Post Separation Thoughts and Behaviours Really Matter

Let’s consider why we think we may have a difficult time co-parenting with our ex-partners:

  • She/he has an addiction and refuses to get help.
  • Who knows who she/he will have around my child?
  • She/he has repeatedly lied and betrayed our trust.
  • We keep arguing.
  • I feel completely disrespected by my ex-partner, so why should I cooperate?
  • She/he has shown no interest in the care of this child!
  • We didn’t get along before so …

And BREATHE! Now that we have let all that out (and I’m sure we can express quite an extensive list of additional thoughts and feelings associated with our broken relationships), let’s consider just a few of the benefits of effective co-parenting:

  1. Children will feel more secure, relaxed and confident growing up with two involved and cooperative parents;
  2. Enhancement of children’s social, physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional development;
  3. Parents actually improve their health and development as well;
  4. Positive examples and role models for children by working together through difficulties;
  5. Both of us have the pleasure of being cooperative, compassionate and mutually involved parents;
  6. Extended family members are able to remain more involved;

In his extensive review of the literature on the impact of separation and divorce, conducted for the Department of Justice Canada 2001, Ron Steward highlights  “a study of 51 families with an arrangement for joint physical custody, Steinman et al. (1985) identified a list of factors that lead to successful joint physical custody. Families who successfully maintained joint custody had the following qualities:

  1. respect and appreciation for the bond between the children and former spouse;
  2. an ability to maintain objectivity about the children’s needs during difficult periods of the 
  3. ability to empathize with the point of view of the child and the other parent;
  4. ability to shift emotional expectations from the role of mate to that of co-parent;
  5. ability to establish new role boundaries; and
  6. show generally high self-esteem, flexibility and openness to help.” 

Separation or divorce can be an extremely difficult time for parents, and the children and extended family members involved. Feelings are hurt, people often choose sides (even though there are no sides in a family), distance is created (which is a normal part of any separation) and the emotional intensity and practical logistics of separating can inhibit parents’ attention to co-parenting for some time.

Co-parenting does work and is more likely when parents dig deep to develop the qualities listed above. With appropriate training, coaching, planning and practice, both parents will have the opportunity to create amazing lives for themselves, their children and extended family.

To improve your co-parenting by learning the how to strategies – book an appointment with us today!

The Art of Effective Conversation

Communication, when performed effectively, (e.g. calmly, lovingly. sensitively. wisely, respectfully) enhances and fosters positive relationships. However, when done poorly, it leads to communication breakdowns which are draining on those involved. When we have difficulty communicating (causing increased arguments and stress), it is normal for us to feel like giving up.

Poor communication involves certain tendencies or habits that almost everyone resorts to at one point or another. Any of these following communication blockers can inhibit effective discussion, especially during stressful and crucial conversations:

  • Interrupting
  • Ignoring
  • Blame Game
  • Using Sarcasm
  • Insulting/Name Calling
  • Globalizing (i.e., using “always” or “never” statements)
  • Judging
  • Stating opinion as fact
  • Mind Reading/Assuming
  • Advising (i.e., providing solutions without permission)

In the heat of the moment, our body moves into “fight or flight”, a part of which leads to reduced oxygen to the brain. This blocks effective thinking from taking place. Effective communication coaching or counselling helps people identify the triggers in their bodies that prevent rational thinking. It also teaches creative and light-hearted ways to communicate under duress and high stress. Working together, counsellors and people develop strategies to decrease anger and confusion that arises in stressful situations making it more possible to approach tough situations and conversations with appropriate communication techniques.

Therapy also helps individuals, couples and families sort through crucial conversations and create strategies together to resolve conflict and improve relationship satisfaction. Call us today to enhance your communication style!

Extramarital Affairs Harden Hearts and Threaten Health

It may seem we live in an age where almost “everything goes”.  If it makes you happy, and it isn’t illegal, then it should be your choice as to whether you do something or not. This thinking seems to have made its way quite effectively into marriages. I’m no lawyer, however, taking risks that threaten another’s life and their physical and mental health seems like some sort of crime to me?

