“D-Word” strikes at the heart of all married couples. Prenuptial
agreements — agreements made even before marriage—all have provisions
for what happens in the event of a divorce. Recent statistics suggest
that 50% of all marriages in the United States will end in divorce. In
Southern California the divorce rate is purported to be even higher,
somewhere in the neighborhood of 60-75%, depending on which study one
institution of marriage has changed dramatically over the past 100
years. Many factors played a part in this evolution. In the 1890s
marriage was often a matter of convenience. Roles for men and women were
clearly defined; each knew what was expected of them. Men were expected
to work, with their primary responsibility being the family provider.
Women were to take care of the home and bear children for whom they
would then be the caretaker. Marriages were for the purpose of raising a
family—breeding children who would grow up to help with the chores,
work the fields, or take over the family business.
longevity, increased affluence, and increased opportunity for personal
growth, when combined with significantly changing expectations regarding
marriage, suggest that people must learn new or different ways of
relating to one another if their marriage is going to survive. When this
is not possible, either for lack of desire, capacity, or interest on
the part of one or both parties, divorce becomes an option.
magazine article I recently read stated that people, particularly
women, who are currently age 65 are expected to live until 85. Younger
people are expected to live longer, into their 90s. More and more people
are reaching the age of 100 and beyond. It is becoming commonplace for
people to have more than one career in a lifetime. After all, a
youngster of 65 still has another 20 or more years in which to begin a
new career. Young people today no longer think about a career that they
will be in for the rest of their life; they think more about their
“first” career, fully expecting a second or perhaps third career to
same young people are thinking about marriage in a similar vein. Many
of them recognize that the concept of marriage “until death do us part”
is more a figurative use of the phrase than a literal use. People
currently in their 40s who married while in their 20s are realizing that
to have one partner for a lifetime may be highly improbable.
in spite of the odds, many people are able to make marriage at least
tolerable for many decades. Some people grow together, while others grow
separately but are sufficiently satisfied with one another to remain
Negotiation and Compromise
previous generations a woman was taught to accommodate—to put aside her
needs in favor of the needs of the man. She was to accommodate her
needs to him. This model of marriage reduced women to the status of
wife, while elevating men to the status of husband. The power lay with
a marriage of equals, constant accommodation on the part of one person
will eventually cause resentment and subsequently conflict. Compromise
and negotiation, on the other hand, recognizes the equality of both
parties as they seek an equitable and mutually satisfying solution to a
problem. In compromise neither party may get exactly what they want at
any given time. In these marriages preservation and enhancement of the
relationship is more important than getting what one wants. Couples must
learn to let go the argument in the service of maintaining an intimate
connection. When being right and winning becomes more important than the
relationship, the marriage will be in trouble.
of the most important aspects of contemporary marriage is learning how
to negotiate. A successful marriage today has more in common with
business negotiations than with “Father Knows Best.” The better able a
couple is in learning the skills of negotiation, the less conflict they
will experience and the greater their satisfaction.
Divorce: Failure or Change
people inappropriately believe that divorce means that they have
failed. Not that the marriage failed, but that they personally
failed—hence they are a failure. It is as though they believe that when
people marry it is supposed to last forever, as though it were
preordained; thus, if the marriage ends they must have done something
wrong to make it happen.
is the only constant. Hence, marriage is constantly evolving and
imperfect. Sometimes two people are able to grow, change, and evolve in
similar directions, sometimes not. Sometimes our expectations remain
constant, more often they change. Sometimes our expectations are the
same as our partners, and sometimes not. The longer we live, the more
possibility for change to be in different directions. “‘Til death do us
part” is more likely when we live to be 50 than when we live to be 100.
too often divorcing couples do so in an atmosphere of hostility. They
forget that they once were in love with one another. This is indeed
unfortunate. Divorce ranks second only to death of a loved one as the
most stressful of life’s experiences. The stress in inevitable. But the
strife is not.
there are other variables at play that lead to the acrimony
accompanying divorce. Frequently the acrimony covers pain and hurt. This
is true regardless of who feels like the injured party. Pain is
integral to loss. In a divorce there are many losses. The loss of the
fantasy of marriage and the magic of the relationship, the loss of the
friendship, the loss of friends, a lifestyle, a home, familiarity,
children, loss of love, identity, to name but a few of the losses.
- When we are angry we do not have to experience the hurt and the loss. We can cover the pain with anger, at least temporarily.
- Sometimes we feel angry
because we have been victimized by our spouse. We feel like the injured
party and we want to fight back.
- Sometimes we are angry
with ourselves for not being a better spouse, for not knowing better,
for not paying attention, for not being all that we might have been.
- Sometimes we get
depressed, too. We blame ourselves, we feel guilty. We are ashamed. So
we hire a lawyer to help us give everything to our spouse in order to
make amends for real or imagined hurts that we have inflicted.
Divorce Counseling and Divorce Mediation
of the reasons that divorce often takes as long as it does is because
many issues just mentioned are being acted out during the course of the
dissolution. An alternative to the expensive, stressful, and
time-consuming approach of a litigated, hotly contested divorce is to
try either divorce counseling and/or divorce mediation.
Divorce counseling, when
conducted by a licensed mental health practitioner who specializes in
working with divorcing couples, can help the couple sort out the
emotional from the practical issues of the divorce. As I pointed out
earlier, anger over practical issues such as property is usually a
product of lingering resentment with regard to the relationship, not the
property itself. Once the couple can resolve or at least clarify the
cause of the anger, reasonable negotiations can occur
Divorce mediation is
the healthy alternative to a litigated divorce. The focus of a mediated
divorce is on reaching an equitable solution to such issues as spousal
support, property division, child custody, visitation, etc. The couple
meets with a mediator (or in my practice a mediation team consisting of a
lawyer and a psychologist) to resolve each and every item. Without
assessing blame or fault, the mediator helps the divorcing parties
develop alternative solutions for addressing their specific areas of
choosing mediation, the parties talk to each other, rather than through
their attorneys. This direct communication resolves conflicts in less
time and is less costly than traditional litigation. When children are
involved in a dispute, the mediation process encourages parents to focus
on their children’s best interests and to maintain a relationship with
their children while the parties design a parenting plan.
party has control in a mutual, decision-making process. Mutual
expression of perceptions, values and emotions are allowed, thereby
reducing damage to important family relationships. This enables the
parties to tailor a personalized agreement which resolves their
individual and unique concerns and reflects the best interests of their
important goal for successful mediation is reaching a fair agreement.
The parties decide what is fair, not the attorneys and not a judge.
Edward A. Dreyfus is a Clinical Psychologist, Divorce Mediator, and
Life Coach, whose goal is to help people maximize their potential and
achieve their goals. He is a licensed psychologist, certified sex
therapist, and licensed marriage and family therapist. He has been in
practice for over three decades with clinical specialties in sex
therapy, divorce and relationship counseling, individual and group
psychotherapy. The above article is excerpted from Dr. Dreyfus’s book Keeping Your Sanity.