If you’re like most of us, you’ve completed many quizzes in your life, most of them pretty silly. (“Which Type of Breakfast Cereal Are You?” “What Disney Character is Your Soulmate?”) We enjoy filling out these little tests because it’s fun to be told something about who we are, or who we might be--but in real life, they aren’t very important.
Sometimes, however, experts are able to “sort” people into categories based on genuine research. For instance, scientists Constance Ahrons and Roy Rogers spent years looking at common dynamics of divorced couples. Based on this research, they were able to broadly group divorced couples into 5 basic groups.
We don’t have a quiz for you today, but if you’ve been divorced, you may well be able to recognize yourself in one of these five categories. Read on to learn more about the types.
These couples are so distant and so “over” that they no longer communicate at all. Many times, they live hundreds of miles away from each other. They may not even know how to reach one another in case of emergency. While this situation is occasionally for the best for various reasons, there’s no question that it is a loss for any children involved.
Foes stay locked in deep hostility. This is where you’ll find drawn-out court battles, attempts to contaminate children’s relationships with the other parent, and anger that lasts for many years. Fiery Foes can rarely communicate without it turning into a disaster. They may talk to each other mostly through third parties, such as lawyers or other family members. This is a toxic situation for children, who may be used as pawns by parents to “get back” at each other.
Angry Associates aren’t as furious with each other as Fiery Foes. However, there’s still quite a lot of discord. These couples talk more than Fiery Foes, but they often are having the same old arguments over and over again, unable to let past pain go. They are “used to” fighting and being locked in an ongoing power struggle. In fact, they may somehow find it comforting and familiar. Their relationship can be characterized as “stuck.” Children find the situation stressful, though it’s not as painful as living with Fiery Foes for parents.
These couples went through some hard times when they divorced and may have negotiated through the court system with some ups and downs. However, at this point they have learned to communicate, if at a distance, and are generally able to manage their relationship with some civility. Typically, they are able to coparent productively most of the time, keeping the best interests of their children in mind. The emotional divorce is final with these couples; they have moved on.
These are the couples who seem to get along so well that people may wonder if they really even got a divorce. They still are in frequent contact and are friendly and positive with each other. Although this arrangement has some positives in that it is low in hostility, the children (and even the adults) may ultimately find it a bit confusing.
So, did you recognize your own divorce “relationship” in any of these 5 models? Cooperative Colleagues, a pretty functional type, were actually most common in Ahrons’ and Rogers’ sample, making up about 38% of the couples they looked at. Angry Associates and Fiery Foes, less positive models, each made up about a quarter, while the very friendly Perfect Pals were about 12%. They couldn’t assess how many Dissolved Duos there were because these couples were too “split up” to even be included in the survey.
To fully come to terms with a divorce, it’s important to give yourself plenty of time to grieve the loss of your marriage. Don’t rush through the healing process. In addition, try hard to establish a functional, neutral post-divorce relationship with your spouse, especially if there are children. This will go a long way towards allowing you both to move on.
Some couples find that it is helpful to work with a counselor or a mediator to work through the last phases of a divorce. To find a mediator, visit Mediate.com; to locate a marriage and family therapist, visit Find a Therapist.
By Carol Church, lead writer, SMART Couples, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida
Daughtry, T. (n.d.) The five categories of coparenting. Retrieved from http://modernfamilydynamics.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Co-ParentingIntl_FiveCategoriesOfCo-Parenting-new.pdf
Frankenberg, E. (2016). The good divorce. Retrieved from http://frankenbergpartners.com/the-good-divorce.html
Iowa State University. (1996). Divorce matters. Retrieved from https://extension.tennessee.edu/centerforparenting/TipSheets/Divorce%20Matters%20Talking%20with%20Your%20Child's%20Other%20Parent.pdf
PsyBlog. (2007). Parental relationships after divorce: from ‘perfect pals’ to ‘fiery foes’. Retrieved from http://www.spring.org.uk/2007/04/parental-relationships-after-divorce.php
Scott, M. Coparenting. Retrieved from http://www.mediate.com/articles/scottm.cfm
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