High-conflict divorces and separations can have a significant impact on family dynamics, with children being particularly at risk for negative repercussions, including the potential for damaged parental relationships. Parental alienation can be incredibly painful for both the child and the alienated parent, and over time, can degrade communication and intimacy.
Parental reunification aims to mend the wounds caused by distanced parental relationships and to (hopefully) establish a healthy path forward for all. As reunification and family coaching experts, the team at Pathways Family Coaching is here to guide your family through reunification therapy and help you stay complicit with court-ordered mandates (where applicable). Below, we’ll take a closer look at parental reunification and how you can prepare to make the best efforts at reconciliation possible. Read on to learn more.
What is Parental Reunification?
The objective of reunification is to heal a fractured relationship between parent/child(ren) by emphasising positive attachment and healthy communication. The primary goal of this specific form of therapy is to reestablish trust between the parent and child and create a solid path forward where everyone feels valued and understood. Reunification therapy typically progresses at the pace of the child, so as to give them a feeling of security and comfort.
Reunification therapy is often court-mandated during high-conflict divorces when one child is refusing contact with one parent.
Why Reunification Matters
Reunification isn’t just important for healing the hurt of losing a relationship with your child, it’s also integral for their children’s long-term development and overall wellness. Disrupted parent-child relationships can have profound effects on a child’s mental and emotional development and lead to long-term issues like:
- Low self-esteem
- Anxiety and depression
- Occurrences of self-harm, and/or reckless, dangerous behaviours
- Substance and alcohol abuse
- Unhealthy emotional attachments with others, leading to self-endangerment through sexual promiscuity or remaining in abusive relationships
- Personality disorders – Lower levels of self-sufficiency in adulthood.
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While reunification may not undo all of the hurt and damage caused by exposure to high-conflict parental separations, it can and often does, help a child understand that the conflict is not their fault and that their parent loves and values them.
Note: It is important to recognize that reunification is applicable only to circumstances where the parent in need of reunification is safe to be involved with their child(ren). In cases of abuse, neglect, mental instability, or substance abuse, reunification may not be ideal until the parent has been able to demonstrate they are fit to act and behave in the child’s best interest.
How it Works
At present, there is no standard process for reunification. Each therapist or family coach takes a unique approach to reunification. With that being said, there are three primary stages that typically define the reunification process: assessment, treatment, and integration.
During the assessment phase, the goal is to understand the inner workings of your family and how individual, as well as collaborative elements influence the overall dynamic and how specific details affect the child(ren) involved. Your therapist will speak with all members of the family individually to gain a solid insight into what’s going on, and will maintain an unbiased, purely objective standpoint throughout the entire reunification process.
Once an assessment is conducted, your therapist will facilitate a plan and process that allows all family members to move towards reunification. Remember, while it may “only” be one parent who is alienated, alienation affects everyone in the family. The reunification process may be short, but in many cases will take a more extended period to rebuild bonds and establish a healthy path forward.
As each family is intrinsically unique, treatment will look different in each scenario and often incorporate a timeline with both individual and joint sessions to help facilitate positive communication and build trust.
Integration tends to involve more joint sessions to allow for family dynamics to flourish organically, but will still incorporate individual sessions while necessary. The focus of this phase is to help parents and children work together towards long-term reconnection, with a therapist observing the many nuances that family members may miss and inexperienced counsellors may not know to watch for. Such nuances often serve as cues and clues for parents to be aware of when interacting with their child, and positive guidance can help to reestablish valuable practices that allow everyone to continue forward confidently.
It’s essential to be aware that the results of reunification are not universal. Just as every family is unique, the needs and pain points of children and alienated parents coming in will differ widely, and this means that there are several possible outcomes. Reunification may result in:
Long term reunification
This is the ideal scenario, with therapy ending in reunited parents and children, with a plan that allows both parents to co-parent successfully and peacefully.
In some cases, an alienated parent may demonstrate that there is not only a reason for the damaged relationship, but that they are also unwilling to make necessary changes to move forward productively. In such occurrences, reunification therapy has often been court-mandated, and a change of custody may be professionally recommended to the court.
The unfortunate reality of managing human relationships is that, sometimes, reunification may not be possible (at least at this point in time). There are many elements that can cause reunification therapy to fail, including the wrong therapist, lack of effort on one or both parents’ part, the age of the child involved, and how long-standing the rift has been. In cases of prolonged abuse or exposure to extreme behaviours, a child may wish to permanently sever their relationship with the offending parent, in which case reunification is less likely to be possible.
How Can I Best Prepare Myself?
If you are hoping to reconcile as an alienated parent, it is essential to be aware that reunification takes time, and that patience is necessary. Ensure that you find a qualified practitioner like the team at Pathways that specializes in reunification, and take the time to self-educate yourself on the realities of reconciliation and co-parenting with your former spouse.
Pathways Family Coaching is here to help you build your best path forward when navigating high-conflict situations and reunification. We offer a variety of online courses tailored to help parents make the most of reunification therapy and maintain strong relationships indefinitely including:
- Ready to Reconnect is specifically designed to prepare you for reunification therapy and empower you to understand your role in reunification and support your child’s journey.
- The Alienation Code can help you understand why you are being disconnected from your child so you can better combat it.
- Pathways Through Conflict will help you develop the conflict management skills you need to handle your divorce well. It includes additional information on reunification therapy options.
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