Academic journal article Policy Review

Marriage Menders

Academic journal article Policy Review

Marriage Menders

Article excerpt

A report last year by the Council on Families in America characterized America's culture of divorce this way: "Relationships between men and women are not getting better; by many measures, they are getting worse. They are becoming more difficult, fragile, and unhappy. . . . The promises of the divorce revolution proved empty, its consequences devastating for both adults and children."of existing marriages will break up, and nearly three out of five new unions will end in divorce or permanent separation. For many couples, such odds can make their sacred vows seem more like a crapshoot.

Along with the problem of illegitimacy, failed and failing marriages are at the root of the nation's worst social ills. But what can we do about it? Public policymakers need to reconsider the legal regime governing marriage and divorce, from reform of no-fault divorce laws to longer waiting periods for divorcing parents. In the next issue of Policy Review, we'll examine which states have the lowest divorce rates, where legislatures are trying to make divorce more difficult, and other efforts to reverse the proliferation of divorces.

Public policy, however, is only one part of any solution. Over the past 20 years, research has revealed or confirmed the elements of successful marriages. Many programs, support groups, and therapy techniques are now available to strengthen even the most troubled relationships. The religiously based Marriage Encounter and Family Life weekend retreats, for example, have renewed the faith and commitment of thousands of couples. In the pages that follow, we profile a few of the ideas for forming more perfect unions, in the hope that they take root in families, communities, and religious congregations around the country.

Divorce Buster

In the 1960s, as divorce rates began to climb, many family counselors began to see divorce itself as a therapeutic option of first resort. Therapist Michele Weiner-Davis recalls a fellow counselor who claimed that 90 percent of the marriages in his practice were dead on arrival. Weiner-Davis herself used to believe that many marital problems were insurmountable.

No longer. "The vast majority of relationship problems are solvable and the vast majority of marriages are worth the effort required to make them work,"problems so that they can stay together."

Why the change? Weiner-Davis says she's seen up close the suffering and disillusionment that can come with divorce. And blaming one spouse as the source of the problems, she says, is a mistake, because "it doesn't take into account the roles both partners play in the deterioration of the relationship."over years go with them when they end the marriage.

"I don't believe in 'saving marriages, '" she says. "I believe in divorcing the old marriage and beginning a new one--with the same partner."that creed in hand, Weiner-Davis pioneered the use of Solution-Oriented Brief Therapy (SBT) in marriage counseling. Unlike traditional therapy methods, which tend to focus on problems and on the past, SBT emphasizes solutions. For example, rather than encouraging couples to talk about childhood disappointments and how they may be affecting their relationship, SBT asks them to define what they want to accomplish in their reconciliation, and then to devise a strategy for meeting these goals.

In her own practice, Weiner-Davis has found that SBT can salvage at least four out of five seriously troubled marriages.

She says that couples can begin to turn their relationships around within a month, even if only one spouse wants to save the marriage. She promotes SBT in her recent bestseller, Divorce Busting: A Step-By-Step Approach to Making Your Marriage Loving Again (Fireside).

For information about SBT therapists, send a self- addressed stamped envelope to Michele Weiner-Davis, P.O. Box 197, Woodstock, Ill. 60098. Tel.: 815-337-8000. Also available is a home- study course with six audio cassettes and a workbook called Keeping Love Alive. …

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