It is Motzei Rosh Hashanah as I write this letter. I have been a therapist for over thirty years and devote a large part of my practice to marital and pre-marital therapy. This year I have had many clients seeking my services after they sought help from other frum therapists. Regarding this, I wish to address the following phenomena:
The frum therapist told many of these couples during the first or second session that they should get divorced. This situation, which has taken place throughout my years in practice, has recently become more prevalent. Yes, there are many frum therapists who do not advocate divorce, but I have to wonder why any therapist would push divorce as an option when clearly the couple is attending therapy to receive help in saving the marriage? If the couple wanted to get divorced they would go to a beis din to secure one. Even the rabbanim who run the batei din try to get the couple to first seek therapy before possibly (and unfortunately) proceeding with a divorce.
Please, readers, tell others as you would advise yourselves: do not continue seeking counsel from a therapist who sees you once and advises you, based on that sole session, to get divorced. Just this Erev Yom Tov I ran into a couple that I treated 20 years ago. At that time this issue was not as common, but they had also gone to a frum therapist who in one session told them to get divorced. They were then referred to me and I had them undergo extensive therapy for six months. It was a difficult case, with the husband needing to work out his anger issues. After teaching anger management techniques to him and effective countermoves to offset his anger to her, they remained married and had several more children.
So 20 years later, they said to me, “We just had our fifth grandchild! We can’t believe we are meeting you!”
This newest grandchild was from the child they had after therapy, a child who would never have been born had they gotten divorced. They told me that they were basically happy and were friends with divorced couples whose lives turned out to be a big mess. They described how the other couples’ children had problems or were off the derech, and how they had so much nachas with their amazing children.
“Being married is not easy and we work on it every day, but we see the fruits of our labor and we share a deep love and conviction. In spite of all obstacles we work things out,” they said. They joyfully told me all the great techniques that they use until this day to ensure that they keep their marriage intact. They continue, even after they stopped going for therapy, to have a date night once a week. They work on complimenting each other and, for the most part, the anger is no longer an active force in their marriage. They still have disputes, but they are manageable and are not of the same nature as the ones they had pre-therapy. This couple learned conflict resolution and the husband has kept his anger in check all these years. For her part, the wife knows how to avoid making her husband angry and how to keep him calm.
It is not easy to be married, but it is surely not easy to be divorced. In certain situations there is no alternative to divorce, but if a couple is willing to work together, a therapist has an open door for the possibility of success. If the husband or wife, however, refuses to seek help or to work on his or her deficiency, the situation becomes more difficult. But even in such cases, I have taught the cooperative spouse (usually the healthier one) how to use effective countermoves to make a difficult marriage work. Other great techniques include imago therapy, with the couple learning how their childhood issues are affecting their marriage and how to deal with those issues.
So, my dear readers, if you go to a therapist one time – with your spouse or alone – and the therapist tells you to get divorced, please seek out another therapist. You can always get divorced, but first try as hard as possible to save your marriage. This may entail not always getting your way; it may mean giving in at times. You may have to learn to agree to disagree on certain issues, and you will have to work on dealing with your anger more effectively – in the process learning self-control. But all this will make you a better person and better able to work on developing good middos.