One of our ongoing projects at the Family Separation Clinic is the study of pairings. This is borne from our extensive work with families where alienation is a feature and is something we are currently writing about for academic journals. Like much of the work we are doing at the Clinic, this is an unfolding process in which we are able to gather, in real time, the evidence which underpins  accepted hypothoses about alienated children.  We are also able to test interventions to assess which work quickly and successfully and which are best matched to individual cases.  All of this work is informed by the way that we differentiate the case before we offer a treatment route.  All of which is in line with international standards on working with alienated children, such as those set by Bala and Fidler, Baker and Sauber and Bernet et al.

Our study of pairings arises from our experience in working with both the alienating and the alienated parent, something we regularly undertake at the Clinic and which allows us to observe the dynamics which create common alienation pathways in families.  Such studies inform our understanding of differentiation and allow us to refine our match of treatment route very closely to individual families.  These studies allow us to be clear about when a therapeutic route is possible and when it is not and also allow us to advise the court on what other options should be considered in enabling the child to restore a normal relationship with a rejected parent. Whilst this work is new in the UK and as such is not universally used, we are achieving successful outcomes with it, which demonstrates its efficacy both to the court and to parents themselves.

Our study of pairings is focused upon the dynamic between parents and how this is created by the meeting of two different types of personality and two different types of parenting styles which result from this.  We combine our work on pairings with our transgenerational assessments in which we examine the family tree of each parent to look at how the pairing arose and why.  In every respect this is not about treating the alienation in the child but about examining as closely as possible the reasons why the alienation has arisen in the first place. When we know why the alienation has arisen, we can work out how to unlock it using either therapeutic or court directed means or sometimes a combination of both.

One of the things that we absolutely do know at the Clinic is that the separation of the child from the toxicity which arises in a case of pure alienation will render the pathology null and void. This is when the alienation reaction disappears quickly and the healthy relationship between parent and child emerges intact.  This tallies with the work of Childress in the United States amongst others and demonstrates that when the treatment route is tailored correctly, the toxic impact on the child is completely removed.  What we also know however, is that in line with the work of Bala and Fidler in Canada, should the case be that of hybrid, in which both parents have acted in ways that have created the toxic dynamic, there is a more difficult pathway to tread to remove the impact on the child. This is where the alienation reaction may not be treated by separation from the aligned parent or, if it is, there is a longer, slower, emergence from the reaction.

All of which is problematic in the UK family courts because separation from the alienating or aligned parent is not easy to achieve and if it is, it is often many years after the child has been targeted and it is often managed in ways that do not give the child the clean break separation which brings the relief from the problem.  Until the UK courts understand that a child who rejects a once loved parent is doing so because of pressure placed upon them somewhere, we will continue to see the kind of interventions which simply prolong the alienation instead of acting to remove it swiftly and cleanly.

One of the ways that it is possible to raise awareness in the court process of the problem of alienation and how to treat it is to evidence the work that we do with our successful interventions and our work on pairings is designed to do that. Whilst the following story is fictional, it is based upon the work that we do every day at the Clinic and the academic papers we are writing about this aspect will shortly be available. When they are we will link them to this site and our new site for download so that they are available for use in individual cases.

When Harry met Sally

When Harry met Sally he slid into her life like a knife through butter, severing her relationships with her friends and family and convincing her in a matter of days that she was the one for him.  Married within six months of meeting, Sally didn’t even know he had two children from a previous marriage, until she discovered the photographs, in a box in his wardrobe on the day she moved into his house.

Harry was charming and bright and happy and life felt wonderful to Sally who within six months of marriage was pregnant with her first child and Harry’s third.  This child was born and then another and then inexplicably Harry appeared to tire of Sally and his life with her and things grew grim.

Sally decided one day that she would leave Harry and take the children with her. She had not bargained however, for the way in which Harry had showered their daughters with so much love, affection and money, that neither of them wished to leave their fairy tale life with their fairy tale father.  Sally left anyway, hopeful that their father’s love for them would not diminish as his love for her had. She told her daughters she would see them the following week when they came to her new house.

But the children never went to Sally’s house. They immediately and resolutely refused to leave their father’s side.  Sally was shocked and upset but wanting to do the right thing she accepted that she shouldn’t push them. ‘All in their own time’ said Harry charmingly.  Sally waited a long time but their own time never did arrive. Fifteen years later Sally doesn’t know where her children are. Harry took them on holiday and did not return.  When Harry met Sally, the meeting of charming dominance and passive acceptance created a dynamic in which the children simply could not resist the power of their father to convince them that they did not need a mummy. Now Shonagh, the eldest of the two girls, is alienated from her own daughter as well as her mother. She didn’t have a mother template to draw on when she gave birth and the man she married was so like her own father that her child was whisked from under her nose without her even really noticing.  And so the repeatin pattern of family estrangement marches on, creating poisonous pairings which play havoc with children and their own chances of being parents when they grow older.

When Sally met Harry

And the same goes when Sally met Harry.  Sally was a strong and independent woman who liked to be in charge. She had a close relationship with her own mother but her father, who had died when Sally was 11 years old, was never spoken about.  Harry came from a close knit family, in which his mother and father were happily married and closely involved in all aspects of family life.  Harry wanted Sally to fit right in.  Sally thought Harry’s family were claustrophobic and interfering. She spent much of her time with her mother, who took over the care of Sally and Harry’s three children almost from the day they were born. When Harry left Sally, he did not realise that he would play no part in the upbringing of his children, to Sally, Harry was now dead and her mother replaced him, perfectly, silently and competently.  Harry waited and waited and hoped and prayed, his waiting continued and his prayers were unanswered, his children were captured and gone from his life.  Whisked in a whisker into the tight pattern of control held in the hands of two powerful women. Harry cried with confusion and the injustice of it all. He did not know what else to do.

In our work at the Clinic we have already identified six strongly evidenced pairings in which significators can be isolated and predictions made about the outcomes for children should such pairings part. Whilst this is an ongoing piece of work, it is already possible for us to add into our differentiation assessments the presence of such significators, allowing us to more acurately identify risk to children, outcomes of interventions and the prognosis for recovery.  We talk more about these pairings in our book which will shortly be available.  We want to put the power of understanding into the hands of parents themselves. Not least because we know that by understanding, it is easier to cope and when you are coping, the potential for healing is increased.

We will write more about poisonous pairings and the outcomes for children through the autumn as well as give you the links to our publications and access to our papers.  We look forward to helping you help yourself, because self help creates empowered parents, the best therapy of all for alienated children everywhere.