and the children get caught in the middle, [taking] messages between the parents. (Mediator, RA)

Several professionals argued that a focus on interpersonal issues diminishes a former couple’s ability to be child focused. Even after separation, the emotional ties to one another can still be quite strong and the feelings of hurt, loss and grief may seem insurmountable, particularly in the early days. Many professionals raised this point. One put it this way:

When people separate they can lose their sense of who they are because it is all so tied up in the relationship and [the dispute] gives them another story (as victim), [which] gives them something to hold on to for the moment. (Mediator/psychologist, RA)

Another described the process of dealing with such issues.

People go through different stages [during] separation and after a period there is an acceptance and they grow towards a solution … But in the early stage, just after separation, there is a lot of difficulty in separating the issues between the parents and the issues revolving around the children. (Professional, CSA)

Some professionals also pointed out that parents can repeat relationship patterns of old. Conflict and difficulty in communicating may have been a feature of their relationship prior to separation, and after it.

That’s the only way they know how to deal with each other. (Mediator and family lawyer, FMC)

To illustrate this point, one psychologist and family law practitioner remarked:

The more functional the relationship while it’s together, the more functional the separated parents are going to be. (Family lawyer, Victorian Legal Aid)

This same professional also suggested that, in some cases:

Contact disputes happen before [a] child is even conceived … The seeds are there in the relationship between the parents.

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