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Co-Parenting: Learning the Skill of Disengaging

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

Co-Parenting and Divorce (C.P.D.) terms the final step in the grieving process of your divorce "disengaging." C.P.D. infers that when a person remains emotionally or physically engaged with the now divorced spouse, it is akin to not moving on from the attachment to a deceased spouse. Avoidance in dealing with the pain stifles your ability to transition and thrive and your child(ren)s.

The following C.P.D. exercise is a quick snapshot of your personal definition to attachment.

  1. How do you describe what it means to be "Attached" to someone?

  2. How do you describe what it means to be "Detached" to someone?

C.P.D. informs some behaviors reflect a person remaining engaged with the ex-spouse, such as doing favors or spending time with the person's care. There is another type of attachment via intense emotions such as: anger or bitterness that may lead to actions of revenge. For example, not telling the other spouse about their child's soccer game or sharing misinformation with the children to blame the other parent. When this pattern emerges, the focus becomes on hurting the other person rather than getting on with one's own life.

A person can also remain attached via hope. For example, the person makes daily decisions that keep ties with the ex-spouse and lead to ongoing communication or seeing one another using the child as the pawn. This attachment also harms the child because the person's decisions are based on personal needs, not what is best for the child.

Deciding to let go means you have begun to think of the possibility of moving on, what that would look like, and how the future would be better.

What would it mean for you to let go? What does that look like for you?

C.P.D. provides practical steps you can use in the letting go process:

A temporary clean cut: A brief quick clean cut allows the attached individuals to reduce the intense conflict while each works on disengagement.

  1. Letting Go Physically: Discontinuing favors such as mowing the lawn, making former spouse food, or other responsibilities the spouse should be able to do independently.

  2. Letting Go Emotionally: Emotional disengagement means that you are no longer seeking nor relying on your ex-spouse's friendship, opinion, sharing of feelings, or even allowing this person to push your buttons.

  3. Rituals for Letting Go: A wedding is a ceremony that celebrates and formalizes the marriage. A divorce ceremony may be a symbolic step that may provide a formality to recognize the ending of the marriage.

  4. The Candle Ritual: This is a ceremony in which the lite candle symbolizes your new independent life. The lite candle may represent being a guide and path to your new future, while the extinguished flame can reflect your decision to let go.

  5. The Rock Ritual: This ritual's purpose is to physically feel the weight of ongoing engagement with your former spouse. Begin by picking a very heavy rock that you place in your purse or person (carrying it for several days). Continue to carry this rock to increase your awareness of how cumbersome it is to carry out daily routines. Once the weight becomes too much, decide to let it go, and reflect on how this weight lifted symbolizes the advantages of letting go.

  6. Marriage Certificate Ritual: Find a mock (online) or a copy of your real marriage certificate and create a ritual that symbolizes letting go: for example, bury the certificate, burn the certificate or cut it into small pieces, or place pieces in a balloon and release it.

  7. Disengagement Contract: Create a disengagement contract that states your name, whom you married and the date. Then write about your separation yet having a connection because of your child(ren). And your new role as co-parents and how you choose to let go and take responsibility for yourself, including your self-care.

In the letting go process, remind yourself that part of letting go is emotional and physical detachment. Take your time to give yourself space and practice to gain the gradual clarity and strength to let go finally.


Cooperative Parenting and Divorce, "Shielding Your Child From Conflict," A Parent Guide to Effective Co-Parenting. Susan Blyth Boyan, M.Ed., L.M.F.T. and Ann Marie Termini, M.S., L.P.C.

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