A Letter to Leah

Dear Leah (Her name has been changed),

I enjoyed our conversation the other day. You said it would be helpful if you had a review of our conversation, so I looked through my notes…  Perhaps seeing this will be helpful.

You said,  some of the major ways that Eating Problem affects your life are:

  • Makes you gain and loose large amounts of weight.
  • Gets you to eat anything (frozen, food you don’t really like, when your not hungry, etc.)
  • Distracts you from your tasks.
  • Makes you spend more money than you need on food.
  • Keeps you from doing all your housework.
  • Makes you live a “double life”.

Eating Problem tells you and wants you to believe that:

  • That you’ll never get out of this.
  • It likes to scare you.
  • It states with surety that eating issues are so easy to deal with and since you haven’t beaten it you are incompetent.
  • It wants you to believe that it is stronger than you are.
  • It wants you to feel out of control of you life.
  • It wants you to feel ashamed of yourself about eating and in other areas of life.
  • It wants you to be lonely, less social.

Your courage and ability to discuss such a difficult subject for you is inspiring – that even while thinking about your eating problems often caused you to tremble you insisted on continuing. As I mentioned, we will explore the history of that courage, what you called, “…that I want to do what needs to be done…to get out of this…” Notwithstanding, any time during our conversations you feel unsafe there is nothing wrong with slowing down the pace or changing the direction of our conversation – you don’t need to feel emotionally unsafe to do good work.

You pointed out (and laughed) during the session when I asked you about the resources you have developed to fight against Eating Problem and other values and strengths you have outside this issue – as you said you liked that, “ your seeing me as a whole person”.  The reason I asked about those other values and resources is because when we have an influential problem like Eating Problem, depression or other problems they (the problems) tend to try to take over other aspects of our life that they have no business with. As we discussed, who we are and what is meaningful in our lives is far deeper than the one problem story. It is just that the problem and what it wants to convince us about who we are wants to dominate our thinking and emotional lives. So by actually appreciating and learning how to utilize who we are (our abilities, beliefs, skills, resources…) we are better able to fight the problem and enjoy other areas and times of our life. Don’t worry if this doesn’t make total sense – my explanation is not 100% clear – it’ll be easier in the doing than in the explaining.

See you Monday.

David Kaufman


Myths and Facts About Pornography / Addiction

Myths and Facts About Pornography

Myth: Only lower class people view pornography.

Fact: Pornography addicts come from all walks of life. They’re blue-collar and white-collar executives; they’re homely and they’re handsome; they’re atheist, agnostic, and religious; they’re all races and creeds. They’re single, they’re married, and they’re fathers.

Myth: Porn is just entertainment… no one is hurt.

Fact: Pornography profits from the ruined lives of young women and entraps men who will spend lots of time AND money succumbing to their product. Studies show that many of the women shown in pornographic material are runaway girls trapped in a destructive life. Many have been sexually abused. Some of them are infected with incurable sexually transmitted diseases that are highly contagious. They often die young.

Myth: Porn does not affect the way you think and relate to women.

Fact: It is clear that media and advertising affect what we think, desire and purchase. If it didn’t, manufacturers would not continue to spend billions on advertising.  If a 45 second commercial can affect people’s thoughts and behavior, imagine the effect of a movie that keeps your attention glued to the screen for an hour with sexually explicit images… It is clear that watching pornography does not leave the viewer unaffected…

Myth: The porn doesn’t have to affect your relationships.

Fact: Relationships are not built on sex, but on expressions of commitment, sharing, caring, joy, mutual trust, and love. People who view porn lose this sensitivity and eventually don’t relate to these values at all. Pornography denigrates sex into an act no more meaningful than two baboons mating in the forest. Pornography pollutes a couple’s sexual relationship.

Degrading Attitudes & Practices

That The Porn Industry Promotes

1.  Women are a “sport” or property Porn often refers to women as animals, playthings, or body parts.   The idea that women are real human beings with thoughts and emotions is played down.. Porn views sex as a game in which you have to “win,” “score”, or “conquer.”  Porn users start judging their manhood by how many “conquests” they can make. Porn displays women like merchandise in a catalog, exposing them as openly as possible for the customer to examine.

2.  A woman’s value depends on the attractiveness of her body. Less attractive women are called dogs, whales, pigs or worse, simply because they don’t fit into porn’s criteria of the “perfect” woman.  Porn is often full of hate speech against women.

