planning ahead for separation and divorce
typical emotions and behavior during divorce
how to cope with betrayal in relationships recommendations and tips for divorcing couples
Shonnie Brown, marriage and family therapist in sonoma county
Licensed Marriage &
Family Therapist
LMFT #30787
405 Chinn Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
Santa Rosa: 707-526-4353
Healdsburg: 707-526-4353

Contact me for

LifeStory Therapy™:

therapeutic writing specialist in sonoma county Click here for more info

Separation/Divorce Support Group for Women

santa rosa separation and divorce support group Ongoing / Weekly
Click here for more info

Recommended Reading

recommended coparenting web sites and books on Co-Parenting
and Divorce
books and resources about infidelity and marital cheating on Infidelity

Articles by
Shonnie Brown:

feelings Ten Ways to Use Therapy in Becoming Your Own Advocate
feelings "I Just Can't Help What I Feel!"
therapeutic writing classes Writing: A Healing Art
writing as therapy in santa rosa, california Uncovering Trauma Through Therapeutic Writing: Part Two
divorce support groups in sonoma county Recession Depression
Facebook and narcissism Facebook: Healthy or Unhealthy Narcissism?
recession depression counseling Healing and Recovery in a Divorce Support Group: Part One
santa rosa group therapy for divorced women Healing and Recovery in a Divorce Support Group: Part Two
coping with trauma with therapeutic writing Uncovering Trauma through Therapeutic Writing
unhealthy attachment and dependence in marriage Divorce and Attachment Issues
mother daughter relationship issues Adult Daughters and Their Mothers: A Tenuous Bond
Divorce Poison book about co-parenting 5 Co-parenting Interventions from "Divorce Poison"
writing for therapy and anxiety relief Writing as Therapy
coping with infidelity and betrayal in a marriage The Affair, Part 1
therapy to deal with husband or wife affair The Affair, Part 2
marriage and family therapist in the santa rosa area The Power In Being Wrong
co-parent empowerment group of sonoma county Inside a COPE Group: 1
help in mediating co-parenting issues Inside a COPE Group: 2
children raised in two different households Inside a COPE Group: 3
therapy for shyness, self-esteem and social anxiety Moving Beyond Shyness
good parenting practices for divorcing couples Parenting During Divorce
support groups for separated and divorced men and women The Role of Support Groups in Divorce Recovery
the stigma and shame of divorce The Stigma of Divorce
coping with one-sided divorce and feelings of betrayal and abandonment The Unilateral Divorce




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The Unilateral Divorce

Shonnie Brown, MFT

The Leaver:

  • Often has had a secret plan to leave for some period of time (possibly years)

  • Long preparations may include future life plan, new lover, intricate financial planning, geographical relocation

  • Is not receptive to hearing or processing the partner's feelings or emotional response

  • May become completely unavailable by cutting off direct communication, refusing to talk or meet; sometimes "hides" with no address and no response to calls or letters

  • Wants to rush through divorce process and pushes for quick financial, property, and custody resolutions

  • Often is willing to surrender assets and property out of guilt or has well developed financial plan to take care of self

  • Is perceived by leavee as "changing into a stranger overnight": often seems harsh, emotionally detached, uncaring, businesslike, with sudden rigid boundaries
My observations of a person who leaves a long term relationship in this manner are these: Ambivalence and vulnerability do not support a decision to leave. The leaver feels he or she must "hang tough" in order to accomplish the separation. This includes a cut off from warm feelings and an avoidance of painful emotional processing. So often there is an over compensation which looks and feels like harsh indifference developing overnight! In my opinion, this is actually a denial of any painful feelings or loss that might make one vulnerable.

Unfortunately, this rigid indifference is extremely disconcerting and painful to the leavee who needs to talk and come to some understanding. For the leaver, the cut-off of feelings denies a big part of their life. Left unprocessed, this cut-off is not healthy. Feelings of guilt and lack of closure go into the unconscious and may manifest in future relationships. Even when a leaver feels truly "finished" in the relationship and has nothing more to say, the lack of mutual closure adversely affects both.

The Leavee:

  • Initial period of shock or numbing may also manifest as depression, despair, hysteria

  • Length of time of numbing varies

  • Feels pushed to make financial agreements, refuses to deal with legal matters and takes a passive approach; unconcerned with fair division of assets or too quick to agree with "whatever he wants"; feels powerless, doesn't take care of self financially

  • Numb—can't cry or express anger, needs to come out of numbing and feel grief and rage

  • Is still invested in taking care of former partner (especially with women), still sees oneself as partnered

  • Depression, thoughts of suicide, extreme dependency, no vision of survival alone are all common

  • Often a deep resistance develops to taking charge of one's life and being pro-active
A partner who is left suddenly and without mutual discussion or agreement feels totally disempowered. This hugely affects self-esteem and ability to trust. Lack of closure, aging, lack of occupational skills and/or work experience greatly add to risk of depression and extreme hopelessness. There is much more likelihood of delayed dissatisfaction with legal and custody agreements when decisions are pushed and made hastily. It takes a long period of time for the reality of the separation to set in and to make agreements that will still feel fair down the road.

Recommendations for Leaver and Leavee:

Have closure in whatever way possible. Closure is a process and takes time. The value of closure is that it helps discharge unexpressed emotions and gives one the sense of having said what needs to be said. Below is a hierarchy of suggested closures with the most beneficial being first:
  • Direct mutual closure with therapist or other neutral professional

  • Face-to-face closure without third person, leaver allowing leavee to express his/her feelings

  • Indirect closure through mutual exchange of letters

  • Closure with compassionate others in support group (if partner refuses to participate in closing process)

  • Closure in individual therapy through discharging feelings, writing letters, journaling, dream work and ritual


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