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   A Second Opinion

        William Doherty

"Most of us are now free to walk away from our marital commitments more easily than from any other contract in our lives." --William J. Doherty

   Wayne and Tamara have a problem with people in the relationship industry.  They say the most ridiculous things. Advice on winning, or winning back, the person you want used to be the province of astrologers, numerologists and fortune tellers, among others.

   Carry a rabbit's foot, spit three times over your left shoulder, and wear an amulet were all accepted forms of advice.  Mother and grandmother, dad and granddad, also had their recommendations.  As did friends.

   Over 75 years ago psychologists began muscling their way into this field.  If the divorce statistics are any gauge, the advice hasn't gotten better or more reliable.  As the number of counselors has increased, so has the amount of divorce.

   Amulets were a lot cheaper.

   Bill Doherty would be among the first to agree there is a lot of bad therapy out there.  In fact, he confesses he started his career as a therapist believing individuals need to be free from unhappy marriages.  Now, however, he is solidly 'pro-marriage.'  In a way, he is a symbol of the problems in this industry.

   If you go to a physician, he or she will take a medical history.  From that history, they will tell you what they believe the problem to be and make a recommendation.  They don't make the recommendation first.  They take the history first.

   But people like Bill don't particularly want to know the history of the relationship.  The real premise of their advice is people need to stay married.  If they approached their field like scientists, physicians, detectives or even a good mechanic, they would take a relationship history before making their recommendation.

   "Let's see, you got married because all your friends were getting married, he was a good dancer, your biological clock was ticking, she was accidentally pregnant, your parents wanted grandchildren... Sorry, folks, you may not have the right foundation for a lasting marriage."


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   On the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory, the death of a spouse is the only thing which ranks higher than divorce.
   Divorce and separation rank as more stressful than being thrown in jail, being fired from your job, or having a close family member die.
   —Journal of Psychosomatic Research, Volume 11, 213-218, 1967.

   Because of their beliefs, people like Bill Doherty allow all kinds of problems to exist in a marriage without undermining their basic premise: this piece of paper must be saved.

   And by the way, Bill, aside from signing a contract as an indentured servant, the marriage contract is the most difficult and long-lasting contract most people ever sign.  It is likewise the most difficult contract to end.

   A contract with the bank is no big deal.  You can sell the house and car, or let the bank repossess them.  But when you divorce, you can't pretend it never happened.  It will pop up on employment and insurance forms, tax filings, retirement and investment accounts, wills, and in casual conversation with people for the rest of your life.

   There are children to care for, decades of financial responsibilities, and there goes the chance for a second white wedding.  It also makes some people question their faith in the God who was supposed to be part of their marriage.

   Getting a divorce is not easy, and trying to make people feel more guilty about divorce is not the answer.
 

• William J. Doherty is a professor at the University of Minnesota.  He is the author of Take Back Your Marriage and The Intentional Marriage.

• (Quote from Bill Doherty's address to the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education, July 3, 1999).

 

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