excerpts from the book Divorce: Making the Break
by David Bell, published by Siles Press
THE MARITAL CONTRACT [pg.5]
A marriage is a series
of innumerable daily contracts between partners. When we analyze the layers
of a marital relationship, its remarkable how complicated the coexistence
As individuals, we need a safe,
supportive emotional and physical environment that allows us to grow.
Each of us has a strong will to shape and control our life environment.
All group dynamicswhether
in a corporation, a sports team, or a marriagehave an inherent tension
between the needs/wants of the individual and the needs/wants of the group
or partnership. Finding an appropriate balance between them can be difficult.
Almost every minute of married
life represents a negotiated contractual agreement with a spouseour
job, our house, the car we drive, how money is earned and spent, which
side of the bed we sleep on, where our toothbrush and comb are stored.
A surprising number of these
are unspoken contracts that just evolve into the fabric of daily life.
And, being unspoken, they may not be good contracts but are assumptions
that each partner has about the marriage. Assumptions are often a result
of poor communicationone partner can assume the other has entered
into a contract when the other has no clue a contract existed.
Many of these assumptions may
be carryovers from the family life each partner experienced as a child
(Dad maintained the house and car; Mom was primary child-care provider)
and may not have a major effect on the partnership. However, other assumptions
may indeed have a negative impact on the partnership.
Throughout the marriage each
partner has a conscious or unconscious list of which marital contracts
(and assumptions) he/she would like to see remain intact and which he/she
would like to see change over time. These lists may not be the same for
As the years go by, the contracts
that were clearly articulated and understood by both parties face the
test of changing times and changing life situations. The assumptions face
the test of becoming clearly defined (and sometimes surprising) realitiesor
the assumptions may never be clearly defined. For many people, these changes,
clearly defined realities or lack of resolution creates conflict that
can become intolerable.
The marital contract is broken.
Marital contracts come in different shapes and sizes.
Small broken contracts can
begin to accumulate and cause stress on the marriage. The bemused tolerance
we exhibited at the start of the marriage about her not putting her shoes
in the closet, him leaving the toilet seat up, her not changing the oil
in her car, him watching sports on television may, over years, change
to resentment and begin to take a toll.
next level of broken contracts is more serious: promises to stop smoking,
to get and keep a job, to curtail excessive spending, to spend more time
with the family, to communicate with each other, to commit ones
energies, love and dedication to the marriage and the family.
The most severe level of breaking
the marital contract involves such things as sexual infidelity, drug or
alcohol abuse, emotional or physical abuse, addictive gambling or addictive
spending of the family money, withholding love and support in times of
personal tragedy. These are difficult to overcome.
Not all marital changes or
broken contracts are entirely negative or ill-intentioned. What one spouse
regards as growth or change, the other spouse may feel is betrayal. For
example, one partner may make drastic changes in employment choices, religious
beliefs, life philosophies, definitions of intimacy, even changes in declared
And sometimes chaotic life
events completely out of our control can destroy a marriage. [Continued
on page 7 of the book.]
reality of separation and divorce set in, you may experience a whirlwind
of emotions: disbelief, anger, sorrow, shame. You may also experience
symptoms typical of mild depression: lack of concentration, bouts of crying,
fatigue. You may even experience relief. While in this emotional maelstrom,
you must make some of the most important choices of your life.
The choices you make during
the divorce process may set the tone for many yearsperhaps foreverof
your dealings with your ex-spouse. In the future, you will need to cooperate
with the other parent of your children; now is the time to create an environment
that makes this possible.
This is a time when your humanity
and morality will be tested, a time that will define your character. It
is easy to be moral when life is flowing smoothly. You must look beyond
the pain and turmoil of the moment and make choices that will best serve
you, your childrenand, yes, their other parentin the long
You know your estranged spouses
weaknesses, his or her most vulnerable spots. You can choose to use this
knowledge as a weapon in legal paperwork and court filings, or you can
act with restraint. It is one of the moral challenges you will face in
As Judith Viorst notes in her
excellent book Necessary Losses, No two adults can do each
other more damage than husband and wife.
This can be especially true
The greatest challenges in divorce are to:
1) clearly define
goals that have integrity (for instance, minimizing the negative impact
of the divorce on your children, keeping parent/child relationships intact
and healthy, not using your life energy to punish or harass your ex);
2) figure out how to achieve those goals with the least conflict and least
Its beneficial to use these two points as a framework for decision
making and for discussions with your attorney if you retain one. The clarity
and communication achieved in these conversations will help your case
in many ways.
Stay focused and keep your
eyes on the prize. Do not allow yourself to be knocked off course by your
own negative behavior and emotions, your ex-spouses negative behavior
and emotions, or the weaknesses of the family law system. Think before
Exercise restraint. React slowly
to conflicts with your ex-spouse. Try to keep your interactions on a strictly
business level until you are able to handle closer ties. Take time
to cool off if you are placed in an emotionally volatile situation. (Id
rather continue this discussion when our emotions are not so high. I promise
to call you tomorrow). Hot-button issues may need to be dealt with
in mediation and/or counseling.
