Divorce? Offering Hope

Divorce often results from hurt, pain, neglect or ignoring the life of your relationship. All of these can be overcome individually and as a couple.  All that is required is a willingness to take responsibility for your own part.  It is pretty fair to guess that you each share responsibility 50/50.

If you agree, but are not divorced yet, there is still hope. Share this with your spouse and see what can happen.

By Dana Terrell, LCSW


We received the sad news today from our son.  The parents of one of his good friends will divorce.

My husband, son and I are all in sad shock.

I feel sympathy for his parents, for I’ve been there myself, almost 40 years ago.

Divorce is kind of like a death — the death of a relationship, of trust and safety, of comfort and caring, of future.

Yet I do recall that my decision to divorce brought great relief to me, after a time of equally intense agony following betrayal.  In fact, my relief was so strong that it took 2 years for the grief to catch me unawares, and find space in my heart for the important lessons grief will teach.

It took 9 more years of healing, with the help of therapy, dear friends and family and a wonderful spiritual direction, for me to be ready to risk trusting again.  After 26 years of marriage to a wonderful, mature, spiritual, absolutely committed man whom I admire on a daily basis, I am happy to report success and happiness in a relationship that is very much alive.  This doesn’t mean the relationship has been easy, for it has not (we are both very strong-willed individuals).  It doesn?t mean we have never thought of giving up, for both of us has felt tempted at least several times when misunderstandings were heavy.

911 Options for a Marriage

For those times we have collected several 911 Options which I encourage you to try for a year (or at least 6 months) before giving up completely:

* Since the beginning, we committed to read our wedding vows, beautifully framed on our bedroom wall, if one person makes that request.  The vows express our ideals so beautifully, generously, and unselfishly that this solution is guaranteed to shift our entire way of thought and feeling.

* We make an appointment with our couples therapist.

* Pray.  Prayer has helped us when we felt helpless.

* Or, we may be asked by our partner to take responsibility for an issue or a behavior that is interfering with our marital happiness and well-being.  This may mean individual therapy, or joining a 12 step program, or a Compassionate Communication class (NVC) based on the book Non-violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg.  Each of us has proven willing to take such responsibility for self, in service of the marriage and of ourselves.

* We do individual introspection about the issue using the guidance of NVC, or one of the handy apps that make it easy, such as Peace Process for iPhone or NVC Check-In for Android.  This calms us through self empathy, and then empathy for our spouse.  It becomes easy to approach our spouse to first share empathy with him or her, and then share what we feel, need and only then, our strategies to meet our needs.  At that point we are calm enough to hear our partners strategies.  There may be compromises made, but we each leave the conversation feeling renewed trust, peace and harmony.


Couples Therapy

*Marriage therapy has improved a lot in the past 10-15 years.  Even if you found it worthless in the past (it had a poor success rate)– as I did for my first marriage — please try another therapist or approach. Or, try it again if concern about pain, grief and shaken trust of your children and other family and friends who love you both, touches your heart.  It is a fact in my practice that many young people report their worst trauma is the divorce of their parents. Also, in the Kaiser ACES study of ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences” there are 10 adverse categories of experiences.  Parental divorce is one of them.  The more categories of negative experiences a child has experienced, the greater their risk for chronic health problems, including mental health issues.

Thus, I ask you to think through the way your choice will affect your loved ones, now and in the future, before you commit to divorce.

Excellent Options for Couples work:  Gottman Therapy, Sue Johnson’s Attachment based approach based on the book Hold Me Tight, and therapy with an EMDR therapist who helps process individual and couples trauma to prepare individuals for the joint work.

We have therapists who love to help couples save their marriages or relationships.  To find them, please link here:


But Are You in the Danger Zone??

With all of these hopeful suggestions aside, divorce can be a welcome relief when things seem impossible: a violent partner, someone who will not or cannot stop emotional or verbal abuse, or someone who is unrepentant and unwilling to take responsibility to face betrayal, mental illness or addiction to substance or behavior.

Mental Illness:  There has been so much progress in our field, that there has never been a better time to have PTSD, bipolar or major depression, personality disorder, or even schizophrenia.  EMDR Therapy and CBT have been accepted and/or recommended for the treatment of PTSD by the Cochrane Review and the World Health Organization.  Bipolar medications are very excellent and working for many.  Recent evidence is showing that stressful experiences are the cause of both kinds of depression.  EMDR Therapy is an excellent way to treat and overcome stressful experiences that leave one stuck with negative feelings such as depression, anxiety or anger, thoughts, sensations and memories.  It is particularly a good choice if CBT has been tried and failed.

Recent research has shown that even people with psychosis can benefit from EMDR therapy for their traumas.  They are able to decrease their medications doses.  People with schizophrenia can lead happy, productive lives if they commit to their own self care and do whatever it takes to see that through.

For chaotic emotions that accompany bipolar depression and personality disorders, research has proven that attending a comprehensive Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) Training Class is a great help.   Two of my clients who completed an excellent DBT program in San Diego have reported that it is life-changing.  One currently is in the program, working hard to overcome his meth and alcohol addiction, hopeful that his DBT skills will help him with his triggers to use and relapse.

Is One of You Addicted?

to Violence? Criticism? Substance? Behavior?

Some behaviors people can be addicted to include:  Violence. Anger. Criticism. Control. Sex. Gambling. Spending or debting. Emotional Affairs. Substances. Uncontrolled eating. Self-harm behaviors (believe it or not!).

