Michele Weiner Davis gives a presentation at the 2010 Smart Marriages Conference about a therapist’s techniques in divorce prevention. Although strategy can play a major role in preventing divorce, Michele highlights that a marriage therapist’s biases, beliefs, perceptions, etc., play a greater role in a marriage’s outcome than anything else.
Diane Sollee: Before Michele Weiner Davis came along…you saw her up here with me…she doesn’t look like a pioneer, I know. But she’s really a very serious scholar, writer, speaker, trainer and a pioneer. Before she came along, the cool thing to do was to be neutral about marriage divorce. It’s just the way the field was. Michele and I can still remember the day the minute, the hour, that she gave her first keynote called Divorce Busting. She was a keynote with someone giving a talk called the “The Good Divorce”. And we knew that person was going to get roses thrown at her, and we feared that people were going to throw tomatoes, cantaloupes, cucumbers, we didn’t know what was going to happen. From that moment on, Michele’s life was never the same, and I’d say mine was never the same either. It was the change. She talked about unnecessary divorce. In 1990, Michele changed our field.
Michele Weiner-Davis: Once upon a time, before there was a Smart Marriages Conference, which was in 1990, Diane asked me to do that keynote address on the work I was doing with couples. It really created quite a stir, because at that time it was really politically incorrect for a therapist inparticular to have a stance on divorce that was anything other than neutral. But there I stood in front of 4,000 people and I had the audacity to say that most marriages can, and should be saved. And that we had more than 20 years of to look at the results of rapid divorce and disposal marriages, and as far as I was concerned, divorce often caused more problems than it created, especially when there were children involved. And so I decided to take a stand, or maybe it’s more correct to say, that a stand took me.
But I needed tools, because the tools I learned in graduate school were failing me miserably. And one of the tools I had learned, I think many of you have learned it as well, is that if you can just get people to open up, to share openly about their feelings, then all of their problems will be resolved. In fact, my therapist mantra no matter what people were talking about, I’d stop them and say, “but tell me how you feel about that”.
So I went back to the drawing board, and for those of you who know me, I studied with the late Steve DeShazer, and I learned everything I could about solution focused therapy. I was so passionate about what I was learning, I decided to stick around and become part of their staff and I did research with Steve for another three years. And to say that I hooked on solution focused therapy is really an understatement: I was addicted.
And then somewhere around the late 1980s, I had an epiphany. The solution focused model, with its focus on goals and solutions and people’s strengths seemed like the perfect answer for couples teetering on the brink of divorce. Couples who didn’t have the luxury of time for elaborate psycho-archeological digs into the past. I adapted the model to my work with couples, and voila, the couples in my practice were not only leaving with their marriages in tact, they were falling in love again. And I was higher than a kite. That’s when I wrote Divorce Busting.
And it wasn’t long after that when I became a full time Divorce Buster. Working truly with the 911 couples who had filed for divorce, they were already separated, they were unfaithful blaming, mistrusting, uncommunicative, and addicted. But the longer I worked with these extremely challenged couples, the more they changed their minds about divorce.
I lived, breathed, and slept, solution focused techniques. I had become one with them. I could think of nothing else. I was diagnosable. Anyways, I had become a believer in the techniques I was teaching. But then something happened…
I began to question whether in fact, the techniques were at the root in the positive change in peoples lives, or could it possibly be something else. I am convinced that it is something else, and that’s my Divorce Busting Secret # 1…