In an article titled; “New Hampshire lawmakers look to get rid of 200-year-old adultery crime” (The Associated Press December 14, 2009), a contemporary lawyer argues, We shouldn’t be in the business of regulating what consenting adults do with each other,” Horrigan said.  The article goes on to point out history;

“Convicted adulterers years ago faced standing on the gallows, up to 39 lashes, a year in jail or a fine of 100 pounds. The punishment has been relaxed to a misdemeanor and a fine of up to $1,200 – with no jail time.”

  • Remember that extramarital affairs are a chargeable offence under the United States Code of Military Justice.
  • As of 2011, adultery was still considered illegal in 23 of the 50 United States.
  • A joint statement by the United Nations Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice states that: “Adultery as a criminal offence violates women’s human rights” (

Although the District of Columbia and approximately half of the states continue to have laws on the books criminalizing adultery, these laws are rarely invoked. Traditionally, states advanced three goals in support of their adultery laws: (1) the prevention of disease and illegitimate children; (2) the preservation of the institution of marriage; and (3) the safeguarding of general community morals.     (found at

Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary defines ‘adultery’ as: “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married man and someone other than his wife or between a married woman and someone other than her husband”.

The bible defines adultery more broadly, indicating significant concern should be given to even the act of lustfully looking. In Matthew 5:27-28 Jesus states;  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

In his National Post article in support of current Canadian laws criminalizing not telling a sex partner about having HIV,  Matt Gurney says, “It is a crime for a reason, and should remain so”. He adds the following rationale;

“The issue is not really about how likely someone is to become infected with HIV, or any other serious sexually transmitted disease or infection. It’s about who gets to make the decision to expose someone else to that chance of infection, whether it be 100% or 1%. How severe the risk is irrelevant — each of us should have the right, and expectation, to know what we are getting ourselves into. None of us should have the right to decide for someone else whether they are exposed to a potentially deadly disease. The only person qualified to make that kind of decision is the person accepting the risk. If they are denied the opportunity, they have not consented. That’s a crime.”      Matt Gurney| 08/02/12 | Last Updated: 08/02/12 11:15 AM ET.

I leave you to consider this matter for yourselves, of course, yet it seems strange to me that some of the things we actually charge people for are significantly less damaging and hurtful than the familial destruction and emotional devastation that most often accompanies adulterous behaviour. The long term impact on both adults and children, the loss of productivity in the workplace and the extensive use of mental health and medical services is a drain on society. While we may not want to place judgement on people or look down on them for their choices, it may be about time we reopened responsible discussions about adulterous behaviour, breach of marital trust and placed some judgment on this behaviour. Through these conversations, we may even develop more effective solutions and preventative strategies to incorporate into our legal, social and educational institutions?

“New Dad… Nobody Asks Me What I Think?”

I spoke with a young girl today and we were discussing the excitement and anticipation of Christmas. It was approaching fast and this year appears to have gone by so quickly. This was not a counselling session; just a casual conversation with a young friend.

A lot happened in your life this year.

Yah! I guess.

What did you like the most?

Summer time and my birthday pool party.

What didn’t you like so much about this year?

[A lengthened silence prior to her response]

Like… I’m happy to see my mom happy, but I don’t like that she got engaged. I like it but I don’t. I like him, he’s nice. But I don’t know what this means for me. I hear all these plans being made and no one asks how I feel. I’m happy I get to decorate my own room when we move though. Do I have to call him ‘dad’? What about my dad? Now I have two dads?

Sometimes parents attend to their own needs for love and companionship without having open communication with their children. This is especially true when parents determine their children are too young to have these types of conversations. Although we may attempt to keep our children’s best interests top of mind, when selecting and bringing a companion into their lives, it is still important to talk with our children, explore their feelings and concerns along with their positives.

When significant events happen in our lives, the strength of a co-parenting relationship can allow for the entire family to understand and celebrate special times. When the entire family takes part in open conversations, we foster improved understanding of each others’ view points, strengthen our connection as a family, and make adjusting to new members go more smoothly. In other words, we prevent frustrations and potential problems in advance.

