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Book Review: The Healthy Divorce: Keys to Ending Your Marriage While Preserving your Emotional Well-Being

by Joan B. Kelly, Ph.D.
April 2009 The Healthy Divorce: Keys to Ending your Marriage While Preserving your Emotional Well-Being
Gold, Lois. The Healthy Divorce: Keys to Ending your Marriage While Preserving your Emotional Well-Being. Sphinx Publishing, 2009.

Reviewed by Joan B. Kelly, PhD

This book is an updated version of Between Love and Hate: A Guide to Civilized Divorce, originally published in 1992. At that time, I was troubled by the continuing portrayal by the American media and movies of American divorces as destructive, poisonous, hateful processes and behaviors reminiscent of War of the Rose, and widely recommended Lois Gold’s book to mental health and legal professionals and separating partners and spouses to educate them about a better way to separate and divorce.

As in 1992, in The Healthy Divorce, Lois Gold again provides a powerful antidote to the self-defeating stereotype of the hostile divorce, and provides tools offering hope and healing. It appears at a good time in the evolution of the American divorce process. In the past 20 years, divorce education programs for parents and divorce and custody mediation have become well established processes across much of the U.S. for helping parents separate and divorce in a more civil, less terminally destructive manner. Collaborative law is now following the same path to acceptance, and increasing numbers of partners seek to obtain their own divorce without professional assistance through the use of self-help information and formats. I no longer get dozens of phone calls from the media asking if mediation canreally work. Reporters and interviewers now seem more accepting of empirical research that the majority of divorcing men and women did not have extreme conflict and violence in their marriages, do not want revenge. They are angry but not raging, disappointed but not hateful, have some interest in thinking about their children’s interests and a future co-parenting relationship, and some even begrudgingly wish the former partner well. These are normal responses to divorce. The majority of separating parents do have some minimal ability to communicate and 20-30% are willing to cooperate about their children and are supportive of each other as parents.

The Healthy Divorce is a wonderful book. Immensely readable, very human, at times quite moving, it is packed with information that will help couples divorce in a more civilized way. It is an excellent resource as well for mediators, psychotherapists, and attorneys who assist divorcing couples. Lois Gold has managed the difficult task of integrating diverse fields of knowledge and expertise, including family systems theory and practice, communication skills, negotiation theory and mediation concepts and skills, research on divorcing adults and children, and clinical observation. This book could have been three books, each quite separate, focusing on the adult process of disengaging from marriage and moving toward healing, parenting during and after divorce, and preparing for and successfully mediating divorce agreements. It is extremely helpful for the reader experiencing the bewildering facets of divorce to have these difficult processes combined in a way that mirrors their reality.

Even today, with dozens of self-help books about separation and divorce available, The Healthy Divorce stands out from others due to the extent to which readers are given genuine help in learning about and beginning the process of separating their behavior from their strong feelings. A wide range of exercises and self-evaluation tools are provided for the reader to take multiple steps toward achieving a civilized divorce: checklists, written and visualization exercises, brief questionnaires, key pointers, practical advice, sample letters, and symbolic gestures and rituals—each is intended to promote more rational thinking, more effective action, more enlightened self-interest, and, ultimately, healing and a moving forward.

The Healthy Divorce has charted the high road. The book invites divorcing spouses to consciously choose a better course of action, explains why it is in their self-interest to do so, and provides the tools necessary to achieve the goals of civility and dignity. The author continually acknowledges the powerful and normal feelings of anger, of wanting to hit back, of wanting to flee from interaction, of wanting to embroil the children in loyalty conflicts. The pain that divorce parties experience is never given short shrift, but that pain is set within a broader perspective of what the individual may gain in the longer term. Healthy divorces increase and preserve self-esteem, empower the participants, promote a better adjustment for children and adults, and enable parents to retain or improve their working partnership on behalf of the children.

I have talked to many youngsters over the past 30 years whose parents are attempting to navigate a healthy divorce. While they express sadness that their parents are divorcing, they are spared the stress, anger, and depression from having to endure the multiple injurious behaviors of parents who have chosen to engage in divorce warfare. They have not been asked to choose between parents; they have been given tacit or open permission to talk about and express love for either parent in the presence of the other; they have not witnessed fights or overheard raging phone calls demeaning the other parent. They have access to both parents in person and by phone. Their parents have cooperated to attempt to meet the children’s needs, and schedules have been modified when necessary to accommodate a child’ or parent’s needs. What is touching is that these youngsters actually understand how their parents’ behaviors are different from those of so many of their friends’ divorcing parents. And they are deeply grateful. They feel cherished and loved. Although they wish the divorce didn’t have to happen, it is not perceived as a death knell to their own aspirations and happiness.

The contrast between these respected and protected children and those who remain at the center of continuing parental controversy and reciprocal punitive reactions is striking. The latter, timid of expressing any interest whatsoever in one parent in the presence of the other, careful to draw boxes around their activities with each parent, stressed by being caught in the middle and encouraged to report, distort, spy, and reject, grow wary and weary, distrustful, and ultimately cynical. While their parents may feel they won the battle, the children feel as though they have lost the war. They deserve much better.

A healthy divorce is possible. It is difficult. It takes resolve, maturity, conscious effort, learning, practice, and self-evaluation. The long-lasting outcomes for those participants who decide to divorce in a healthy, civilized manner are worth it, for themselves and their children. The Healthy Divorce shows them the way.

Biography


Joan B. Kelly, Ph.D. is a clinical child psychologist. For 45 years, her research, practice, teaching and publications have focused on research in children’s adjustment to divorce, custody and access issues, divorce and custody mediation, applications of child development research to custody and parenting plans, and Parenting Coordination.  She has published more than 130 articles and chapters, including a classic book, Surviving the Breakup:  How Children and Parents Cope with Divorce (Basic Books, 1980). 

Dr. Kelly was Founder and Executive Director of the Northern California Mediation Center for 20 years, and a mediator, forensic expert, custody evaluator, therapist, consultant, and Parenting Coordinator in high conflict custody cases. She was a founding Board member and President of the Board of Directors of the Academy of Family Mediators, and received the Distinguished Mediator Award from AFM, the Distinguished Research Award and the Meyer Elkin Award from the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association. She recently retired. 



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