Thursday 21 April 2011

Michele Weiner-Davis: The Divorce Buster

Master's Degree in Social Work (MSW); marriage and family therapist; author of seven books (more?); columnist in Psychology Today; media personality including the Oprah Winfrey Show, Today, PBS, ABC News, CBS News, etc.; quoted frequently by various outlets including the New York Times, Time magazine, Newsweek, etc.; 2001 award for Outstanding Contribution to Marriage and Family Therapy; 2003 Impact Award at the 7th Annual Smart Marriages Conference; recipient of The Washington Times Inaugural Founding Spirit Award in 2007; wife since 1977 and mother of two children; Ms. Weiner-Davis has been busy during her fifty plus years. (I never did find her birth date) It's interesting to look at her dedication to what is her life's work. She saw a need. She made it her personal mission, and she has gone on to hopefully help many overcome the struggles associated with marriage. However, where exactly did the motivation for this career choice come from?

In a 2001 article entitled "Hopefully Ever After", Ms. Weiner-Davis tells her personal story. (I am providing some selected quotes, but would recommend you read the entire article.)

One evening when I was 16, my mother called my two brothers, my father and me into the living room. Because impromptu family meetings weren't the norm, I sensed that something was wrong. My heart started racing. My mother took a deep breath. "I've been really unhappy for the past twenty-three years of my marriage, she announced. Your father and I are getting a divorce."

Twenty-three years. That's a long time to be unhappy. The author goes on to talk about her own inability to understand why her mother needed or wanted to divorce her father and how even years later, her father still finds family events painful.

I tried hard to understand how she must be feeling. Even as a teenager, I could see big differences in my parents' personalities and ways of looking at the world. My mother had always been a lover of ideas, spirituality, and deeply intimate conversations. My father is from the Old World, a traditional man who believes that good husbands provide well for their families, come home at the same time every night and fix things when they break. Although I loved and admired my rock-solid, handsome father, I had to face the fact that my mother felt something was missing. She told me that to stay in her marriage was to give up any hope for real happiness.

This all had a profound effect on Ms. Weiner-Davis. She decided to pursue social work getting a Master's Degree in the field. She became a marriage and family therapist. And she got married and had two children. But she explains how she remained bothered as to "why" her parents ended up divorced. Along with wanting to know why, she also explains the feelings of loss of her childhood family and the underlying grief. Had everything been done which could have been done?

Did it have to happen? I began to wonder. Why was Mom so sure their marriage couldn't work; why didn't Dad fight harder for her? I found myself haunted by their hopelessness.

Ms. Weiner-Davis goes on to talk about her search for more effective marriage-saving approaches. In observing that which seemed to make a couple willing to keep trying, she developed a couples approach called Divorce Busting. Instead of sticking with advising people to stay married or focusing on the impact of divorce on the family, she wanted to teach couples what is necessary to fight hopelessness. In her mind, hopelessness is the number one killer of marriages. She admits that not every marriage can or should survive, but does say that many more would survive if couples can be given hope for a future where things can be different.

She closes the article by mentioning how she still wonders what would have happened if her mother had gotten better professional advice. This will always be the unanswered question

While the intensity I felt about my parents' divorce has largely subsided over the years, I can still feel the stirrings of the old sadness when the topic comes up between us, even though my mother and I have long ago been able to agree to disagree about its impact. Nevertheless, I sometimes tease my mother with the old joke about two ninety-year-olds, who, after seventy years of marriage, hobble into the judge's chambers to announce that they're calling it quits. The judge looks up at them and says, 'You've been married for seventy years, why in the world would you want to divorce now?' To which the wife replies softly, 'We wanted to wait until the kids died.'"

Her Philosophy
Weiner-Davis believes that many more marriages can be saved and her goal, first and foremost, is to see a couple not divorce but work it out. Yes, she admits that not every marriage can be saved but feels more traditional methods do not do what is necessary to give a couple a new path to follow.

Michele's book: The Divorce Remedy (2001)
[The book] describes how media myth-makers, the legal system, and well-meaning family members, friends, and therapists unintentionally help push more than one million Americans each year into the divorce trap. Weiner Davis describes the Walk-away-Wife Syndrome -a phenomena whereby approximately two thirds of the divorces in the United States are initiated by women, who after years of trying unsuccessfully to reach their husbands through heart-to-heart talks, develop their "exit strategy" and without another word, give up on their marriages.

Michele's Article: The Walk-away Wife Syndrome (2009)
Did you know that of the over one million marriages that will end in divorce this year, two thirds to three quarters of those divorces will be filed for by women? What is this so-called, "Walk-away Wife" syndrome all about? ... [The wife] ends up believing there's absolutely nothing she can do... she begins to carefully map out the logistics of what she considers to be the inevitable, getting a divorce. ... She resigns herself to living in silent desperation until "D Day." ... If you're a man reading this and your wife has been complaining or nagging, thank her. It means she still cares about you and your marriage. ... Perhaps your wife is no longer open to your advances because she's a soon-to-be walkaway wife.

