Divorce Busting: A Step-by-Step Approach to Making Your Marriage Loving Again

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9780671797256: Divorce Busting: A Step-by-Step Approach to Making Your Marriage Loving Again

In this groundbreaking book, Michele Weiner-Davis gives straightforward, effective advice on preventing divorce and how couples can stay together instead of coming apart.

Using case histories to illustrate her marriage-enriching, divorce-preventing techniques, which can be used even if only one partner participates, Weiner-Davis shows readers:

* How to leave the past behind and set attainable goals
* Strategies for identifying problem-solving behavior that works—and how to make changes last
* "Uncommon-sense" methods for breaking unproductive patterns

Inspirational and accessible, Divorce Busting shows readers in pain that working it out is better than getting out.

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About the Author:

Michele Weiner-Davis, MSW, is an internationally renowned relationship expert and author of several books including The Divorce Remedy, the bestselling Divorce Busting, A Woman's Guide to Changing Her Man, Change Your Life and Everyone in It, and In Search of Solutions. She has appeared as a regular guest on Oprah, 48 Hours, The Today Show, CBS This Morning, and taped a seminar on PBS entitled Keeping Love Alive. A therapist in private practice specializing in Solution-Oriented Brief Therapy, her highly-acclaimed workshops have earned her national recognition. She lives in Illinois with her husband of over thirty years.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

Divorce Is Not the Answer

The decision to divorce or remain together to work things out is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. It is crucial for those considering divorce to anticipate what lies ahead in order to make informed decisions. Too often the fallout from divorce is far more devastating than many people realize when contemplating the move. This chapter outlines some of the common pitfalls of divorce to aid readers in decisions about their marriages.

The following is a letter written by a woman who read an article about my views on divorce in the Los Angeles Times:

Dear Ms. Weiner-Davis:

My age is sixty-seven, and after nineteen years of a marriage that was impossible in my opinion, I did seek a divorce. I sincerely believed that my children and I would be better off if I got out of the marriage, and this was confirmed and encouraged by therapists. I should have tried harder to make our lives better. I should have changed myself more. I wish I knew then all the things I know now. It takes so long to attain wisdom, when it is needed when one is young.

I was forty and attractive and wanted to "grow," and did not like the way my children were, emotionally, living with the type of person their father was. I did what I thought was the best thing to do, at that time. And yes, I did think I would spend a year or so alone, remarry, and everything would be fine.

My children, who did not like their father, were nevertheless adversely affected over the years because of the divorce. They are now grown and have learned to accept him as he is. But damage was done. I "went out into the world" for the first time in my life and I did grow, learn, experience fantastic fun and loneliness as well. I eventually remarried and my marriage at this time is fine. But it took a lot of work to make it this way.

The article stirred up lots of feelings and doubts about what I thought for so long was "the right thing" to do -- divorce. Many years ago, a friend said to me that getting a divorce is like getting hit by a Mack truck. It is. For everyone involved.

My ex-husband has remarried and I believe his wife has difficulty coping with some of his idiosyncrasies but she accepts them and enjoys an otherwise good life with him. (I should have been wise enough to do the same.)

I am not thoroughly convinced that I did the wrong thing, but I am sorry that I did not get better counseling and give it more time before disrupting four lives (two children). Maybe the marriage could have been saved.

Mainly, I would like to applaud you and the other therapists on the new view of divorce. Divorce should only be done as a last resort, when all other efforts have been exhausted. For everyone's sake.

You should feel proud of the work you are doing. Congratulations.

Mary

I was very touched by this letter because it captured the feelings expressed by so many divorced people I've met over the years. In a desperate attempt to expand her own life and improve the quality of life for her children, she left her husband. Convinced this move would be best for all concerned, she made a decision that would change their lives. As she reflected on the outcome of her decision, she was not without regrets. Her second marriage taught her that all marriages require a commitment to work out differences since no partners are perfect; like any package deal, there are pluses and minuses. With painstaking honesty, she admitted the wisdom in accepting certain idiosyncrasies in one's spouse in order to enjoy "an otherwise good life with him" (as his new wife understands).

Her children taught her about the damaging effects of divorce despite her belief she was rescuing them from their unlikable father. Ironically, they eventually learned to "accept him as he is" anyway. Despite her personal gains from the divorce, she regretted not having given the marriage more time and gotten more support for staying married from the therapists she encountered along the way.

ARE WE FINALLY LEARNING?

