The Taconic Counseling Group
Elisha S. Fisch, Ph.D.Is Divorce the Right Direction for Your Marriage?
What is it?
A 6 week, high intensity, focused consultation, to determine whether a marriage on the brink of divorce can be saved. If it is found that it can be saved, movement toward the rebuilding of the marriage is begun. If it cannot be saved, the transition to a constructive divorce becomes the goal.
What does it entail?
Two 2-hour sessions per week, for 6 weeks. The intensity of the sessions and the number of weeks should, generally, be enough to establish whether both spouses can feel safe and optimistic enough to call off the divorce – for now - and work on the marriage. It is a far too short a time to repair and re-configure the marriage, but enough time to see if repair will be possible, without having to worry about being stuck in an interminable limbo or an unlimited commitment. It is also enough time to get clear whether divorce is the preferred option.
How does it work?
I start with a relatively short period of history taking. I want to know something about the families you grew up in, and about your marriage, and where it went off track. From this I start to get a sense of your ‘theory’ of each other and of the marriage, and I begin to formulate my own view of where, and how, things went wrong.
We all have theories of who we are, who our spouse is, and what the relationship is (how it works, why it is functional or dysfunctional, why it went wrong). Because these theories are, at least in part, defensive (that is, they protect us, and our sense of who we are), they are, by definition, only partly accurate, at best. You may have concluded that your spouse will never be capable of not hurting you, and that divorce is the only route to stopping the pain and, thus, to relief or happiness. Or you may be unable to see how hurt your spouse has been and your role in that hurt. You will have developed theories about your spouse that, you believe, explain why they do what they do and think what they think. Generally, the observations and complaints that spouses have about each other are accurate enough. What is problematic, often, is their understanding, their theory, of why these things happen and who bears the responsibility for their happening.
Frequently, in ‘last-ditch’ situations, one spouse is more reluctant to get the divorce and the other spouse is more certain they want the divorce. When this is the case, I focus first on trying to help the ‘reluctant-to-divorce spouse’ genuinely appreciate the emotional truth of the complaints of the ‘more-certain-spouse’. The major obstacle here is that the ‘reluctant-to-divorce spouse’ has, usually, already heard these accusations, felt beat up by them, and is highly defended against them. I try to find a new way for these complaints to be heard. Once they are heard, we can explore whether real change is possible, or not.
The ‘reluctant-to-divorce spouse’ is usually initially motivated by a fear of loss, although not necessarily only a fear of loss. The ‘more-certain-spouse’ can see this fear of loss and is wary of it. For the ‘more-certain-spouse’ to be willing to re-evaluate their certainty, they have to be convinced that the ‘reluctant-to-divorce spouse’ is motivated by the wish to be in love, not only the fear of loss. The breakdown of love in a marriage usually has an explainable trail, and both spouses have walked that trail together, although not necessarily equally or in the same way. Understanding that trail and re-routing it, is the key to the vitalization or revitalization of ‘in-loveness’, and is one of the focuses of this intervention.
Additionally, both spouses have to reach the point of willingness to appreciate that vulnerability underlies hurtful behavior and that vulnerability is a legitimate part of the relationship. If you can get to this place, it will constitute the start-point for your shared enthusiasm that building something new and better in the marriage is good for both of you, and not just a perplexing and reluctant concession one must make to the other to preserve the marriage.
Alternatively, if this willingness to appreciate vulnerability does not develop, you may decide that separation is necessary so that both people can individually direct the development of their own lives.
Who is it for?
There are two possible goals for this kind of intervention:
1. To make repair of the marriage possible.
2. To facilitate a constructive transition to divorce.
It is not knowable in advance whether divorce or marital therapy will be the ultimate outcome of the intervention. Also, it will often be the case that each spouse agrees to the intervention with a different goal in mind. This is OK.
This kind of intervention will be optimally useful when there is a history – at least a rememberable one - of caring about each other, and when both spouses are basically kind people. The personal tragedy in these marriages is that in spite of your both being caring and/or kind people, you have deeply wounded each other and the relationship, perhaps fatally.
It is unlikely this intervention can be useful when one spouse is unconditionally angry at the other without the modulating effect of some caring.