Excerpts, Good Reads, Relationship Advice

Notes on Avoiding Divorce

Some time, sooner than you may think you will, you may find yourself in a situation where your marriage has turned inside out. It’ll hurt worse than you’ve ever known before and you’ll try desperately to hold on, only your initial reaction may in fact be exactly the wrong thing to do. And you’ll step back and try to figure it out, and nothing will make any sense, until you swallow your ego and look back at yourself from your spouse’s eyes, and get some sound advice from friends, therapists, or in this case, perhaps by reading a blog entry that quotes a book.

The following are some of my dog-eared passages from “The Divorce Remedy” by Michele Weiner Davis. I’m transcribing them here since they strike me as sufficiently interesting to share, and because after I transcribe them I can flatten out the pages. A nice book shouldn’t live its life with permanant dog-ears. In all likelyhood, you are not in a crisis at the moment, but if the poop ever hits the fan, maybe you’ll recall that there’s some knowledge to turn to . . .

Divorce Stinks

Now, after three decades of our social experiment with rampant divorce and disposable marriages, I know it isn’t a matter of people keeping their marriages together because they can, it’s a matter of people making their marriages work because they should. Divorce stinks! Why? Recent findings about the long-term effects of divorce speak for themselves.

The book then goes on to explain many of the reasons why people tend to fall into what Weiner calls “The Divorce Trap.” Among them:

Well Meaning Friends: The Biased Shoulder

When you share your unhappiness with loved ones, what they hear is your side of the story. Even though your feelings about your spouse and marriage are valid, they are, nonetheless, biased. Needless to say, if your spouse were in the conversation, the story about your marriage would take a not-so-slight different turn. But the people who love you don’t care about objectivity; they want you to feel better. Although this makes perfect sense, the end result is that the people in whom you are confiding offer potentially life-changing advice without a complete set of facts. If you follow that advice, you may create an even bigger rift in your marriage.

The Walkaway-Wife Syndrome

Although divorce offers the illusion of happiness to people of all ages, races, and personality types, there is one group that is particularly susceptible to the sounds of the divorce siren. It’s women. Approximately two thirds of the divorces in our country are filed by women. What’s going on here? Why are so many women throwing in the towel?

In the early years of the marriage, women are usually the primary caretakers of the relationship. They’re the ones who are doing a daily temperature check: “Have we had enough closeness today?” “Are we spending enough time together?” “Do we feel connected emotionally?” In the answer to these questions is, “Yes,” life goes on. If not, women press for more closeness. They tell their husbands, “You don’t value our relationship anymore.” “We never do anything together.” “Why do you always put work ahead of me?” Often, instead of recognizing their wives’ needs, men simply feel as though they are being nagged and withdraw, emotionally and sometimes physically.

Because of this lack of response or even hostility, women become frustrated. They try another approach: complaining about their partners’ lack of involvement about everything else in their lives . . . Although they are still only trying to get their spouses’ attention, men recoil big time. (I’ve never met a man who moves closer to his wife as a result of being “nagged,” no matter what his wife’s intentions!) After months or years of negative interaction, women finally give up. They tell themselves, “I’ve tried everything. Divorce has got to be better than this. I’ll find somebody who cares about me. Even if I don’t, I’m so alone in this marriage, I can’t take it anymore. I know I’ll be happier without him.” And with that, they plan their escape.

. . . following her decision, the wife is no longer trying to fix the marriage. She stops complaining. To her, this surrender to the inevitable is definitely a bad thing. To him, well, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out what the husband thinks. He’s thrilled! She’s off his back. She must be happy again, or so he thinks and he proceeds with business as usual. Business as usual, that is, until . . . her obviously devastated husband replies “I had no idea you were unhappy! Why didn’t you tell me?” . . .

The tragedy of this situation is that this is the point at which most men finally understand the depth of their wives’ unhappiness. They are finally ready to do the kind of soul-searching that would make having a great marriage possible. They are willing to do back flips to keep their marriages together. But by that time, most women have built a wall around themselves, one that is impervious to men’s efforts to change. It’s divorce, full speed ahead.

I’m convinced if more women knew the truth about divorce, they might not be so quick to dismiss their husband’s offers to become better people and partners. They might actually stick around long enough to find out that their husbands really mean what they say about changing.