Many of the issues that seem
absolutely crucial to you during the emotionally charged period at the
beginning of a divorce will have little or no importance in a year or
on page 11.]
A child is being
brainwashed when one parent does or says something in an attempt to undermine
the childs relationship with the other parent.
Brainwashing children can be
subtle (one parent minimizing the existence of the other by erasing any
reference to him/her in conversation or photos) or overt (Your father
doesnt love youhe doesnt send me enough money to take
care of you!).
Brainwashing is sending the
child a message that says, in effect: You and I are allies against
the world. We are best buddies. I wish you didnt have to be with
that other parent, but theres nothing I can do about ityou
and I are victims of a system that wrenches you away from me three days
a week and that forces me to share you with the other parent. Someday
youll be old enough to choose where you want to live, and I just
know youll choose my house.
Brainwashing or programming
children is usually done to convince the child that one parent is better
and more loving than the other. Parents who excessively demonize the ex-spouse
want their viewpoint to be validated by othersespecially by the
children. If they can sway the children to vote for them,
it validates them as the good person and the ex-spouse as the bad person.
A 1991 study of 700 families
titled Children Held Hostage: Dealing with Programmed and Brainwashed
Children (Clawar and Rivlin, American Bar Association, 1991) reported
that brainwashing and programming occurred at least occasionally in eighty
percent of families. The study found that some level of brainwashing and
programming occurred more than once a week in fifty percent of families
and, in the families who were experiencing high-conflict divorces, brainwashing
and programming commonly occurred more than once a day.
In the book Healing Hearts, author Elizabeth Hickey writes:
the Clawar and Rivlin study, women are often the worst offenders. Bitter
mothers represent the majority of likely programmers. The study contends
that women have a sense of ownership of their children and a conditioned
view of their role. Also, women are overwhelmingly awarded
custody of their children and thus spend more time with their children.
once upon a time you, too, could see the good in the childs other
parent. Your child now stands at that point.
What is best
for [children] is a healthy relationship with both parents, and they
need permission from each parent to enjoy a relationship with the other.
result in severe, long-term emotional damage to children. It distorts
their perception of reality. For instance, they may perceive Mom as a
good parent, but that doesnt coincide with what they hear Dad saying
about her. This can result in children doubting their own sense of reality,
having low self-esteem, withdrawing from relationships, becoming mistrustful
or misinterpreting the world around themin extreme form, all symptoms
Brainwashing children may backfire
against the parent who does it. When children grow up and learn the truth
about both parents, learn that they have been lied to and used as a tool
for one parents vindictiveness, they sometimes limit or sever contact
with that parent.
In extreme form, the programming
of children is known as parental alienation (PA) and parental
alienation syndrome (PAS). In the book Divorce Casualties,
Douglas Darnell defines the difference between the two:
focuses on how the alienating parent behaves toward the children and
the targeted parent. Parental alienation syndrome symptoms describe
the childs behaviors and attitudes toward the targeted parent
after the child has been effectively programmed and severely alienated
from the targeted parent.
brainwashing or parental alienation may result in a court cutting back
or terminating child custody for the offending parent. [Continued
on page 64..]
Unless your divorce
is very amicable and your financial situation is very simple, I highly
recommend some degree of involvement by an ethical family law professional.
I have heard it said that it is possible to file your own divorce and
also possible to cut your own hair, but doing either carries great potential
for an unhappy result.
Even if you retain attorneys
and accountants, it is crucial that you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse
communicate directly or through a mediator to keep the family law professionals
from escalating the hostilities. In this book you will find guidance in
helping you choose an ethical attorney.
In most cases, the divorce
turmoil will eventually settle down. It will probably take two or three
years after a divorce is finalized for most of the healing process to
be completed. This is why finalizing the divorce as quickly as possible
and setting up a cooperative shared-parenting relationship with your ex-spouse
should be your main goalsand the goals of your attorney. An ethical
attorney will promote this even though it may not be what you want to
hear (throughout the divorce process, keep in mind that an ethical attorney
will tell you the painful truth, but an unethical attorney will tell you
what you want to hear; more about this later).
I do not believe there is such
a thing as winning in the family court system. Perhaps it should be viewed
more as minimizing your losses. In divorce there are many losses, both
emotional and material. You will need to compromise on many issues, and
it will probably be painful. Divorce is the dismantling of a union or
partnership that took years of love and effort to createit is the
end of something that was dear to you at one time.
However, divorce can also bring
hope. Hope is one of the most crucial elements in human existence, and,
in a bad marriage, there is very little of it.
You now have a chance to build
a new life.
information or purchase
go online to www.divorcemakingthebreak.com
or visit your local bookstore.