The Huffington Post - Nov 30/2010
The Biggest Divorce "Don't" of All by Michele Weiner-Davis
..before you take the plunge to start checking the "D" box, consider the most important "divorce don't" of all... Don't do it... don't get divorced! ... You have one go-around & deserve to be happy. Before you say that I'm a proponent of "till death do us part", even if it means a life of misery, hear this: you have one shot at this life and you deserve to be happy. What you may not have considered is that you can be happy in this marriage. ... Hopelessness is the real cancer in marriage. ... Consider this: No one is born knowing how to be a partner in marriage. No one. ... Good marriages require good relationship skills. Happily, even the most seemingly relationally-challenged people can learn concrete skills that can fundamentally change the quality of marriage. So, before you throw in the towel, do yourself and your loved ones a favor, shore up on your relationship skills and make sure that you're not throwing away a good thing simply out of a lack of education.

Women file for divorce twice as much as men
In my blog Two-thirds of divorces are filed by women, I look at statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics which show:

In 1988, on average 61% of the time, the woman was the petitioner. If there were children involved, the stat was 65% and without children it was 56%. It was only around 7% of all cases where the husband and the wife together petitioned for divorce. This means that 93% of the time, it was only one spouse who petitioned for divorce. The table, dating from 1975 to 1988, consistently shows that women petitioned for divorce twice as much as men.

A sizeable proportion of marriages are salvageable
Ms. Weiner-Davis is not alone in her assessment of more marriages can be saved. The Vanier Institute of the Family is an independent national research and educational non-profit organization committed to the well-being of Canadian families. If 2009, it published the study "Divorce: Facts, Causes & Consequences" by Dr. Anne-Marie Ambert, York University which stated:

Studies also indicate that a sizeable proportion of marriages that end in divorce were actually quite “salvageable,” even happy, and that many of these ex-spouses are no better off after (Ambert, 1989). It seems that there may be two types of divorce: those resulting from a truly unhappy marriage and those resulting from a weak commitment to marriage (Amato and Hohmann-Marriott, 2007; Ambert, 1989). After 30 years of studying divorce, I have come to conclude that, although divorce is necessary, some divorces are avoidable and unnecessary; the same remark certainly applies to serious cohabitational unions that dissolve. In light of this, couples who marry or who live together should be encouraged to face the inevitability of ups and downs in relationships—and I am not referring here to severe conflict, which afflicts far fewer couples than in the past.

Books by Michel Weiner-Davis
Ms. Weiner-Davis on her web site presents samples from all her books and her on-line store sells these books. The web site offers an description of each book:

The Sex-Starved Marriage: A Couple's Guide to Boosting Their Marital Libido
Sex is an extremely important part of marriage. When it's good, it offers couples opportunities to give and receive physical pleasure, to connect emotionally and spiritually. It builds closeness, intimacy and a sense of partnership. It defines their relationship as different from all others. In short, sex is a powerful tie that binds.

The Divorce Remedy: The Proven Seven-Step Program for Saving Your Marriage
People who are unhappy in their marriages often speak of feeling trapped. They yearn to be free from the tension, loneliness, constant arguments or deafening silence but worry that divorce may not be the right decision. ... Yet, the idea of living in a loveless marriage starts to feel like a death sentence. They feel caught between a rock and a hard place…trapped in a life of misery. Over time, many of these people slowly convince themselves that the benefits of leaving their marriages vastly outweigh the benefits of staying.

Divorce Busting: A Step-by-Step Approach to Making Your Marriage Loving Again
Ann was thoroughly convinced that her marriage of fifteen years was over. ... Early in my career, Ann's pessimism would have convinced me that her marriage was irreparable and that it was time for her to take care of her needs. ... But those days are gone. Now, I do whatever I can to help people find solutions to their marital problems so that they can stay together. I do not get sidetracked by pessimism and hopelessness as I did in days past. Now I know that hopelessness is a reasonable response to an unreasonable situation. Nothing more, nothing less. It is natural for people to feel pessimistic when, day after day, month after month, nothing improves, problems never get resolved. Feelings of pain and rejection are ever-present.

Getting Through to the Man You Love: The No-Nonsense, No-Nagging Guide for Women
If someone were to tell you that you could have better, more meaningful communication with your partner ... wouldn't you want to know how? But here's the sixty-four thousand dollar question. If we're so determined to change our men, why are we so lousy at it? For starters, when things aren't going well, we spend far too much time analyzing things to death and finding fault instead of finding creative solutions. We become hell bent on discovering the real, underlying causes of our relationship problems. Unfortunately, as you're about to see, this is a huge waste of time.