The Marriage Map: Stage 3–Everything would be great if you changed

In this stage of marriage, most people believe that there are two ways of looking at things, your spouse’s way and your way, also known as the Right Way. Even if couples begin marriage with the enlightened view that there are many valid perspectives on any given situation, they tend to develop severe amnesia quickly. And rather than brainstorm creative solutions, couples often battle tenaciously to get their partners to admit they are wrong. That’s because every point of disagreement is an opportunity to define the marriage. Do it my way, and the marriage will work, do it yours and it won’t.

When people are in this state of mind, they have a hard time understanding why their spouses are so glued to their way of seeing things. They assume it must be out of stubbornness, spitefulness, or a need to control. What they don’t realize is that their spouses are thinking the same thing about them! Over time, both partners dig in their heels deeper and deeper. Anger, hurt, and frustration fill the air. Little or no attempt is made to see the other person’s point of view for fear of losing face or worse yet, losing a sense of self.

Now is a time when many people face a fork in the marital road. They’re hurt and frustrated because their lives seem like an endless confrontation. They don’t want to go on this way. Three choices become apparent. Convinced they’ve tried everything, some people give up. They tell themselves they’ve fallen out of love or married the wrong person. Divorce seems like the only logical solution. Other people resign themselves to the status quo and decide to live seperate lives. Ultimately, they live unhappily ever after. But there are still others who decide it’s time to end the cold war and begin to investigate healthier and more satisfying ways of interacting. Although the latter option requires a major leap of faith, those who take this leap are the fortunate ones because the best of marriage is yet to come.

Pretty grim, huh? Well, with a 50% divorce rate, not all that unusual. So, what do we do about it? Especially if one partner is gung-ho about fixing things up and the other partner is walled off? Well, the gung-ho partner has a long, hard, road ahead of them:


  1. Be patient. Time is an asset even when it seems to be killing you.
  2. Listen carefully to what your spouse is really saying to you.
  3. Learn quickly that anger is your enemy.
  4. Learn quickly to back off, shut up, or walk away when you want to speak out.
  5. Take care of yourself. Exercise, sleep, laugh, and focus on all the other parts of your life that are not in turmoil.
  6. Be cool, strong, confident, and speak softly.
  7. Know that if you can do a 180, your smallest consistent actions will be noticed much more than any words you can say or write.
  8. Read as much as you can on this subject.


  1. Do not be openly desperate or needy even when you are hurting more than ever in your whole life and are desperate and needy.
  2. Do not focus on yourself when communicating with your spouse.
  3. Do not believe anything you hear and less than 50 percent of what you see. Your spouse will speak in absolute negatives because they are hurting and scared.
  4. Do not give up no matter how dark it is or how bad you feel.
  5. Do not backslide from your hard-earned changes.

Gee? Sounds real straightforward and easy, huh? Well, you knew when you said “I Do” that there were going to be some bad times. Just, you didn’t know it would be this bad. Well, stop panicking and get to work! If you can pull off the above, just imagine the strength you’ll have when your teenage kids start to go berzerk!

Anyway, once you get past the worst of it, there’s plenty of advice throughout the book on how you can get back on track once both partners are on board. I’ll close with one last bit of advice:

Focus on the Problem-Free times

Since you and your spouse are experiencing problems right now, you probably feel that your relationship has been this way forever. But you’re wrong. I know that there are times in the past when things were more loving, times when you argued less, were more intimate, and felt more compatible. It’s human nature to focus on what goes wrong and pay little attention to what goes right, especially when you’re hurting.

When I work with couples, it’s not unusual for them to have several good weeks in between sessions. However, if they have one or two small arguments during the month, they will report that they fight all the time. They fail to notice or acknowledge the peaceful interludes. I realize that it is most people’s expectation to tell their therapists about their tough times, but I see this tendency to focus on problems rather than solutions everywhere I go. We analyze to death interactions that are uncomfortable but overlook or downplay the significance of more pleasurable times. If we happen to notice positive things happening, we consider them to be flukes or accidents, and we never ask ourselves, “How did we get that to happen?” After all, we don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

This is unfortunate because the answer to many relationship problems lies in what we do differently when things are going well with our partners. Good times don’t just happen, we make them happen. We talk, think, feel, and arrange our lives differently when we’re getting along with our partners. You need to become a solution detective and figure out how you and your partner act, think, and feel differently when you like each other so that you know what makes your relationship work.