3.  Women like rape. “When she says no, she means, “yes” is a typical porn scenario. Women are shown being raped, fighting and kicking at first, and then starting to like it.

5.  Little kids should have sex. One of the biggest sellers in pornography is imitation “child” porn. This encourages the porn user to see children in a sexual way.

6.  Illegal sex is fun. Porn often has illegal or dangerous elements thrown in to make sex more “interesting.” Porn paints an exciting picture of prostitution and sex without meaning.

Why Do People Become

Addicted To Pornography?

Pornography addiction begins in the mind. People tell themselves pornography is just harmless, escapist pleasure. But the enjoyment is short-lived and often, as with drug addiction, the viewer finds himself needing more and more in order to get the same excitement or “high”.

Worse, pornography has an insidious tendency to cross over and infiltrate a person’s life, affecting thoughts, sexual conduct and  the

possibility of truly connecting with another person in a healthy, respectful relationship.

Feelings of loneliness, insecurity, and boredom are not usually associated with pornography, but for many users, they are underlying problems. What begins as a source of pleasure and distraction often becomes an unwanted addiction.

People view sex as the solution to the problems of loneliness and insecurity. Some people, when feeling lonely, turn to pornography. Such simulated sex makes them feel less lonely – at least for a little while.  A cure for this aspect of the addiction begins when the person realizes that loneliness is a normal part of everyone’s life. The challenge is to find ways of dealing with loneliness – as well as being receptive to what it can teach us about our present and future emotional and intellectual needs.

Others, who view life’s reality and relationships as just too difficult and frightening and so create for themselves an emotionally safe (pornography assisted) fantasy world. It is the only place where they have control over their sexual/emotional lives. They have the illusion of power and excitement. These people would find meaning in learning to develop healthy self esteem and emotionally satisfying relationships.

Patterns of

Pornography Addiction

Not everyone who views pornography will become addicted, but addiction usually occurs in several stages:

EARLY EXPOSURE (Level 1): Many people who get addicted to porn start early. They see porn when they are very young and it gets its foot in the door.

PORN ADDICTION (Level 2): In this stage it becomes a regular part of a person’s life that they need and cannot stop.

ESCALATION (Level 3): Many people who begin viewing pornography tell themselves that they would never view certain types of pornography because it is violent, immoral etc. But what excited the viewer early on has become familiar

and boring and so they find themselves viewing porn that earlier would have been repulsive.

DESENSITIZATION (Level 4): The user begins to become numb to the images he sees. Even the most graphic porn doesn’t excite him any more. He becomes desperate to feel the thrill he felt at the beginning of his experience with pornography. This often leads the addict to act out sexually.

ACTING OUT SEXUALLY (Level 5): This is the point where the addict makes a crucial and dangerous jump and starts acting out the images he has seen. He moves from images of porn into the real world with real people, in dangerous places doing things that pose a real threat to his life and health (and those around him).

“Is There Help?”

If you identify with any of the patterns listed above, now is the time to deal with the issue. The first thing to do is admit that you struggle with pornography. Millions of men (and women) are at various stages in this struggle. For some there may also be past issues, such as abuse or sexual exposure that makes porn addiction even harder to shake. The second thing to do is to move beyond your “secret” and get help. You need someone to help break this addiction. Overcoming the secrecy is absolutely vital; you might not be able to escape addiction without it. That doesn’t mean everyone has to know about your addiction. I have helped many people cure themselves and lead more meaningful, happy and fulfilled lives. Please don’t wait because as a general rule, pornography addiction does not go away by itself and left untreated can destroy one’s self-esteem, relationships and employment. Sexaholics Anonymous is also one very helpful program. The problem is so destructive and there is nothing to be gained from waiting, so become proactive and take back your life now.

Shopping Compulsion

Shopping Compulsion
What is Compulsive Shopping?
Compulsive shopping is an obsession with buying things. These purchases are impulsive and unnecessary. A compulsive shopper is motivated less by the need for any particular item than by the emotional fulfillment he or she feels when engaged in acquiring objects. People usually associate compulsive shopping with women. However, forty percent of compulsive shoppers are male. Men are more likely to disguise the compulsive nature of their purchases by describing themselves as collectors, or connoisseurs, of music, cars, etc. Although this “explanation” often is accepted, their shopping habits, nonetheless, are damaging to both their emotional health and their financial situation. The vast quantities of goods amassed may be harmless enough, but the incessant drive to buy – regardless of cost, need or budget constraints – is terribly destructive.