Merging families sucessfully and enhancing co-parenting is best done with coaching from professional counsellors.  After twenty years of working with families, experience helps families cope with and adjust to difficult life changes. At Jeff Packer MSW & Associates, areas of support include the following:

  • Helping couples cope with separation/divorce, grieving and adjustment issues
  • Family structure assessment and re-establishing effective roles and rules
  • Establish a co-parenting communication plan and strategy
  • Identify goals for raising children in the most healthy and appropriate manner
  • Create safe and healthy boundaries between co-parents
  • Develop positive relationships with co-parents’ romantic partners
  • Improve communication skills; specifically, conflict resolution and problem-solving
  • Assist with crucial conversations in a non-blaming and accepting environment

Call us today to improve post-separation adjustment and co-parenting relationships. Why? Because you and your children are worth it!

One Common Symptom of Poor Communication

Effective communication during disputes and disagreements is an essential component of high-quality and enduring relationships. Couples, even managers, employees and others, who are seeking to have amazing relationships are well advised to learn, develop and practice positive communication and interpersonal skills (especially conflict-resolution skills) in order to avoid destructive breakdowns like the one described by this young wife and mother below:

My husband and I have been dealing with disagreements, lies and affairs for the past 6 years. We got together when I was fifteen. Everything was awesome (obviously) but as we started to get closer, I started noticing things about him I did not like. So, of course, I tried to change him. He was very abusive, not physically but mentally and emotionally.

I looked for someone else’s comfort. As a teenager, I feel I didn’t know what I wanted in life so I cheated with an acquaintance.  When my husband found out, I told him the truth and told him I could no longer be with him.   I left him and started dating the man I cheated on my husband with. As time went on, the man I started seeing ended up in prison for a year. When he went to prison, I started to miss my husband, and we ended up back together six months later.

Well, after the man had served his sentence, he got out and I notice my husband still has not changed so I started dating this man…again. Four months went by and this same man ended up back in prison, for even longer. I got back with my husband, and ended up pregnant. I felt now, I have no choice and I need to make things work with me and him. I felt I tried my best to make things work, but they still weren’t working. This man got out of jail and I started seeing him again, while I was pregnant.
This time, our relationship was not sexual. I no longer had feelings for this man as I wanted my family to stay together. So, I would see him after school 3-4 times a week for about two hours and we would spend time at the libraries or just sitting and talking…nothing sexual (not even holding hands). I made it clear to him that I just wanted a friendship and felt he wanted the same. A few months later, he finally broke down and told me he was madly in love with me and would take care of me and my baby. I declined. I knew the relationship would never work.  I was in love with the thought of having someone there for me, as I didn’t feel this way with anyone before, he would make me feel safe and always had interest in what I had to say.

I cut off our relationship when my husband found out I was “sneaking” around to see the man while he was at work. So I stopped, and went to get professional help for this situation. Years go by, and last month is when I was at my worst. I stopped eating, no sleep, couldn’t even enjoy my dad’s vacation up here, and the way I react with my children changed. They could see and feel I was stressed out.


We’d argue about things that didn’t even matter. I got so fed up one day that I made the biggest mistake that I’m still living with right now. I contacted the man again. I sent him a message through Facebook asking if he’d received the card I mailed him for his birthday. My husband had a suspicion I would go try to contact him again due to my history, so he checked the computer and saw the message. He was extremely upset. I did delete the message before the man would receive it. All I could think of was “What the h*ll have I done to my family”. I did this all out of anger, because my “Stinkin Thinkin” was thoughts like “Who cares about his feelings”, “Look at how he treats me”, “My kids won’t know they are too young to understand”, “He won’t leave… just do it anyway” and much, much more.

We talked about it. He was determined to leave but I broke down and I tried to explain that I was not happy and things need to change in our relationship. The talk we had that day was the most emotional and loving conversation that we’ve ever had. We discussed things he didn’t like that I do, and I explained things that he did I didn’t like. At the end of the conversation, we were both crying and I could feel that he loved me, for the first time. Now, we still are not perfect but I’ve noticed I have less “Stinkin Thinkin” and try to remain positive for my children, my husband and myself. I will remain positive now and not let “Stinkin Thinkin” choose my actions.

Help to develop and improve relationships is available at Jeff Packer MSW & Associates Inc., a counselling agency in Durham Region. To receive supportive assistance, coaching and effective communication skills training, contact us today!