So . . . as you can see, most of us in relationships are going to hit some real bad patches. And when that happens, you may find yourself feeling terribly all torn up inside, and hurting, and wronged. But, rest assured you are not the first and you will not be the last person to have been in a fix like yours. It happens so often that the local bookstore has a few rows of shelves devoted to this stuff, and there may be a book, a therapist, or a friend who can help you find your way. When the challenge comes, you’ll have to rise bigger than your pain, and be really strong, and dedicate yourself to working toward a better day.

Some mantras that I keep in mind:

“This too, shall pass.”

“We shall overcome.”

Addendum, 2009, August 4: It has been some years since I wrote this, and I am since happily divorced. It was rough, but life goes on, and love is found anew. Today I read a wonderful article in the New York Times, by Laura Munson, who, when confronted by a husband who wanted to leave, realized he was going through his own thing, endured the challenge of giving him enough space without fighting him, and after some months he figured his issues out and they went along happily again. I felt it was good advice, and good understanding, and at the end of the day, if your partner leaves, remember it isn’t about you.

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Categories: Excerpts, Good Reads, Relationship Advice

  • Jim M

    Thanks for the summary. My wife left me for another man 3 months ago and is now back in town to pickup her stuff. I am sure I’ll speak with her about personnal property and I am looking forward to it. I still have hopes that we can reconcile. The divorce won’t be finalized for a couple of months yet so I hope I can make some headway in turning our relationship around. The divorce busting do’s and don’ts make sense. Even if it doesn’t work out, I’ll feel better about myself in the short term and long term. She is 64 and I am 50. A big age difference for her especially since she is retired now and is looking for somone to spend quality time with her. We’ve been married for 22 years this August. I want this to go as slow possible to make every oopportunity to show I have changed my approach to her and hopefully she’ll recognize live would be better with me and her family.

  • Tammy

    Just wanted to say thank you! I was nearly a WAW and found the determination to look for solutions. I must admit had it not been for this “Other people resign themselves to the status quo and decide to live seperate lives. Ultimately, they live unhappily ever after.” I’d have simply trudged on with the status quo.

  • Vanessa

    WOW. I never realized that I was going about things so wrong. I showed this to my husband yesterday in fact because I was at that giving up point of the WAW. It helped more than you could imagine. We had a calm talk/discussion… no hurtful things said, no misunderstanding. It saved out marriage for sure!

  • Michelle Parsons

    Thank you…this is just what I needed to read today. My husband told me this morning he wants a divorce…I don’t. Who knows what will happen. I’ve printed this out for him to read…maybe he will, maybe he won’t. So, thanks….

  • james m. manuel

    i am just the opposite of most men ; i do like to communicate and i do like attention , intimacy , affection , compassion , etc. from my wife … my wife on the other hand does not like any of those things. we are in a situation that is unfortunate indeed , when she was young she was molested and now she is ( from an emotional standpoint ) sexually handicapped. i constantly make the mistake of accusing her of cheating … i erroneously conclude that ” if she never wants to have sex with me , well , she must be having sex with someone else ” … she finally got tired of my constant accusations and ended our marriage … she says that she hates me and wishes that i die. what can i do?

  • Kevin Sheehan

    I’m at the begining of the divorce process, we’ve seperated in our own home. We have two wonderfull teenage daughters. My wife has suffered from depression and has convinced herself she never loved me, since we married very young at 20 nineteen years ago. I’ve been starting to think divorce might be better than this situation until I read your article. I’ve sent her a link to this page and pray it might open a new door.