Clearly, divorce supplied no magic solutions for Mary. It appears that more and more couples are beginning to take a skeptical view of divorce. In fact, something remarkable happened in 1982: For the first time in twenty-five years the divorce rate dropped, after having first leveled off for one year. The National Center for Health Statistics indicated that the 1989 rates were down 4 percent from 1988. This decline followed an unprecedented rise in the number of divorces in our country from 1960 through 1980.

Why the decrease; what's going on? There are many theories. Some say the growing threat of AIDS is keeping couples together or that more couples are separating but not divorcing to spare themselves legal costs. However, my explanation is different. I believe that people are beginning to realize how devastating divorce is -- emotionally, financially and spiritually -- for everyone involved. With enough time under our belts to have observed the results of rampant divorce, we are beginning to recognize the price we have paid for the freedom of disposable marriages.

My conclusion -- that divorce is not the answer -- is based on more than a decade of observation of clients, friends and family who have opted to divorce and on input from many of my colleagues who work with couples and families. In regard to divorce, this is what I have learned:

1. DIVORCE DOESN'T SOLVE THE PROBLEMS IT IS MEANT TO SOLVE

There are primarily two reasons people divorce. One is to escape a relationship that has been painful, loveless or destructive. The second is to seek a more satisfying life with a new partner or alone. As you will see in this chapter, these goals are not always accomplished through divorce. Some people do go on to enhance their lives, but the price they pay is often higher than anticipated.

Few adults anticipate accurately what lies ahead when they decide to divorce. Life is almost always more arduous and more complicated than they expect. It is often more depleting and more lonely for at least one member of the marriage. At the time of divorce, people are intent on getting rid of their unhappiness, and they find it difficult to conjure up understanding for something they have never experienced. It is hard for them to imagine the multiple changes that divorce will bring in its wake. Eventually they do learn, however, that the changes we make from divorce are hard-won. (Wallerstein and Blakeslee, 1989.)

"If It Weren't for You, I'd Be Happy"

Desperately unhappy people search for ways out of their unhappiness. They start by trying to determine the cause of their misery. As they look around, married people often see their spouse as the culprit. Blaming your spouse for your unhappiness is easy to do. Everyone does it, often supported in this kind of thinking by friends and relatives. "I would be happier if he were more attentive"; "If she didn't nag so much, I would enjoy my life"; "He's gone so much, of course I'm miserable" are some of the more common spousal complaints. Underlying each of these statements is the belief that the person's unhappiness is caused by his or her mate. Logic then dictates that divorce is the solution: "If I get rid of my spouse, I will get rid of this problem and then I will be happy."

Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. People are shocked to discover that their difficulties continue to hound them in spite of their single status or their choice of a new partner. Some disillusioned divorced people tell me, "My spouse's habits really irritated me, but now I can't cope with this loneliness. The silence in the evenings is killing me." Or "The new guy I married seemed so sensitive and open, the qualifies I missed in my first marriage, but as I've gotten to know him better he now seems more like a clone of my first husband." Or "I thought leaving my wife and all of her demands would make me happy, but oddly enough I am still unhappy."

As you will learn from this book, diagnosing your spouse as the problem means that your microscope lens may be too narrowly focused. You are failing to notice how the habits you both have developed and the roles you've both played have contributed to your unworkable marriage. Unfortunately, you take those habits with you when you go.

If getting rid of one's problematic spouse was a solution, why would 60 percent of second marriages end in divorce? If divorce were truly an answer, people would learn from the mistakes they made in their first marriage. Their second marriage would provide them with opportunities to apply what they learned. Sometimes this is the case, but more frequently, people are not prepared for the complexities of second marriages or blended families. Sometimes the trials and tribulations of the previous marriage with all its aggravation seem mild by comparison. But the results of this sort of comparison come too late. People discover that the grass isn't any greener on the other side after all. Then the decision to divorce a second time is often less agonizing since there's familiarity with the process.

"If It Weren't for You, There Would Be No More Arguments"

Many people leave their marriages expecting the arguments to stop. Divorce does offer a temporary reprieve from the tension and/or arguing, but when children are involved, marital debates frequently do not cease with the divorce decree. I have worked with divorced couples unable to resolve child-custody, visitation and child-rearing issues. They give new meaning to the words "hostile" and "angry." That these two human beings once shared a cordial or loving relationship is almost unthinkable because all that remains of their shared history is hatred.