How is Compulsive Shopping Damaging?

Like any compulsion that veers out of control, this habit eventually cripples one’s life, personal relationships and self-esteem. The activity may provide a temporary and illusory sense of well-being, but it completely fails to address the inner needs that are driving the compulsion. Rather than devoting attention and effort to identifying and attempting to satisfy real emotional needs, all of the individual’s energy is expended in shopping excursions that avoid and may even compound the true problem. Neglected, the core problem usually becomes worse, and more urgent. The compulsive shopper’s inner circle of spouse and friends can attest to just how destructive this compulsion can be to primary relationships. Frequently, the shopper’s increasing sense of emptiness and desperation is accompanied by new financial anxiety.
Why Do People Shop Compulsively?
There are several possible reasons for this behavior. It may be the result of familial or cultural influences, or of poorly developed coping skills. Like most compulsions, it represents a displacement of emotional energy, a method of avoiding a perceived threat. Some people shop as a means of relieving stress; of escaping demands and pressures that evoke unpleasant emotions they do not know how to handle. Shopping also may provide excitement and validation; the attention of the sales staff makes the shopper feel important and cared for. In addition, the act of acquiring, of giving oneself a “gift,” may be used as a substitute for receiving love and acknowledgement from family members, friends and colleagues. It is easier and instant gratification of buying something than it is to
risk oneself trying to establish and maintain close, healthy relationships. Shopping serves as a convenient escape, appearing to fill an emotional void in one’s life.
Am I A Compulsive Shopper?
Many compulsive shoppers realize that their shopping habits are out of control. Often, their compulsion results in severe financial difficulties. However, as mentioned above, the emotional consequences of such behavior make it a problem even for those whose bank accounts can support it. Some compulsive shoppers cannot go a day without shopping; others feel compelled to go every few days. Those who are capable of abstaining for even longer tend to “make up for lost time” when they do shop.
The following questions will help you to identify your own shopping habits.
1. Do you find yourself shopping to soothe your nerves or to
nurture yourself?
2. Are you ashamed of your purchases? Do you deny or hide
3. Do you often find yourself justifying your purchases to
yourself or others?
4. Do you have financial difficulties because of overspending?
5. Are your purchases a source of conflict with your spouse, family or friends?
6. Do you lie to your spouse or friends about the price of items you have bought?
7. Do you have a closet full of unnecessary or unused purchases?
8. Do you regret time wasted shopping?
9. Do you plan your time around shopping trips?
Many people will answer “yes” to some, although, if you answered “yes” to many or most of them, this may indicate that your shopping has become compulsive.
Help for Compulsive Shoppers.
Shopping is a necessary part of our lives, but the compulsion to shop is not. Anyone with a sincere desire to change can conquer this compulsion. There are many means of help: support groups and/or private therapy, and by spending time engaged in meaningful pursuits, you can regain control of your emotional and financial life.

How To Change Your Spouse (or not).

Dysfunctional Marriage Techniques–and What Spouses in Good Marriages Do

I wish I could write an article that would magically change your marriage, but I can’t, because that is not the way people learn and change. Character improvement, though transformational, is slow and while invigorating – often very uncomfortable. What I can offer the reader is an article that, if studied alone or with your spouse, will leave your marriage far better off. You will have created more love in your marriage. As is said about balanced mainstream diets – they work if you follow them.

Since my parents divorced, and as a therapist, I’ve studied what couples in good marriages do and think differently. Whenever I would meet a long-married couple who appeared to have a good relationship, I would interview them about their marriage and listen to their stories. I began to recognize recurring principles that emerged in these conversations. I also noticed that those relationships lacked feelings of resignation, frustration, bitterness, arguments, feelings of rejection and loneliness.

Dysfunctional Marital Techniques

But first, a brief and incomplete study of some dysfunctional techniques, things we say, that we utilize to improve our marriages – all leading nowhere. I list them so the reader will be able to realize if they are engaging these techniques.

  • Arguing / Fighting:

a)    You are wrong.

b)    My way is better.

c)    My way makes more sense.

d)    I am logical.

e)    My way is economical.

f)     My way is faster.

g)    I want it.

