The Divorce Decision

Information for those thinking of divorce by Little Rock therapist, Becky Whetstone.

Support for those grieving the loss of a marriage
What predicts divorce
Divorce recovery

Relationship and Marital Crisis

“We’re in crisis, and this is bad, this is really, really bad …”    – a recent caller.

Don’t give up on your marriage until you’ve done all you can to save it.

So, things in your relationship are bad. Scary bad. When couples reach this point, they don’t know what to do. They often ask: Do we break up? But wait, we don’t want to break up. We still care, but we are stuck. What do we do, where do we go? Can we possibly save it? We’re really angry, frustrated, and confused. Can we repair the damage and change it and make it healthy? How can we figure out if we are at the end, or if we should throw in the towel? Whatever we do, we want to be sure…

Well, if you are in this place, you have come to the right place. I deal with situations like this every day, and this is the type of work I am experienced in and passionate about. I don’t like to see couples end relationships that could have been saved, and I believe in digging deep to find out whether or not a couple has enough fabric with which to make a relationship work. So, what you can do right now is read this page all the way to the end, and click on the links along the way. Also, be sure to visit the Relationships and Marriage page for more information about whether or not you might benefit from couples therapy.

Now, read on, have hope, and don’t decide to divorce without consulting with a professional who understands the process…

Divorce and Deciding to Divorce

An agonizing decision, and if you do it, you want to be sure.

Marriage therapists believe in marriage. We like to see happy and thriving partnerships, and when we do marriage therapy, the goal is to help a marriage be the best it can be. But, marriage therapists know that not every marriage can or should be saved. They know a lot about individual and relationship dynamics and can help you decide if your marriage still has a pulse. If there is still some life there, we’re going to encourage you to dive in and revive and improve your relationship. In these cases, therapists guide and encourage couples to do the work to make healing happen. If the relationship cannot be saved, we help you through the difficult and painful process of separation and/or divorce – having a guide who is highly trained and knowledgeable about the process is invaluable.

As a Marriage and family Therapist, I am passionate about helping individuals get clarity concerning the state of their marriage. I have been married, divorced, and am now a single parent. Years before I married, I envisioned myself as a woman who would have a happy and life-lasting marriage, so no one was more shocked and surprised than me to find myself divorced and living life as a single mom. The lack of understanding about what happened, the pain experienced, and the desire for it not to happen again led me to become a family therapist. In graduate school I dedicated my research to understanding the process in which a once hopeful relationship becomes sick, deteriorates, and dies, so I speak from personal and professional experience about the decision to divorce, the emotions and ramifications that are involved, and the roller coaster of feelings, doubts and fears. The end result is that I don’t want anyone to enter the process blindly as I did over 15 years ago.

If a person who comes to see me decides that divorce is the answer, I know that he or she will need a caring and empathetic therapist to see him through the dark days ahead. I also know that no matter how much a person believes he wants and needs to be out of a marrige, it will still be an extremely painful and difficult process. In the case of a person whose spouse has announced a decision to leave the marriage and divorce, I provide the same empathy and caring, knowing that there is a lot of healing to do in the months and years ahead, and although it’s going to be hard, the right therapist can help make walking the path easier.

On occasion, I get to work with a caring husband and wife who plan to divorce but who don’t want to tear themselves and their children apart. These courageous folks decide to go through Divorce Therapy to make the separating process as healthy as it can be for all the parties involved. I recommend this as a positive and tangible symbol, a proactive plan in which two former life partners come together in the spirit of cooperation for the benefit of themselves and other family members affected by their decision to divorce.

What I want all people who are considering divorce to know is that it is an agonizing decision, and should be made slowly and with care. Research shows that the vast majority of individuals who are now divorced say, in retrospect, they wish they had done more to save their marriage. No matter where you are in the process, you can make sure your decision is mindful, thoughtful, and the right one for you by working through it with a qualified therapist.

Don’t call a divorce attorney until you read about this …
Managed Separation – ensuring you don’t
throw in the marital towel too soon.

