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Life Arts    H3'ed 5/22/10

How to Bust a Divorce and Save a Marriage

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Michele Weiner Davis, Author,  Divorce Busting: A Revolutionary and Rapid Program for Staying Together

My guest today is relationship therapist Michele Weiner-Davis. She's the author of several books including Divorce Busting: A Revolutionary and Rapid Program for Staying Together . Welcome to OpEdNews, Michele. I first read about Divorce Busting when it was quoted in Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Usually, marriage counseling is a long and grueling process. Your approach is quite different. Can you tell our readers how?

Hi, Joan. I am the developer of an approach to helping couples avoid divorce called Divorce Busting, based on my best-selling book, Divorce Busting . And yes, it is quite different from most therapy approaches for several reasons. First of all, let me give you a little background. I have been dedicated to helping couples back from the brink of divorce since the mid-eighties. I am utterly convinced that the vast majority of problems that people are having when they consider divorce are solvable.

Therefore, I feel that most divorces are unnecessary. I haven't arrived at this conclusion from a religious perspective, nor do I believe people who opt to divorce are bad or immoral. I just am convinced that marriages fall apart because falling in love is easy, staying in love requires skills, and many people don't have the necessary relationship skills to keep love and passion alive. And that's where I and my staff at the Divorce Busting Center come in. We teach people new tools and skills to solve problems and fall back in love again. I don't think that people should remain in loveless, lifeless marriages, I think people should invest energy in making their marriages more loving.

Unlike more traditional approaches that require people to examine their childhood to understand why they are having problems, we focus more on the future; we want to know about people's goals for their relationships and we help them develop a very specific, psychobabble-free plan for finding solutions to their current problems. Our forte is helping people leave the very first session filled with hopefulness about the future and armed with new tools for accomplishing their goals. This is true even if the problems have been long-standing and extremely challenging. We discovered a long time ago that analyzing the past may be interesting, but it doesn't always lead to a practical plan for changing the future. And couples teetering on the brink of divorce need answers.

Another major difference is that many times, only one spouse is willing to work on the marriage because the other spouse is halfway out the door. A divorce may be in the works, an affair might be looming and there may already be a separation. We work with the one spouse who wants to save the marriage and help that person learn new ways to approach his or her spouse to increase the likelihood that the reluctant spouse will change his or her mind. This is great news because most divorce is a unilateral decision, leaving the spouse yearning to keep the marriage together feeling desperate and in uncharted territory. We believe that one person can really make a difference in terms of improving a relationship.

In short, we are die-hard believers that change is possible and that most marriages can be saved.

That's definitely encouraging. Your approach resembles the "dance" described by psychologist and author, Dr. Harriet Lerner. She said that while you can't change another person, by changing your response to that person, you can change the dance, or dynamic, of your relationship. That image always resonated for me. I think that moving beyond blame and working on ourselves is a pretty radical idea. Your focus on identifying what's working and building on that is also quite different. Can you talk about that a bit?

Sure. One of the trademarks of the Divorce Busting approach is to identify what is working and do more of it. Although this sounds like a no-brainer, conventional therapy approaches tend to focus on what isn't or hasn't been working and figure out why. When couples are in trouble, this doesn't mean that their entire relationship has been disastrous. In fact, despite the problems they might be experiencing, chances are, together they have solved hundreds of thousands of problems...and very successfully! So, that is a starting point- ferreting out what they do differently when things are working. We do "solution detective" work.

One short example might be that I ask couples regularly, "What is different about your marriage when the two of you are getting along? What do each of you do differently when you're feeling good about your relationship?" Generally, people will say things like, "We spend more time together," or "The relationship is more physical," or "We plan date nights," and so on. People incorrectly believe that they have to feel good about each other to engage in those activities, when the truth is, engaging in those activities- even if you're not entirely in the mood at first- often leads to feelings of connection and closeness. It's not either/or, it's both. So, rather than wait for the mood to strike, it often behooves couples to get started by taking action.

Another aspect of focusing on what works is to really identify each person's strengths and resources and encourage them to apply these good qualities to the relationship. Too often in traditional therapy, the focus is on deficits. We think that's backwards.

Your book came out almost 20 years ago. So you can measure Divorce Busting's effectiveness. And you haven't been resting on your laurels since then. Can you tell us what you've been up to?

Joan, I have been very, very busy since the publication of Divorce Busting. I have written seven books and I seem to be the go-to person for couples whose marriages are just about to end. I breathe new life into flat-lined marriages. Couples visit my office from all over the world. Additionally, I have developed a telephone coaching program for people who can't travel but need immediate advice and support.

This is a very popular program because I have hand-picked and trained each coach. Plus everyone who works for me is in a long-term marriage, so we walk the talk. My book, Divorce Remedy, written ten years after Divorce Busting, shares information about what I've learned since Divorce Busting's publication. It's truly hands-on. Just to give you an idea about people's response to the book and how it affects their lives, I thought I would include a recent email from a reader. This email is typical of the ones I receive and each one is an incredible gift to me.

" ... I read probably 10 books about marriage and relationships and not a single one had an effect on me. They were all geared toward "moving on" I knew I didn't want to move on. There is not a doubt in my mind if I didn't come across you and your work that I would still be a wreck on my couch, divorced, and wondering 'what the hell happened?'... Thank you so much for what you do."

Getting something like that must make your day. Constantly working with unhappy people in unhappy marriages could be a major downer. But you sound like a very upbeat person who loves her work. Am I wrong?

No, Joan, you are definitely not wrong. rather than getting wrapped up in the sadness, confusion and desperation so many people bring to therapy, I am thinking, "What do I need to do or say to help these couples find solutions?" I have a very specific goal in mind- to help couples find their way back to a loving, passionate, healthy relationship. There's not enough time to fall into the hole with them. Plus, over the years, my work has gotten more and more effective. That means that couples are thrilled to get a new lease on life. And what could be better than that? I love my job. I feel fortunate to do what I do.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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