  • Manipulation / Intimidation:

a)    Reward.

b)    Punishment.

c)    Passive aggression.

d)    Moodiness.

e)    Withholding emotional and physical intimacy.

f)     If you really loved me you’d do it my way… because it is so important to me.

g)    Making a person feel guilty or bad.

  • Toleration:

a)    You are wrong and you should do it my way. I am bigger than this whole argument – and your pettiness.

b)    I will suffer for our marriage.

c)    It’s not worth the fight. Have it your way (but you’re wrong).

d)    I’ll give in this time, but I get to redeem my giving in for something that I really want another time.

e)    Do it your way, but leave me out of it.

f)     I’ll join you once in a while, but don’t expect me to really enjoy it.

g)    I’ll do it and look like I enjoy it (maybe even enjoy it a little), but I’ll let you know very subtly that I’d rather be doing something else.

  • Stonewalling:

a)    Crossing your arms.

b)    Rolling your eyes.

c)    Adopting a fixed “stone-face.”

d)    Walking away.

e)    Speaking very little, or if at all, grunt and puff.

  • · Criticism:

a) Attacking your partner’s personality.

b) Attacking your spouse’s character.

c) Not focusing on a specific behavior that bothers you, but generalizing “I’m upset that you missed car pool” vs. “I can’t believe you missed the car pool. You’re so irresponsible.”

d) Bringing up past mistakes and issues to prove your point.

  • · Defensiveness:

a)    The problem isn’t really with me, it’s you!

b) Denying responsibility.

c) Making excuses.

d) Meeting one complaint with another.

e) Fogging or making an issue unclear.

I am not going to address how to stop or transform all of the above dysfunctional martial techniques, let me suggest the following principles that have proven successful in healthy marriages and that help address many of them.

  1. They stopped trying to change each other.
  2. They learned to love and nurture each other’s uniqueness.

They arrived at this realization through genuine appreciation of their spouse’s uniqueness.

Please note, a person should not allow themselves to become an emotional, intellectual or spiritual doormat in the presence of their spouse. I am not speaking of situations where there is physical or emotional abuse, substance abuse, rage, depression, anxiety, OCD, workoholism, etc  In these situations, change is required because there is a danger to the individual, marriage and family. There are times when the spouse may have to reassess their commitment to the relationship not out of revenge, but because love has boundaries that do not include the destruction of self. (Add the italization)

In good marriages, spouses learn to love their partner without expecting that their spouse change or be worthy of their love. Of course, no one would mind if their overspending spouse would become more frugal, but the relationship does not depend upon it. In good marriages, spouses allow and support the other’s emotional, intellectual and spiritual experience. There is no room for thoughts or words like, “How could you think that?” or “You shouldn’t feel that way.” When ideas, emotions or differences of opionions are discussed, it is done with interest and respect. (Add the italization)

a)    In good marriages, spouses listen to their spouses, even if it is uncomfortable for them to hear.

b)    In good marriages, spouses understand that helping their spouses comes from a healthy attitude, not manipulation, threats or complaints.

My wife, Danka, can testify that our marriage had some rough spots (ouch) in our early years, but thankfully we improved. Danka is a wonderful and intense woman. When she gets involved with something she finds meaningful, she won’t let go until she has mastered it. A few years ago, she began taking a class in Nia (a type of dance) at the woman’s gym and became smitten with it!  Most people might have taken an extra class or two.  My wife became an advanced Nia instructor and still dances and teaches today. My wife’s intensity is a wonderful quality; nevertheless, it can be overwhelming – and expensive. She loves talking about Nia, but I don’t always feel like talking about it – or a new healing art she is becoming a practitioner of … so I have three options:

a. Tell her I am not interested.

b. Tell her I am interested but only pretend to listen. Know how that works out? Spouses catch on pretty quickly.

c. Make myself interested because she is my wife, and if she is interested in Nia, I would like to know what she finds so fascinating. If I enter her world, than I actually appreciate it. And if I am feeling overwhelmed, I say, “Honey, I really appreciate Nia but I really don’t feel like talking about it now. Let’s go for a walk and talk about something else…” If my wife feels and knows that I love and respect her, she’ll understand that I’m not rejecting her.

You Can’t Change Your Spouse

Learning To Love, Enjoy and Nurture Your Spouse

A common theme [see first principle here– link to the first article above] in successful marriages is the realization that you cannot change your spouse. This includes trying to change your spouse sweetly, sourly, beggingly, manipulatively, angrily, or any other –ly you can devise.