Keep Personal and Professional Separate? Not Always

Ever consider bringing some of the skills you learn at the office home, into your marriage and family life? It is quite common to struggle with communication in our personal lives; to become quickly frustrated, abrupt and even downright hurtful at times. Yes “potty mouth” or what I sometimes call “verbal diarrhea” can easily become part of the argument when fighting escalates.

While there are important boundaries to be maintained between the office and home, there are multiple skills and strengths that can be used quite well in either environment. Why not practice a strategy or two from the office in your family life? For instance, in business we tend to schedule times (staff meetings etc.) to discuss more serious or important issues or challenges. We might even give out the agenda items in advance (when we’re well organized) allowing people time to consider their opinions, ideas and solutions prior to the meeting. This approach gives each person a chance to prepare, thus helping to keep conversations calm and solution-focused.

Some organizations have problem-solving protocols, conflict-resolution guidelines and emergency plans. The first may include the following very important principle; “When you have a problem with someone, first address the issue with that person directly”. Only after doing so, and being unable to resolve the matter, would you go outside for help (not for complaining or gossiping).

Imagine how many fights and arguments might be avoided by bringing just a few professional communication strategies home? Additional skills may include negotiation and conflict-resolution skills such as; keep emotions calm or minimized; one issue at a time; stay current or present-focused; structure the meeting well (e.g. be as brief as possible and begin and end with encouragement-positives).

Well, maybe not boardroom to bedroom, however, it is important to transfer positive skills and solutions both from office to home and visa-versa. Yes we may do well to bring something like teamwork back and forth. Thinking of the family and couple as teams, no different than sports teams and work teams, reminds us we are to work together toward the same goals; toward health, wealth and happiness.

For teamwork to be successful, there is no place for judgement, blame or grandstanding, whether at the office, shop, arena or at home. When things get difficult, and one teammate is not doing well, it is precisely then that others are to move in and help out.

Want to improve your teamwork at the office or at home?  Contact us today



“My Kids are Driving Me Crazy”

Wait one minute. Who’s the parent? Who’s in charge here? It is very important to first take three or four deeeeep breaths and then, second, answer these two questions calmly. Of course you are the parent and you are in charge, however, there are certainly times you don’t feel like it.

Many people have heard about using time-out with children, usually when there is some misbehaving going on. Children will often struggle because they are, just like us parents, learning how to get along, navigate relationships, problem-solve etc.. The times when our little adorable ones are finding it difficult to behave quite often seems to coincide with the times we are busy and less able to attend to and respond to them.

Before automatically giving the child a time-out, it is important to give a few cautions, redirections or requests for better behaviour. These do not always result in the behaviour change desired which can then be an opportunity to use effective time-out and time-in. Yes “time-in”.  Imagine a sports team taking a time-out without a time-in?

Think of a time-out like a sports coach.  He sees something in the game that requires a bit of coaching and re-directing and calls a time-out, offering the players a chance to 1) relax and take a breather, 2) think about what happened and, 3) think about what can be done instead to improve the game. There is then a “time-in”. This is usually where the players are reminded “we’re all on the same team”, “you can do it” and and encouragement of some sort, like “go get ’em”.

For parents, the end of the time-in chat may be like a Robert Munch book that makes many mothers cry… “I’ll Love You Forever”… no matter your behaviour. That’s good coaching. The time-out in sports is short and so too is an effective one for family teams. Maximum time-out is between five and ten minutes, preferably the shorter time. Also, this technique is not usually used until the child is fairly verbal and aware of, and able to complete, behavioural expectations (age 2 or 3 and up).

Effective use of the time-out/time-in teaching or discipline tool does involve attending to the manner or non-verbal way in which it is given.  A positive parenting approach to time-out means parents display a relaxed, light face and tone that is delivered at the child’s eye level. A kind, loving and encouraging face and tone go a long way to help children (even spouses) feel more relaxed and willing during time-outs.  This also helps family see it as coaching and training rather than as punishment and this style of delivery affirms “we are all on the same team here”.

Sounds easy yet there are many variables such as different parenting styles, family situations and personality traits to consider. If you find you’re struggling more than being helpful, reach out and get an assessment and even some parent-coaching. You can even apply the time-out and time-in process to yourself.  Co-parents and couples can also benefit from the process.

For assistance or more information contact us today !