Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

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*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
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*        = Good, with reservations


*****The Divorce Remedy

by Michele Weiner Davis

Reviewed December 11, 2005.
Fireside Books (Simon & Schuster), New York, 2001.  316 pages.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2005 (#1, Relationships)

Since we started having marital troubles last March, I’ve been reading all the books I can get my hands on that might help.  Now that my husband has moved out, we can’t hide that there are problems, and I can recommend some of these excellent books.   The Divorce Remedy is the best of them all.  I only wish I’d read it sooner.  While I can’t tell you that it has “worked”—my husband is still planning to get a divorce—its advice did help pull me out of depression and make me more able to cope.

Michele Weiner Davis begins the book explaining why she is opposed to divorce, when it’s possible to stop it.  She’s not coming at it from religious reasons, but simply because divorce doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.  She says, “Early in my career, like many therapists, I assumed that if people are unhappy in their marriages, they should just get out.  After all, I told myself, life is short and we all have the right to be happy.  But I soon learned the truth about divorce.  It doesn’t necessarily bring happiness.  In fact, in most cases, divorce creates more problems than it solves. . . .  I’m convinced that, unless you are in an extremely dysfunctional relationship—one in which there is physical abuse, chronic substance abuse, or chronic infidelity, for example—and your spouse isn’t willing to change, you are better off solving your problems than getting out.  Because of my conviction, I’ve devoted myself to helping people like you beat the divorce odds.”

“In my work, I’ve had a bird’s eye view of what happens in people’s lives after divorce.  I have seen the intense pain and despair that linger for years.  I have seen times when every birthday, holiday, or other causes for celebration have been nothing more but painful reminders of a divorce.  I have seen the triggering of unpredictable, hurtful events such as the total rejection by the children of the parent seeking the divorce.  I have known children who, even many years after the divorce and their parents’ subsequent remarriages, still want to know if Mom and Dad will ever get back together.”

She doesn’t only urge you to save your marriage—she also tells you how to do it.  She’s got seven steps for making changes in your relationship—even if only one of you wants to stay together.  The crux of her methods is to stop doing what doesn’t work.  Change what you’ve been doing and do the opposite—invariably, if one changes, your interactions will change.

A lot of the book is for marriages that aren’t as far down the path toward divorce as mine.  However, she does give a “Last Resort Technique” that helped pull me out of the pit of depression.  I only wish I had tried this much sooner.

The first step of the Last Resort Technique is to Stop Pursuing.  She says, “I am not an expert on what works, but I am an expert on what doesn’t work.  If you keep pushing your spouse, you will push him or her right out the door.  You might as well file for divorce yourself because your actions are moving things in that direction.  I know how bad you feel and I also know that it’s human nature to try to hold on to important things in your life that seem to be evaporating into thin air.  But I also know that it’s human nature to want to escape when you feel coerced or pressured.  So you have to stop pursuing your spouse immediately, even if you don’t feel like it.  It’s the only chance you have of saving your marriage.”

She gives a list of things that people do to try to pull their spouses back that end up pushing them away.  I was doing all of them!  It’s hard to give them up when you’re desperate, but she’s absolutely right—they don’t help.

The second step is:  Get a Life.

She says, “I’ve worked with enough couples in this situation to know that when you feel desperate, you get clingy and depressed.  You cry a lot, mope around, lose interest in things, and basically become a blob.” [Boy, she’s right—I sure did those things.]  “Understand that this is perfectly normal.  Losing someone you love and watching your family fall apart are definitely the most painful things you can ever experience.  However, the end result—your desperateness—is not exactly attractive.  In fact, it’s very unattractive.”

She reminds you that she’s not asking you to fake it.  “The reason you are feeling as crappy as you are right now is because you are living through some really tough circumstances.  You are reacting as any normal person would.  But, and this is the big but, this isn’t the real you.  You are much stronger and more confident deep down inside, aren’t you? . . .   I’m not asking you to put on an act.  I’m just asking you to remember who you really are.

But the crucial part of why this technique is so helpful is that it does you good whether your spouse comes back or not:  “One more point you should consider.  Besides increasing the chances that your spouse will be more interested in you if you back off and start doing your own thing, there is another important reason you should ‘get a life.’  You’ve stopped doing things that give you pleasure.  Chances are, you even think you’ve forgotten how to have pleasure.  The best thing you can do is take care of yourself for awhile.

“Focus on making yourself a better person. . . .  Do something that will put you back in touch with you, not just because your spouse might like you more if you do, but because it’s important to feel centered and love yourself.  You deserve it.  I know you do.”

The last step is simply to wait and watch.  She doesn’t pretend that The Last Resort Technique will always work.  “Unfortunately, there are times when, no matter what you do, your spouse has firmly shut the door on your marriage.  I tell you this because I don’t want you to think that this is a magic bullet.  It isn’t.  However, even if your marriage doesn’t improve when you do the last-resort technique, your mental health will.  I promise you.  So many people have thanked me for suggesting this technique because it gave them back their dignity.  They felt so lost and out of control prior to employing this method.  With your self-esteem in place, you will feel more prepared to take on whatever comes your way.”

She does remind you that the “waiting” part of Step Three is important.  “The consistent message I’ve gotten from those in the trenches is that patience is not only a virtue, it’s an absolute necessity.  Resign yourself to the fact that improving your marriage might take weeks rather than days, or months rather than weeks.  This will help you avoid becoming disappointed if results aren’t as immediate as you had hoped.  Furthermore, you need to know that you can expect your good days and your bad days, good weeks and bad weeks.  Sometimes, you’ll feel as if you are really out of the woods, and then a day later, you’ll feel as though you are back to square one.  That’s how change happens.  You must expect these hills and valleys and teach yourself not to get despondent.  Resist feeling sorry for yourself.  Just remember that, chances are, tomorrow will be a better day.”

What I’ve quoted is by no means all the valuable information and advice found in this book.  I heartily recommend this book for anyone having the least bit of problems in their marriage.  As I said, I only wish I had read it sooner, before I knew about the problems.  But having read it got me out of the pit, and has given me some hope even when things look pretty dark.  I know that whether my marriage is saved or not, following the advice here has helped me to be the person I want to be and to know that I can still enjoy life, even when going through such a dark time.

Here's Michele Weiner Davis' website:

Copyright © 2006 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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