Marriage researcher Dr. John Gottsman found that 69% of issues that couples disagree on early in marriage are not resolved later in the marriage. Sixty-nine percent! So, don’t marry someone and don’t pin your happiness in marriage if you have plans to change your spouse, because it usually doesn’t work and it’ll leave everyone involved feeling unloved, judged and misunderstood. The changeable 31% will be addressed further on.

Often, spouses tell me, “Yes, I understand what you’re saying, but what about his socks on the floor?! Why can’t he put his socks in the laundry hamper? Is that not a sign of disrespect and inconsideration? …Does he think I’m his maid?”  Or, “Does she really need so much clothing? Doesn’t she understand we have bills to pay… how many pairs of shoes does she need?!”

Let me address this issue with another story. After many years living in the Israel countryside, my wife and I were still unable to deal with moths. My wife, Danka, hates those creatures. She hates them so much she lets out a scream if they take her by surprise. This scream is not a one note yelp, but a full-throttled, high octave, Night of the Living Dead shriek. I can handle the moths, but Danka’s unexpected screams throw me into the fight-or-flight reaction. Adrenalin pumping, I’d yell at Danka, “Why do you have to petrify me by yelling? It’s just a stupid moth!” And she’d reply, “I can’t help it. I just react.”

It took me a long time to understand her simple words, “I can’t.”  She can’t because that is the way she is… the same way he “can’t find” the hamper. While it is true that both spouses should change words and actions that cause their spouse discomfort, there are things that people cannot change or can change only with years of slow progress.

Referring back to Dr. Gottsman’s research, you cannot decide which category a particular issue falls in, the unchangeable 69% or the changeable 31% for your spouse or anyone else. It took me a long time to stop rolling my eyes when my wife said something I thought didn’t make sense – and I wanted to stop rolling my eyes – but it is hard to change even with the best intentions.

Will he ever stop sock dropping? Will she ever have enough shoes? Will he ever learn to put away food after eating? Will she ever make a simple request in less than three minutes? Don’t pin the meaning and happiness of your marriage on it. Sometimes people just are the way they are – and it is not for you to judge whether they must change. Go to therapy if need be. You might be right, but your love should not depend upon it.

Couples get into the worst fights over perceived insults and hurt feelings based on seemingly little issues: missed or defrosted meals, an empty gas tank, no more toilet paper, crumbs on the table. But these issues do not have be a source of conflict. Just because someone can’t stop a certain behavior does not mean it is directed at you. People in difficult marriages have often made an art form of taking many things personally.

How to Change Your Spouse – In Three (Self-Reflective) Steps

When we feel understood, honored and loved, we are more likely to listen to other’s concerns about changing an aspect of our personalities. How does this work?

Step One: Ask yourself: does my spouse feel that I love, nurture, appreciate, celebrate who they are?

Step Two: Ask yourself: do I want them to change because what they are doing is objectively wrong or because I just don’t like it? Many of the things people argue about are not objectively wrong, rather, something that reflects the idiosyncrasies of the spouse, i.e., the infamous socks, empty gas tank, or being late because it takes longer to get dressed. This covers about 90% of issues, no exaggeration. So, what about the other 10% that you objectively believe still requires change?

Step Three: Speak to your spouse with love and without expectation that change is necessary for your marriage to thrive. You can say, “I have a mini heart attack at the end of each month when the bills come. Perhaps we could figure out where and how we spend our money.” Then you might be able to bring up expenses to cut back on, and areas where your spouse might think about being more cost-conscious.

Begin to model health. If you are upset at your spouse because they yell at the children, spend money on frivolous things, leave a mess, etc., make sure that you aren’t guilty of the same. This doesn’t mean you cannot raise the subject, but introspect first, as we often find faults in others that we have, too.  We are much more forgiving and accepting of our own faults than others.

The simple rule is, if you have developed a loving relationship because you have learned to nurture each other, then the natural reaction is to try to please each other – which includes changing oneself. It is almost as reliable as a mathematical formula.

I knew an old couple in Israel whose wife would buy excessive amounts of food that would inevitably go bad and be thrown away. Both Holocaust survivors, it was probably her way of coping with her past. He tried to get her to change, but eventually realized that she could not change… and simply loved her because he loved her. Not because she did or didn’t change.

