Communicating Exits: Time Together – Time Apart

We all need personal time and space. This may mean alone time, or time with just our friends. Sometimes, fear of hurting, abandoning or rejecting your partner can make it hard to say, "I need some time alone." Over time, this can leave you feeling depleted or resentful. Or it can have the opposite of the intended effect - you stay home with your spouse or partner, but avoid contact. One of you watches TV downstairs while the other is upstairs on the computer. 

Bringing your need for time into the open and having a thoughtful discussion about how each of you can feel taken care of helps. Let your partner know how much you love them. Empathize with any feelings of rejection. Ask for advice - ways you can get your needs met too. Explain how time alone or time with friends recharges you in a different way from your couple relationship.

The amount of time you spend in and out of the relationship can be negotiated and compromised. Empathy is often the key.

*The concept of communicating exits is composed in Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples, written by Harville Hendricks and Dr. Helen Hunt.

If you would like to learn more about how you can begin therapy, or have any questions please call 415-563-4342 or 510-883-9312, or email me directly at


Susan Regan, MFT has offices in Berkeley near El Cerrito and Oakland and in San Francisco, close to the Civic Center and Nob Hill. 415-563-4342 or 510-883-9312.

When To Seek Therapy For A Divorce Process


Divorce With Dignity is a divorce facilitation service with the goal of getting people through their divorce in a holistic, cooperative, peaceful, and cost-effective way.

One of the benefits we offer our clients is referrals for additional services they may need to make the divorce a smoother transition. For example, some clients may be in situations where they have a need to seek therapy or counseling during the divorce process. In these cases, we refer them to professionals like Susan Regan, MFT. Susan is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, who is also trained as a Mediator. We asked Susan to share her thoughts on when it would be appropriate to seek therapy when going through a divorce.

Divorce is difficult for everyone, but what are the signs that someone may need some professional counseling, therapy, or mediation to deal with divorce issues?

There are many situations that call for professional help when working through a divorce. Some of these are -
• mental instability on the part of either spouse
• depression / thoughts of suicide
• addiction issues
• learning how to co-parent in changing circumstances
• when one spouse is incapable of caring for the children
• unemployment / fear of dependency
• changing roles, such as one spouse becoming the stay-at-home parent or going out into the workforce
• when one spouse feels that the other one is trying to control them
• abusive behavior toward the spouse or the children

I want to draw attention to the issue of depression and suicidal thoughts or statements. If one partner is potentially suicidal, it can make the other partner feel trapped into staying in the relationship. They may feel like they can't leave without the threat of the other person doing self harm. In this case, professional therapy on several levels is called for.

I'd also like to say more about abusive behavior situations. When people try to leave an abusive partner, it's an incredibly sensitive and fragile time for them. They want to know, “How can I leave and still be safe?” If they rush out and file for divorce, that can start an explosion in the family, and people become much more vulnerable in these situations.

Instead of rushing into things, it's wise to get help to plan how to separate in a less explosive way. With a professional therapist or mediator, they will have someone managing the discussion, assuring both parties that they will be involved in the decisions and can have some say about how and when the divorce happens. This can cool down a potentially volatile situation, and helps both parties to feel more settled and that their concerns are being heard.

If the couple has children, I can talk with the kids about the divorce and also about their parents' behavior toward them. This provides an opportunity to help the parents address any behavioral issues that need modification as they become divorced co-parents.

If there is a control or abuse issue in the spousal relationship, the day when the person moves out or comes back to get their stuff can be tense and possibly explosive. It's important to have some support people there to help keep things under control.

With the help of legal and counseling professionals, planning a divorce can take some of the explosiveness and unpredictability out of the situation, and put a damper on the drama.

What are the main benefits that can be gained from therapy during and after a divorce?

During the divorce, it helps the couple have actual discussions instead of having shouting matches or making unilateral decisions. Negotiated agreements may not get each person exactly what they want, but will get them an agreement they both can feel comfortable with.

Therapy or counseling sessions can also help people navigate the transition to their new roles and circumstances. They can learn how to reinvent their lives, check in with me about their kids and how they are doing after the divorce, and get co-parenting counseling.

If you would like to learn more about how you can begin therapy, or have any questions please call 415-563-4342 or 510-883-9312, or email me directly at

Reciprocity: Healthy Ideas for Couples

Giving and receiving is essential in long-term adult relationships.

But in some instances it can feel like one person gives too much. In healthy relationships, each person is in charge of their needs, emotions and responses. It's okay to say no - even if the other person gets disappointed. And it's okay to get disappointed. It doesn't mean the other person has to feel guilty or change their mind.