What also continues to amaze me is how even many years of physical separation fail to free these couples from intense emotional bonds. Their inability to resolve certain child-rearing issues reflects their inability to let go of each other.

Debra and Thomas, a divorced couple, arrived in my office for divorce mediation since they were unable to resolve major disagreements over the visitation schedule. Like many couples needing mediation, Debra and Thomas's interactions were characterized by animosity and lack of respect. Even when addressing each other, they maintained eye contact with me. They frequently interrupted each other with accusations or alternative versions of the truth. When I requested that each person be allowed to speak uninterrupted, "loud" grimaces took the place of verbal attacks.

Although I kept them focused on the task at hand, finding solutions to the visitation problems, eventually the conversation turned to the disappointment they felt about unmet needs in the marriage. Debra wept as she told of her close relationship with her father and how Thomas failed to live up to the memories she had of her childhood with her dad. Thomas felt that Debra never really respected him due to their cultural and socioeconomic differences. He thought he was never good enough in the eyes of Debra's family. The sadness of their failed relationship was fresh for both of them though they had been divorced for five years.

What upset Debra the most was that, since the time of their divorce and Thomas's subsequent marriage to Sue, Thomas was taking a more active parenting role. Now each time Thomas sought more contact with the children, instead of feeling pleased for the children that they were important to their dad, she felt betrayed and manipulated. "Why, if the children are so important to you, didn't you make time for them when we were married?" she challenged him. His requests for increased visitation were often denied because of her resentment over thwarted dreams.

Thomas never took Debra's criticism about his priorities seriously when they were married because, according to him, Debra criticized him about everything. Debra's pleas for more involvement with the children were seen as just one more item on Debra's long laundry list of Thomas's inadequacies. So Thomas had resisted more involvement with the children, not because he didn't love them or want to be with them, but because of the tug-of-war with Debra. Once separated from her, he missed the children and saw that his relationship with them was important to him. This explained his recent desire to spend more time with them.

Although an agreement about visitation was reached during that session, Debra left crying. I believe she cried all the way home. Thomas also showed signs of feeling drained emotionally. They both had hoped that their divorce would free them from disappointment, arguments about the children and criticisms of each other, none of which happened. Clearly, their unresolved relationship issues kept them super-glued to each other, making it impossible for them to cooperate as parents.

If you have children and are considering divorce, you must remember that your spouse will always be your children's parent, no matter what you do. Unless he or she decides to sever ties entirely, you will continue to have contact with that person for the rest of your life! This contact serves as a constant reminder of the past. Children can also be ghosts of failed marriages when, because of their looks or personalities, they remind a parent of an estranged spouse. This can have deadly consequences for the parent-child relationship.

2. DIVORCE CREATES NEW PROBLEMS

When people divorce they have visions of better lives. Old problems will vanish, they hope, as new dreams take their place. These dreams usually include meeting candidates for more intimate relationships, more compatible sexual partners, improved financial status, more freedom to pursue personal goals and new opportunities to make independent choices. As explained above, these dreams frequently do not materialize, creating a whole new set of problems. Even when desired changes do occur, they are not without unintended or unexpected consequences. Let us take a look at some frequent but unexpected consequences of divorce.

Money Matters

If you are a woman, the statistics are bleak. Lenore Weitzman, a sociologist who conducted an extensive study of divorced families, wrote in her book The Divorce Revolution that one year after divorce, women's standard of living decreases by 73 percent while men's increases by 42 percent. Furthermore, alimony is a thing of the past. Women seldom are awarded it. Weitzman writes:

These apparently simple statistics have far-reaching social and economic consequences. For most women and children, divorce means precipitous downward mobility -- both economically and socially. The reduction in income brings residential moves and inferior housing, drastically diminished or nonexistent funds for recreation and leisure, and intense pressures due to inadequate time and money. (Quoted in Berman, 1991, p. 57.)

Unfortunately, all too often, effects of changing financial status are overlooked, minimized or denied.

Where Is Mr. Right?

There are other disadvantages to being a newly divorced woman. According to the Census Bureau, divorced women are far less likely to remarry than divorced men. Forty percent of the women who divorce after age thirty do not remarry. A portion of those who do not remarry may do so by choice, but many say that the pool of marriage-minded men available to these women has been shrinking. It seems that many men in similar age brackets are marrying younger women.

Imagine how shocking it is to the woman who leaves a marriage hoping to find intimacy and romance in the perfect new mate and finds herself alone instea...

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