by Edward A. Dreyfus, Ph.D.

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All too often divorcing couples do so in an atmosphere of hostility. They forget that they once were in love with one another. This is indeed unfortunate. Divorce ranks second only to death of a loved one as the most stressful of life’s experiences. The stress in inevitable. But the strife is not.

Usually there are other variables at play that lead to the acrimony accompanying divorce. Frequently the acrimony covers pain and hurt. This is true regardless of who feels like the injured party. Pain is integral to loss. In a divorce there are many losses. The loss of the fantasy of marriage and the magic of the relationship, the loss of the friendship, the loss of friends, a lifestyle, a home, familiarity, children, loss of love, identity, to name but a few of the losses.

When we are angry we do not have to experience the hurt and the loss. We can cover the pain with anger, at least temporarily. Sometimes our anger is directed toward the other person for not being all that we wanted them to be or expected them to be. Sometimes we are angry because they other person did not change; we think, “if only s/he would change then we would not have to divorce.”

Sometimes we feel angry because we have been victimized by our spouse. We feel like the injured party and we want to fight back. We want to hurt the other person in the same way we feel hurt. So what do we do? We hire a lawyer to help us get back at our spouse. We want to hurt our spouse while we are protecting ourselves.

Sometimes we are angry at ourselves for not being a better spouse, for not knowing better, for not paying attention, for not being all that we might have been. Rather than get angry at ourselves, we get angry at our spouse. Sometimes we fight about who gets the dog or the dishes so we can feel empowered.

Sometimes we get depressed, too. We blame ourselves, we feel guilty. We are ashamed. So we hire a lawyer to help us give everything to our spouse in order to make amends for real or imagined hurts that we have inflicted.

Divorce Counseling and Divorce Mediation

One of the reasons that divorce often takes as long as it does is because many issues just mentioned are being acted out during the course of the dissolution. An alternative to the expensive, stressful, and time-consuming approach of a litigated, hotly contested divorce is to try either divorce counseling and/or divorce mediation.

Divorce counseling, when conducted by a licensed mental health practitioner who specializes in working with divorcing couples, can help the couple sort out the emotional from the practical issues of the divorce. As I pointed out earlier, anger over practical issues such as property is usually a product of lingering resentment with regard to the relationship, not the property itself. Once the couple can resolve or at least clarify the cause of the anger, reasonable negotiations can occur. (Unfortunately, many couples have to learn the hard way that the court will, more often than not, come to the same conclusion regarding the property that the couple could have come to had they not been so angry.)

Divorce counseling is concerned with helping the couple gain some sense of closure regarding their relationship. It can help the parties grieve their loss preparing them to move into the future, perhaps not as friends, but at least not as enemies.

Divorce mediation is the healthy alternative to a litigated divorce. The focus of a mediated divorce is on reaching an equitable solution to such issues as spousal support, property division, child custody, visitation, etc. The couple meets with a mediator (or in my practice a mediation team consisting of a lawyer and a psychologist) to resolve each and every item. Without assessing blame or fault, the mediator helps the divorcing parties develop alternative solutions for addressing their specific areas of conflict.

By choosing mediation, the parties talk to each other, rather than through their attorneys. This direct communication resolves conflicts in less time and is less costly than traditional litigation. When children are involved in a dispute, the mediation process encourages parents to focus on their children’s best interests and to maintain a relationship with their children while the parties design a parenting plan.

Each party has control in a mutual, decision-making process. Mutual expression of perceptions, values and emotions are allowed, thereby reducing damage to important family relationships. This enables the parties to tailor a personalized agreement which resolves their individual and unique concerns and reflects the best interests of their children.

An important goal for successful mediation is reaching a fair agreement. The parties decide what is fair, not the attorneys and not a judge.


Dr. Edward A. Dreyfus is a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage, Family, Child Therapist, and Sex Therapist. Dr. Dreyfus has been providing psychological services in the Los Angeles-Santa Monica area for over 30 years. He offers individual psychotherapy to adolescents and adults, divorce mediation, couples counseling, group therapy, and career and vocational counseling and assessment.His book, Someone Right For You, is available in the Amazing Bookstore Catalog.

Dr. Dreyfus can be reached at: (310) 208-5700.


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