The 11th century sage, Ibn Ezra (1093–1167), explained that the verse, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. And you shall choose life, so that you and your children may live…” (Deuteronomy 30:19), simply states, “This verse teaches us that life is for love.”  The Ibn Ezra is telling us that choosing life means choosing love. To identify someone’s shortcomings is easy, but choosing to love your spouse means to love them because you choose to love them, and identify, celebrate, support and nurture their uniqueness.

The verse from Deuteronomy about choosing life and love ends with the words, “so that you and your children shall live.” What has this got to do with our children? I believe it is informing us that when we choose love in the present, we are also choosing love for our children in the future. If they see us living a life filled with choices and attitudes that create love, then our children will absorb this, too. As for those raised in homes where love was conditional or lacking, then the verse is still telling us that we can choose life and love for ourselves in the present and for our children.

How Much Effort Have You Invested in Your Marriage?

I have seen the worst marriages, marriages characterized by many years of dysfunctional and abusive behaviors, change. I believe that there are several reasons for this.

  1. Each spouse stopped blaming the other for their problems.
  2. They took honest and meaningful responsibility for their own issues.
  3. They stopped playing the “If you go first then I’ll go…” game.
  4. They each took responsibility for their own role in the relationship’s problems, regardless of the size that role played in the problems or of the other spouse’s actions or in-action.
  5. They let go of their resentments and grudges, often learning to see their lives in a more spiritual context. (Keeping a grudge is like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to become ill.)
  6. They stopped trying to change their spouse.
  7. They learned to appreciate, express, nurture and support their spouse’s uniqueness.
  8. They stopped keeping score of who is responsible for what and who did what when; i.e., they learned to think in terms of giving rather than receiving, and trusted that they would receive what was needed.

When two people have the commitment and will to accomplish the intellectual, emotional and spiritual growth necessary to change on their own, regardless of the other’s actions, things can happen that are worth staying in the marriage for.

When we have done what we are supposed to do, when we have exerted the maximum effort that the situation we are facing calls for and deserves, then we can, in the deepest faith, calmly give over the problem over to our Creator. At that moment, when we have done our part, it is not our job to complete the task. Unless we exert that effort, however, we are responsible for the outcomes.

If you are having issues in your marriage how do you answer this question: Have you put in the consistent time and effort to be able to say, “I have done all I can do”?

Divorce: Facts and Myths

When all other options and efforts to remain married have been exhausted, divorce is an act of kindness. However, many couples presume that their lives after divorce will be easier and happier, offering a second chance at love. Unfortunately, statistical evidence clearly demonstrates that divorce is infinitely more complicated and painful than people expect. Even in the rare instances in which divorce is amicable, research indicates that divorce seldom supplies the solutions that the divorcing partners seek.

Marriage brings together two individuals with different histories, perspectives, temperaments and expectations – although often with the same mistaken assumption that each shares the other’s notion of what marriage should be. Unforeseen challenges and conflicts arise, forcing couples to re-orient or re-define themselves. Transitions such as parenthood, career change, financial difficulties, loss of employment or health, the departure of grown children, or bereavement may create turmoil and lead one to question basic suppositions/premises. A partner may become so overwhelmed that he or she stops investing effort in the marital relationship, or so desperate that he or she believes that fulfillment can only be attained outside the marriage.

Other reasons for which couples seek divorce include poor communication, heated arguments, perceived character flaws, loneliness and lack of emotional satisfaction. What needs to be made clear to a couple contemplating divorce is that, in the vast majority of cases, the best response to these problems is to renew the marriage, not to terminate it.

Short And Long Term Affects Of Divorce On Children

Children expect and deserve to grow up in a safe world. Their parents’ role is to nurture and protect them, and to provide reassurance. The dissolution of the family is the single greatest threat to a child’s emotional – and often financial – well-being. Having his parents publicly declare that they cannot love each other enough to stay together causes a child’s sense of security and his view of the world to shatter completely.

Although clearly it is preferable that parents resolve their differences, studies have shown that children can thrive even in homes where there is marital conflict. From a child’s perspective, divorce only exacerbates the problem rather than resolving it, forcing him to adjust to a new and more difficult situation. He now must travel between two homes, often between parents who are still resentful and fighting with each other even though they no longer are living together. Carted back and forth, and confronted with two distinct sets of house rules and parenting philosophies, one teenager commented, “I feel like I’m being torn apart. I’m in the middle of a tug-of-war between Mom and Dad.”