  • Bruce

    Hi Dannyman, mine is like all the rest, and bang on to what you have described…my wife and I had a lot of the nagging for attention aspects, I would back away but I would come back around…never a mean word said, rarely a fight. she claims irreconcilable differences (to her friends) and tells me “emotional neglect” although I take responsibility for this she feels she never neglected me…false but never was something I held against her…and still don’t. I do not tell her I blame her, but I do bring up the infidelity, her integrity (and his for chasing a married women)

    she did have difficulty (for some reason) with my very close relationship with our 3 children…yes often the good cop but they would all “do what they were told” when I asked them…once, firmly, vs many times nagged by her…I always accepted her impatience and seemingly lack of compassion (for us all)I wrote it all off as “work pressures, PMS and family stresses and household work…which never seemed to be done well enough,”up to her standards” by my help nor the kids.

    all this to say, she one day said it’s over “move on” …the next 4 out of 6 nights went out with a guy she has known thru work for 10 years…told me and my 3 teenaged children they were just friends…but she also admitted to being at his house for “tea” 8 months earlier and lunches and coffees 2-3 times a week for the 3 months plus walking our dogs together when I was at work…prior to her announcement…I would have to guess that there was much more emails and calls just to coordinate these secret meetings…, after 25 years of being married, she moved out within a month, and in with this “friend” and has not looked back, it has been 6 months now, very little contact with her children…50/50 time with the youngest…the older two have friends or even themselves cheated on in their short lives by boyfriends or girl friends so feel their own mother has lied and covered up and cheated on their dad…unforgivable to them…and she left the home because of the toxic environment that she caused…she actually wanted to stay a year and keep seeing this other man while living at home with us all…that was never going to work for any of us and he offered an out.

    I was devastated, I am the most patient person with what I consider a huge heart and very forgiving nature so I held out huge hope for her realizing that she (by her actions) has lost her husband (no big deal to her with another by her side) but also has lost her children’s love and respect…we are a middle class, never swearing, active family…but now the kids (even the youngest at 14) swear at her if they even bother answering her calls…her only attempts at reconciliation with them is “oh your still mad at me” and walks away or hangs up.

    what I am going thru now (besides the betrayal and the hurt and the fact that this does not even come close to the moral, fun loving…husband and great father that I feel I am, I have never strayed, I do not drink or do drugs and I never have) and I know it is not my place anymore, is a great concern for her, the disrespect the kids have (to say the least) and more over…the other man…I know, wrong focus but…within 3 weeks the two of them (her and her other man) would come to the house and she would come in to take her things and she would feed some of our pets…he would park outside the home and stare into our front window…when she would leave and the two them would turn to me and shoot me the finger and my kids were in the room with me…(this is so out of character for her…she was a sunday school teacher on and off and on the outside, a very fun out going caring person)this fellow never leaves her side, drops her off at work in the morning, picks her up for lunch, drops her off after lunch then picks her up after work…repeats every day…and now walks her into her office too. he is a director of a good sized company but has taunted even my son…who could take him apart if I didn’t talk him out of it…I would too but I am smarter than that.

    this fellow cheated with a married women, got a divorce because of it, dated other married women from my wifes cooperation…AND she knows all of this…can you say low life slime! HOW could she choose such a person over me…her friends love me and think I am great…and tell me they support her but know what she did (regardless of denying infidelity…benefit of the doubt that there was no sex)and agree she is doing this very poorly…meanly…and

    any way, as I have said, she seems to have moved on, very little to do with even the youngest who she has every second week (but he is always with them and even sleeps with her while my daughter is there)and this was one of the best women I ever knew, best mother I ever knew…she has disassociated her self from her friends in lieu of this guy and is obviously blaming me for all of this, re-writing the marital history and is really living it up…vegas, cuba, arizona…all in the last few months…he has 5 kids and does not see them much…if at all.

    I still care for her…her friends are concerned…more about the GUY…they call him her body guard and feel he is a controlling jerk…she is not her normal strong (controlling) self…he seems to call all the shots…

    my question…is this too far gone…she could write a book on “how to not leave your husband” or “how to hurt the one you are leaving with as little compassion as possible”…but me and her friends think she will see what she has lost and see what kind of slime ball he is (I think she knows it but she needed some one to escape from what she felt was a draining marriage)…do I wait and see or close the door…I have not begged for her return but the few times I did correspond I did try to make her feel bad about the kids, reminding her that they have no interest in seeing her and the fact that will never have a relationship (other than a hateful one ) with her boyfriend…she seems (on the outside) to be o.k. with that.she and him have good income and are living the good life unencombered by family/children stresses etc…grass is seeming greener on his side right now.

