Archive for August, 2010

When Is Divorce the Answer?

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Birnbach book offers “reality test” for troubled marriages

| FROM ALUMNI BOOKS | BY SUSAN SELIGSON

How to Know If It’s Time to Go: A 10-Step Reality Test for Your Marriage (Sterling Books) Through July, Lawrence Birnbach (CAS’67) will take your questions about marriage and divorce.

Both psychoanalyst Birnbach and conflict management consultant, coauthor, and spouse Beverly Hyman were divorced when they met. That is perhaps one of the reasons they take the refreshingly realistic view that while marriages require hard work, divorce happens — and is sometimes the best option for all concerned, including the children. Adhering to the usual self-help format of alternating advice, personal anecdotes, quizzes, and handy lists, the authors offer explicit circumstances under which a couple may be better off apart. They list and periodically refer back to nine areas in which spouses must work out agreements, including the usual suspects — sex, money, and parenting — and more intractable differences, such as those involving substance abuse and religion.

While bookstore self-help shelves sag under the weight of books about how to repair marriages, the authors deserve credit for acknowledging that divorce is sometimes the only way to salvage the peace, self-respect, productivity, optimism, and futures of those involved. They pummel, one by one, prevailing myths about divorce. “If I hang in there, things will get better in time” is one; another is, “If I were really ready to end it, I’d feel certain … I wouldn’t have such mixed feelings.” Others are fear of never finding another mate, being rejected by the community, facing financial ruin, or the widespread belief that divorce damages children forever.
What about the children? Using anecdotes drawn from families they’ve counseled, the authors take a hard look at the toll unhappy marriages take on children, affecting their schoolwork, friendships, and mental health.

For couples who have concluded that they have exhausted every remedy (take one last inventory, the authors advise), Birnbach and Hyman outline financial realities and other hurdles and offer instructive stories of people who improved or reinvented their lives after divorce.

And for readers who decide to take that step, it might be a good idea to keep the book around — if a second marriage looms, it could pay to revisit the part about how good marriages sour.