A word from Dr. Becky: “If you are thinking your marriage can’t be saved, but aren’t absolutely sure, and you want to be able to look at yourself in the mirror in the coming days, months, and years and honestly say, “I did EVERYTHING I could to save my marriage,” and KNOW that you did, then explore Managed Separation, a research-based concept I created to help couples do all they can to save a dying marriage. Managed Separation isn’t for everyone, it is a serious and proactive process to turn over every rock to save a marriage, and I can tell you that in my experience, sometimes some of them get saved … read about it on my “Separation” page by clicking below …”

For more information on this process click here.

What Predicts Divorce?


Unfortunately, not all marriages can be saved.

Unfortunately, not all marriages can be saved.

What predicts divorce, and why should you care? There are two major reasons you need to be aware of what characteristics in a marriage predict divorce – one is so that married individuals can become aware of what most damages relationships so they can stop doing it, and the second is so that single people can be aware of the characteristics and avoid choosing partners who deal with conflict in these damaging ways.

In family therapy, John Gottman, Ph.D. has studied the subject of marriage for decades and has declared that four things are most likely to predict that a couple will divorce. (Yes, there is a correlation between certain behaviors and divorce,) and Gottman calls these ugly marriage killers, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”

It’s pretty icky stuff that causes marriage to fail… but here they are:

  1. Complaining and criticism,
  2. Contempt,
  3. Defensiveness, and last but not least,
  4. Stonewalling.

The first three are self explanatory, but what is stonewalling? It’s when a person shuts down and refuses to discuss issues or problems. She walks away, goes inward, storms out of the room … you’ve problem seen it, experienced it, and chances are, you’ve done it. Incidentally. Gottman says that in all of his studies, far more men use the stonewalling technique than women.
All four behaviors are indicative that respect has been lost OR never been present in a relationship. When a person doesn’t respect someone, it will often bring out his or her worst behaviors … LIKE complaining, criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and the urge to walk away or avoid. If your marriage has reached this point, then WASTE NO TIME getting yourselves to a marriage counselor because your marriage has a major illness and is probably on its death bed. Don’t worry though, as long as both partners are motivated, a marriage can likely be resuscitated, and even be made healthy again, or in some cases, made healthy for the first time.

There are other predictors of divorce, but one major one is how old a couple is when they marry – couples who marry at age 20 or younger have a 75 percent chance of divorce.

And it should be understood that fighting and arguing is all a normal part of marriage – it’s just how the negativity is acted out that is crucial to the survival of the marriage. For example, once a person enters the stage of being upset, how long does she stay there?

Divorce is such a painful experience that I would urge anyone to avoid it, if possible. However, if you do end up there … know that facing such a an obstacle WILL likely increase wisdom, depth of character, compassion, and make many other positive differences in your life. It may seem like the end of the world, but it really isn’t.

Who says the Divorce Rate is 50%?

I’ve looked in the research literature and cannot find any official data or documentation that states that the U.S. divorce rate is 50% – so where is that figure coming from? About six months ago I even heard Oprah say the rate is up to 57%, but when I searched again, I still couldn’t find it. When you look around in libraries and can’t find a number like that, you have to wonder if it isn’t an urban legend rather than a proven fact.

When it comes to U.S. divorce stats, what I did find is data provided by the National Center for Health Statistics that are able to say how many divorces occur each year per 1,000 people in the population. In 1920 the rate was 1.6, in 1953 it was 2.5, and the number reached an all time high in 1977 when the rate hit 6 divorces for every 1,000 in the U.S. population. In 2002 the number was down to 3.9, but all of these numbers do not give an accurate picture of the U.S. as a whole because in any given year not all 50 states report their divorce numbers. For example, the 2002 number was down to 3.9, but did not include any data from California, Indiana, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. In 2004 the number was 3.7, but did not include data from California, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, and Louisiana.

Until all 50 states are reporting, it seems that the numbers are a vague guide, and in the end are rather meaningless. So when someone asks what is the U.S. divorce rate, the most accurate answer a person could give is – no one really knows.