Signs that you're out of balance:

  • You give all the time in your marriage and with your family.
  • Communication is not explicit - there's a lot of guessing and assuming.
  • There is competition or a "tit for tat" with people keeping score - for example "I made the dinner so you have to do the dishes."
  • Love gets confused with needing or being needed
  • Love becomes conditional

If you're experiencing any of these things - or your relationship just doesn't feel reciprocal, it's time to make a change. We all need to feel appreciated, valued, cared for, wanted and loved. Receiving these things is like filling your emotional bank account. When you have plenty in the bank, the little things just don't bug you so much.

How do you fill up the bank?*

  • Show interest in your partner's life.
  • Keep up with the important things going on with their friends, work, extended family, hobbies and other activities.
  • Carve out time to talk with each other on a regular basis.
  • Take turns when talking.
  • Really listen to your partner.
  • Repeat back what you have heard, make comments, and ask questions.
  • Validate what your partner is feeling (you don't have to agree to understand).
  • Say positive things to you partner frequently.
  • Include your partner in what you do and think about daily.
  • For every negative comment you say, offer 5 positive statements to refuel the bank.

Words are not enough-
60% of communication is tone of voice 30% is body language and only 10% of is the actual content.
Speak gently; lean in to each other. Flirt and be playful when it's appropriate.

*John Gottman, PhD is world renowned for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction, involving the study of emotions, physiology, and communication. He developed breakthrough research on marriage therapy. He has a very concise way of explaining the concept of reciprocity.

If you would like to learn more about how you can begin therapy, or have any questions please call 415-563-4342 or 510-883-9312, or email me directly at

Co-Parent Counseling and the Personality Types

When there is personality conflict,
it's invaluable to have the help of a neutral third party
- someone who understands how divorce impacts everyone,
including parents and kids.

Co-parent Counseling benefits include:

  • Keeping focused on the children
  • Understanding kids' developmental needs
  • Helping kids adjust to the transition
  • Providing a neutral and emotionally safe place for parents to create a new relationship, based on the best interests of their kids.

Co-parent Counseling helps parents who have controlling personality types find safe, effective ways to communicate and get along better. It's good to have a calm place to talk outside of the legal arena.

While control issues may remain, understanding the effect on your kids can help you keep your conflict in check. Kids don't handle conflict well. Studies show that kids exposed to ongoing conflict in divorce have less success in future relationships, lower self-worth, and difficulty finding a sense of accomplishment.

For impaired parents, co-parenting therapy can facilitate a successful relationship between the impaired parent and child. Therapy can help increase independence and self-reliance. This new strength feels good to both the parent and the child. It ultimately fosters more closeness and connection between parent and child.

If you would like to learn more about how you can begin therapy, or have any questions about how to begin therapy please call 415-563-4342 or 510-883-9312, e-mail me directly, or if you are ready to schedule a consultation appointment click here.

Knowing and Accepting Each Other’s Personality Styles

During a separation process parents‚ personality differences get magnified
- especially when deciding the custody of their children.

Disappointment, depression, anxiety, and anger are normal at this time. Different personality types express these feelings in different ways. Understanding what's underneath the behavior can help you find empathy for yourself and your child's other parent.

Problem Solvers: This type fends for and protects their children more than they dislike the other parent. They are problem solvers in other parts of their life and are very willing to negotiate and compromise. They are committed to shielding their child from conflict.
Things can become difficult if the problem solver avoids conflict altogether and issues don't get resolved.

Controllers. The controller may be emotionally or even physically abusive. They often try to maintain the upper hand during a divorce. Many marriages break up because the non-controlling partner stands up to the controller. People try to control others when they don't feel empowered themselves.

Controllers need to know that they are strong enough to be alone.

Impaired parent. This parent may have a visible disability - or they may be emotionally dependent. It's often difficult for them to let go of their spouse. And often spouses stay in the marriage too long, afraid to abandon them. By the time divorce is underway, there is often a lot of resentment.

Impaired parents need outside help, accepting their dependency and working to overcome it as much as possible. This may mean therapy, alcohol/drug counseling or rehab, vocational rehab, etc.

How Personality Types Interact

The most successful and least conflicted parent combination is two problem solvers. They tend to work together to find solutions. They tend to be good at empathizing with each other and their kids - putting their kids' needs first.

Two controlling parents tend to have the hardest time finalizing their divorce. They will typically be seen in court at times throughout their child's life.

With impaired parents what often happens is that this person leaves the family system, finding a caretaker elsewhere. In some cases, this parent finds the right help and learns to parent in more appropriate and effective ways.

If you would like to learn more about how you can begin therapy, or have any questions please call 415-563-4342 or 510-883-9312, or email me directly at