But as an EMDR therapist trained in an exciting new protocol, I know there is still hope in those situations.  The behaviors and substance addiction may not be as impossible to uproot as they seem since the development of EMDR Therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy) by Francine Shapiro, PhD, and particularly since a new EMDR protocol called the Feeling State Addictions Protocol (FSAP) was researched by Robert Miller, PhD.

Generally, an addicted person is actually addicted not to the behavior, but to the best feeling state that ever happened along with the behavior.  The mind remembers that and seeks it again and again.  It usually never quite reaches that original state, but the mind rushes along the same neural network nevertheless, wildly hoping.

We have an article giving more information about this powerful protocol that is making us EMDR therapists who have taken the training very grateful, as well as the clients who see them.

Link here to read more about Addictions and FSAP (the link won’t work currently, please go to ARTICLES and scroll down to “EMDR Feeling State Addictions Protocol in San Diego”

What I ask my clients now is:  Would you like to overcome your interest in your addiction?  This protocol does not require abstinence unless it is a super-powerful drug such as meth or heroin that has the chemical power to return someone to full-blown addiction with just one more exposure.

With other addictions, we work on dissolving the addiction to one feeling state after another.  Each new return to the behavior or substances often reveals an additional feeling state the person is addicted to.  As each one is dissolved, the client is offered “How do you want to experience that feeling in the future?” There is nothing wrong with the feeling state.  What is harmful is when a person thinks there is only one route to the feeling state, and that route/behavior/or substance becomes an obsession.  As the intense behavior-bond to the feeling state dissolves, people realize fully that the route to the feeling is very dysfunctional, inefficient and ineffective.  They may have known that intellectually for years.  However, now their whole being knows the truth of it.  They are then very willing and eager to find other routes to the feeling state.

Examples of Feeling States?

For over-eating   Happily surrounded by happy, loving people (at an all-you-can-eat restaurant)

For smoking:      Blissful connection with the guys (after they won the football championship).  This happened at age 14 (middle school championship) and kept the man smoking into his 60’s.  He tried every way to quit that he could.  The FSAP protocol succeeded for him in 6 sessions.

For alcohol:      Peaceful forgetting of everything (esp. traumatic experiences)

As you can see, these feeling states can be experienced in other ways.  The previously overeating person now enjoys being with happy, loving people in various places without the necessity to overeat.  Instead she consciously enjoys her companions and her feelings of happiness and love.  Food can be a part of it.  Or not.

One other implication of being in the Danger Zone is that there is a corresponding need for forgiveness.  We need to forgive ourselves for the awful things we have done, and for our own healing to be complete, we need to forgive our partner.  Otherwise we carry with us a load of guilt, shame, anger, resentment and other unlovely, dark, heavy, health-destroying emotions.

Forgiveness has been enjoying a great deal of research interest in the past 15 years.  1400 studies have been published.  Health advantages of forgiveness have been documented.  Successful steps for learning forgiveness have been researched.

More about this topic can be found in the article on this website called Why Forgive?

Link here to read or save Why Forgive (Go to ARTICLES and scroll to WHY FORGIVE?)

It is good to give divorce a good, hard look.  It helps you face the facts:  things have gotten really bad.  But first:

Do you believe you have really tried your absolute best to heal yourself — to heal your marriage? Please also give the alternatives I have suggested a good, hard look. If any of them appeal to you, give each one a sincere effort for at least a trial run of 6 months. If you see reason for hope then, you could then sign on for another 6 months.

Take Your Time, Make Your Best Decisions

I believe it is good to take a full year to decide to marry, by getting to know a person. Likewise, it is good to take a full year to decide to divorce, or unmark by getting to know you and your partner as well as you can, at this stage of life.  Sometimes people have simply fallen completely out of touch (AKA “fallen out of love”).  Everything else has become a higher priority. The marriage has been starved.  Starvation can be overcome, and so can that terrible emotional distance or chasm.

From the experience of many therapists, those who don’t take this time to grow and learn the most possible from your current difficulties will just be repeating the habits (eventually) in a new relationship in the future.  Thus, I recommend staying in the relationship now to overcome your own part in the behavior/thinking/feeling patterns while you are in the most challenging time possible (unless there is danger, of course!).  Thus, even if the relationship fails, you will succeed in working out your own kinks and leaving them in the past.  You will be ready for a quantum leap into a new, healthy relationship.  And possibly, the two of you will be ready to take that leap together.

Wishing you much growth, new hope, and greater success than you have had before.  Though the whole process was painful for me, I give thanks for it.  I didn’t have all these tools when I struggled with my first marriage.  Who knows how it would have gone if they were available then.  But I think I gave better care to growth of my next committed relationship, carefully choosing whether to marry a second husband.  And, all that divorce pain gave me great motivation to work hard in my second marriage.  It’s been well worth it.  I now give thanks for my divorce.  But I would work extremely hard to avoid a second divorce.  The stress is great and no fun for anyone.  It will cause pain, in fact, for those who love you both.  They will be able to handle it.  But if they don’t, it’s good.

Best wishes to you and your loved ones no matter what happens or what you decide about divorce, or remaining married.

Many EMDR Therapists can help couples with the challenges that make divorce look tempting.  Please go to FIND A THERAPIST, and search for “couples” in the specialties search field.

Copywrite 2013 Dana Terrell, LCSW, EAC