Change Your Life and Everyone In It
Before you cancel your next therapy appointment ... keep reading. Whether you know it or not, you have been influenced by ideas emanating from the therapy world even if you've never set foot in a therapist's office. Unfortunately, many of these ideas are downright destructive. They make problems worse. ... I want you to know that there is a new way to find solutions -immediate solutions- to chronic problems that doesn't require analyzing the problem to death.

In Search of Solutions: A New Direction in Psychotherapy
This book offers a new way to think about and approach therapy. It is a method that focuses on people's competence rather than their deficits, their strengths rather than their weaknesses, their possibilities rather than their limitations.

Solution focused brief therapy
Ms. Weiner-Davis is part of a school of therapy labelled SFBT, solution focused brief therapy. It is defined as:

Solution focused brief therapy (SFBT), often referred to as simply 'solution focused therapy' or 'brief therapy', is a type of talking therapy that is based upon social constructionist philosophy. It focuses on what clients want to achieve through therapy rather than on the problem(s) that made them to seek help. The approach does not focus on the past, but instead, focuses on the present and future. The therapist/counselor uses respectful curiosity to invite the client to envision their preferred future and then therapist and client start attending to any moves towards it whether these are small increments or large changes. To support this, questions are asked about the client’s story, strengths and resources, and about exceptions to the problem. (Wikipedia)

Weiner-Davis on Sex and Marriage
Ms. Weiner-Davis did an interview for WebMD that appeared in an article called "The Sex-Starved Marriage". (MedecineNet.Com - Feb 4/2003) I'm mentioning it here as a curiosity, an amusing story, and an example of her approach of focusing on the results and the future, not the past and the origins of the problem.

I worked with a group of women who wanted to improve their marriages. One night they were all complaining their husbands were not helping around the house, participating as fathers, spending time with their wives, or even talking about their days. I smelled a male-bashing session coming on, stopped them, and asked they tell me on a one to ten scale how they would rate their sex lives. All of the women hovered around two or three. I wasn't surprised and asked them to go home and do an experiment: For the next two weeks, whether in the mood or not, make your sexual relationship a bigger priority. I told them to initiate sex more often, flirt, leave sexy notes around the house, get out of their sweat pants and put on something a little more appealing, and watch what happens.

I guaranteed them that within two weeks they would notice a big difference in their marriages. After some initial complaining, they all agreed to try it. Two weeks later, the women returned giggling. Their stories were similar and I will tell you about one: She said, "Even though we had company over the past two weeks, I initiated sex more often and could not believe what happened. My husband read the kids bedtime stories each evening. He put up wallpaper in our den. He grouted the kitchen tiles." These were jobs she had asked him to do months ago. Others talked about lawns being mowed.

Final Word
Michele Weiner-Davis watched her parents' divorce, always wondered why, and has made it her life's work to develop what's necessary to ensure that more marriages do not end. Her conclusion is that a sense of hopelessness about the marriage leads people to part ways. She points out that we are not born with the knowledge of how to be a partner in marriage and why would we hesitate to acquire such knowledge if it would better our chances of remaining together. Learning communication skills and better understanding your partner can represent a plan of action or a new path to follow in the future which can give hope to a hopeless situation.

Nevertheless, I feel compelled to come back to a caveat Ms. Weiner-Davis gave in her article "The Walk-away Wife Syndrome". She says that a wife who complains still cares about her marriage and is trying to do something about it. A man should worry if his wife is silent.

[A] husband views his wife's silence as an indication that "everything is fine." After all, the "nagging" has ceased. That's why, when she finally breaks the news of the impending divorce, her shell-shocked partner replies, "I had no idea you were unhappy."

I end with what I could label as an amusing observation. Once one half of a couple lawyers up, it is recommended the other half seek legal counsel. It seems to me that no matter what talking Ms. Weiner-Davis mentions in any of her books and articles, from that point the only talking is going to occur between the lawyers retained by each of the couple.


Wikipedia: Michele Weiner-Davis
Michele Weiner-Davis, MSW, is a marriage and family therapist and author in the field of family therapy. She is frequently quoted in the media and has been interviewed on television news programs regarding divorce prevention. Weiner-Davis has often been referred to as The Divorce Buster after coining the term “divorce busting” at an American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) conference in 1989. She currently writes a regular column, Divorce Busting: Musings From an Unabashed Marriage Saver in Psychology Today.

official web site: Divorce Busting: Michele Weiner-Davis
Long before it was in vogue or politically correct to question the sanity of rampant divorce, Michele Weiner-Davis, M.S.W., best-selling author and marriage therapist, took a stand. She believes that the vast majority of divorces in our country are absolutely unnecessary because most relationship problems are solvable.

Wikipedia: Solution focused brief therapy

my blog: Two-thirds of divorces are filed by women


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1 comment:

Unknown said...

hmm. i think that is a great way to deal with it. i wasn't so successful in my dealing with my parent's divorce.

good on'er!