Children often find themselves caught in the middle of arguments between ex-spouses and forced to take sides. Even the most conscientious parents can unintentionally compel a child to decide between Daddy and Mommy. As one nine-year-old child reported, “Holidays are the worst. If I’m with my Mom, then I miss my Dad and know Dad is sad. If I’m with my Dad, then I miss my Mom and know she is home crying.”

When there is no viable alternative to divorce, parents must ensure their children’s emotional well being by arranging some form of therapy. Divorce does not condemn a child to a lifetime of unhappiness; many children of divorce consciously strive to attain committed, loving relationships.

How Divorce Affects Men and Women

Divorce has long-term repercussions for both men and women. In one study, half the women reported feeling lonely and being diagnosed with depression, despite having divorced up to ten years earlier. Surprisingly, fifty percent of these women had been the partners who initiated the divorce. Similarly, the vast majority of men reported some confusion even twenty years post-divorce; they were no longer sure what they wanted out of life.

The expectation that Mr. or Mrs. Right is waiting in the wings is a fantasy. Forty percent of women over the age of thirty never remarry. The dating process is usually experienced as being difficult and discouraging.

When there are children involved, second marriages become even less likely; many people do not wish to assume responsibility for someone else’s children. Their concern is not unfounded, as an almost infinite number of issues regarding the children’s future will need to be determined. Visitation rights and schedules, diet, discipline, education, religious holidays and vacations, medical issues, expenses, weddings, and possibly even grandchildren all require discussion; contact and negotiation with your child’s other parent may continue for the rest of your life!

Even when a second spouse is found, the divorce rate for second marriages is an astounding sixty percent. The difficulty of managing a “blended family,” with its myriad complex interactions with children from a previous marriage, undoubtedly accounts for much of this statistic. Of the forty percent who remain in their second marriages, only twenty percent report marital satisfaction. Men and women in second marriages commonly lament the fact that they delayed addressing their own recurring issues until they had remarried. More painfully, when they honestly look back, they wonder whether they might not have saved their first marriages, had they devoted the same amount of effort they are now expending to make their second marriages work.

Encouragingly, a recent study of 5232 couples who considered divorce but decided to stay married (because of children, finances, or other considerations) said five years later that they were glad they had not divorced. Crises and stressful issues, such as depression or financial troubles, had eased or been resolved with the passage of time, and their marriages had improved.

Where Do We Go From Here?

When husband and wife become mired in negative patterns, not knowing how to forgive and to devise a new scenario, their energy is consumed in perpetuating the status quo while nursing their resentment of their partner’s shortcomings. They must relearn the skills necessary to establish a healthy environment and to restore good will, and a spirit of loving acceptance.

Dr. George Pransky, Ph.D, suggests an analogy to illustrate how couples resolve conflict. Imagine a couple spending a romantic evening in front of a fireplace in their old home when, suddenly, they become aware of a chilling draft. They may elect either to search for the cracks allowing cold air to penetrate and then install weatherproofing, or to throw another log on the fire, thereby producing more warmth.

I have found that people considering divorce invest most of their emotional and intellectual resources in “weatherproofing” their marriage or wondering how to do so. Yet, just as weatherproofing will lessen a draft but will not generate warmth, a critical approach to problems may halt unwanted behaviour but will not engender intimacy.

Focusing intently upon their concerns and disappointments, spouses forget to enjoy their marriage and to invest emotionally in this crucial relationship. When one partner is dissatisfied with the marriage, an entirely new strategy is necessary. Spouses must resolve to renounce old anger and presumptions, to stop thinking “If he (or she) would only do what I want.” They must assume responsibility for becoming proactive, rather than passive or merely reactionary, in envisioning and realising a productive marriage

Learn how to listen attentively to your spouse’s needs and views without superimposing your own “agenda,” and to respond appropriately. I have seen many presumably unsalvageable marriages transformed when partners began to feel that their needs were being recognised. This sense of “validation” replaces resentment with respect, understanding, love and hope. When pathology and blame are exchanged for a desire for health and growth, relationships mature and the bond between the spouses strengthens and deepens. Marriage should, and can, be fulfilling and holy.

While I recognize that the sobering divorce statistics cannot found a good marriage, my prayer is that the above information will reach those couples that have given up trying to improve their marital relationships. Adopting a new approach, even to problems that seem intractable, will enable them to embark upon the rewarding process of re-inventing their sacred bonds.