When Divorcing Folks Don’t Have to Get Divorced


Over the last year, I have felt my practice moving away from divorce law and toward helping people maintain their relationships.   I began to realize that the great majority of couples I help in mediation did not have to get divorced.  (Now that’s a bit more complicated than this simple statement suggests, because by the time they go to a lawyer or divorce mediation, one of them, at least, has withdrawn from the marriage.  For them the marriage is over and any effort to get them to change their mind will just be futile –more on that in another post.)  Still, had these poor stressed and wounded people gotten some help on their relationship before the threshold to dissolution had been crossed, a relationship felt to be beyond repair could rise from the ashes.  John Gottman, Ph.D. famously observed that studies suggest that, on average, couples wait six years after they know there are serious problems with their relationship, to see a counselor.  That’s why any couples counselor has got to expect people to be hurt, angry, polarized and emotionally reactive when they first come in.  Yet conflict and pain – even that which has endured for a few years – need not bring hopelessness.  I have seen people re-establish connections and heal old wounds.  It’s just a shame that so many couples I have worked with in the divorce arena never got that help in time.