The Treatment of Stage IV
SOMEWHERE between stages III and IV, perhaps at 3.9, there is a "no-man's land." Lawyers have not yet been engaged, but hopelessness about the marriage has set in, and emotional fatigue and bitterness are forcing a decision on whether to hire a lawyer and sue for divorce. When couples present to us in this situation or end up there in the midst of marital therapy, we attempt to do three things: (1) help each spouse determine his or her bottom line, which represents the point of no return; (2) define what options remain open other than divorce; and (3) help each spouse understand how his or her own limitations have contributed to the failure of the marriage.
Some couples begin treatment in what we call pseudo-stage III, in which one spouse has divorce as a covert agenda before treatment begins. In some cases that person wants to be able to say, "I did everything I could. I even went to therapy so I would be able to leave the marriage without self-recrimination and guilt." In others the person wants to place a distressed, poorly functioning spouse in the hands of a therapist who will assume responsibility for his or her well-being. And in still others the person may be looking for support for the decision to divorce out of