    I love her and cannot, will not answer the question of “would I take her back ” if it all came crashing down on her…all that know the two of them, including her lawyer, feel that they will not last when she realizes who she is with, what she has done and the loss of her children…I think she will be stubborn and never admit to making a mistake and she is out of his league so he will keep spending every thing he can to keep her interested and occupied…and he will never leave her side.

    any thing you can offer in the way of words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated…

  • Bruce that is a tough situation and I feel for you. Wisdom from me? It is difficult to move on and let go, but you can not hold your breath on reconciliation. You can not control your spouse . . . you have to have faith . . .

    My wisdom would be to focus on the things you have power to help. With a house full of kids it sounds as if you have plenty to occupy your time and your love. Take care of the kids and take care of yourself: take this crisis as an opportunity to reflect, and since you are in a transition, look at what you would wish to make better in your own life, and in your family.

    In all likelihood, you have lost the battle for your wife’s heart, and that sucks and is mighty painful and you’ll need some time to move on from that, but you have your family and your own heart to fight for. The times change, and some things are lost: look at what you have to gain . . .

    Good luck and I wish you the best.


  • Dannyman, thanks for your words, I have been told that she is not worth it, that she doesn’t desrve me…none of which I have agreed with IN MY HEAD OR MY HEART…I know I accept her with not only her faults but with what she has done…and although contrary to this love for her I will not be second choice to her either…I was hoping that I could move on and still reserve some hope…I guess that this is not the fastest way to recovery though.

    something arose this weekend, my daughter who is with her this week, text me saying the new man is mad at her and calling her stupid and won’t let her speak…she is/was a strong independent women before her hooking up with him…I got concerned (cried that I could not be there to protect her) but did email her with a non-specific offer that without expectation, I would be there for her if she needed me for anything…but then today I stupidly called her at her work and again expressed concern, she denied any argument or name calling by him…my daughter wouldn’t lie about something like this but…I guess my stbx might be covering up some what…what should I have done or said if anything? brings me back to what haunts me…how could she choose this type of person over me…I never called her a name or verbally abused or bullied her ever…now she is being controlled and yelled at and professing that all is great…in love…happier than ever.

  • Bria Page

    My husband and I are very young, and decided to get married early into our relationship. He is in the military and we recently moved away from all of our family. I always heard the first year of a marriage is the hardest, but I didn’t realize how hard until now. We recently started doubting whether getting married was a good decision for us, which brought me down because marriage to me should be forever. Reading these suggestions and what not made me realize that marriage isn’t really easy for anyone and I’m not quite sure if it’s supposed to be. I want to make this work with my husband and he has told me he wants to make it work also, I was just scared in the past that it was going to be a constant battle trying to make it work. After reading some of this page I realized that with a few adjustments to myself which will in the long run make me a better person, I can make this work. Thank you for the faith that my marriage will make it.

  • Rebecca

    Thanks, the mantras at the end are my headway. My husband left two months ago and will not even admit to me or his family he is living with this other girl ten years his senior. I feel we are able to work it out but have to focus on myself right now. If I do not I will not make the changes i need to make. Thank you so much.

  • Chris


    I really want to thank you for this post. My wife dropped the bomb on me last Sunday at midnight. She was acting kind of weird so I asked her what was up. She told me she wanted a Divorce. I was in shock until Wed. Then I started doing some research. This entry seems to cover all the bases in a nutshell. I gave it to her today and asked that she read “for real” with an open mind. I can only hope that this puts a crack in her shell and opens the door to resolution. I will follow up next week.

  • max

    hey people.

    this could seem flippant but anyhow here goes:

    the trouble with family set-ups, marriage and co-habitation is that it is often based on the premise of ROMANCE. Stop that and realize the harsh realities of these so called errant spouses and what not… these people are just victims of themselves and their own humanities. The shit and piss like the rest of us. Bleed when cut and cry when their mum dies. Hey they will stink when rotting in their graves too so do be too hung up about losing a spouse, shit they are one or two steps up from the apes like all of us so take heart brothers and sisters and don’t get too hung up on ’em. Move on and fuck ’em all!! Yee haa!

  • max

    oh a couple of more things, danny and everyone, I do know the pain – all happening to me too – but i am just trying to say that it might be better not think these spouses are in any way special.. really.. cos it only ‘really’ happens in our own head and there is the rub. it is how we think ’bout ’em. so wave ’em off and remember that even in the unlikely event we never share our life with any other ‘intimate’ that “Solitude is the School of Genius”.
    Romance is a Head Game.