Shrinks to Gosselins: Try Divorce Counseling

Counseling, business relationship may prevent "killing the children."

BySusan Donaldson James
June 24, 2009, 5:49 PM

June 25, 2009— -- When reality-TV star Jon Gosselin said he was throwing in the towel without marriage counseling, his wife Kate and their 10.6 million television viewers were not the only ones aghast.

Psychologists suggested that the couple needed divorce counseling -- therapy not to save the train-wreck marriage, but to establish a better relationship going forward, as they continue to raise their eight children.

"There's a lot of sensationalism in these TV reality series and people throw out a lot of new techniques," said Jody Deluca, a clinical psychologist from Odessa, Fla. "But this couple really needs to renegotiate their relationship."

"Because of the children, they have to start from scratch with new rules to abide by, whether it's remarriage or divorce."

Kate Gosselin has said to People magazine that it was her husband of 10 years who asked for the divorce. The show, which is in its fifth season, has been a "portrait of an American family crumbling," People deputy managing editor Peter Castro told ABC.

Divorce counseling or therapy is a relatively new concept in the mental health field. With one in two marriages ending in divorce, counseling through the "hostility and anger" is critical, Deluca said.

"You are talking about emotional chaos," she told

In the past, many couples have weathered that storm without help.

Matthew Bailey of Medina, Ohio, divorced his wife after he discovered she had cheated on him with someone from work.

"I tried counseling once but then decided to suck it up and not be one of those guys who takes a woman back after that," he said. "After almost a year, I haven't needed any counseling on my own.

"All you have to do is stop being angry and you don't need therapy," he said. "Life is what you make of it. Suck it up."

But psychologists say divorce counseling helps couples strengthen their communications and negotiation skills.

And when there are children involved, the process also helps them accept the end of the marriage, avoiding self-blame, guilt and anger.

Divorce Counseling Sets Rules

Divorce counseling can include issues related to alcohol and drugs, sleep, eating habits, hygiene and grooming, decision making, job performance and financial management.

Most often, Deluca helps couple reinvigorate and repair their marriages, but when divorce is inevitable, she helps them set down "rules of engagement."

"Many times there has been a breakdown in communication," she said. "They must be on the same team until the divorce is final, especially if there are children involved."

As in marital therapy, counselors work on behavior-management techniques. Deluca begins by having the couple write down the pros and cons of their marriage and reading them aloud.

"I have them agree to disagree," Deluca said. "We come up with rules for arguing. He says, 'Under no circumstances will you call me a wimp.' She says, 'It's not acceptable to come home after 9 p.m."

Couples must adhere to no naming-calling and "time-outs" when arguments get explosive.

"Whoever is more emotionally in control leaves the war field," she said. "Some couples give a signal that's unique to the couple: 'It's getting out of hand, we are in the middle of a war.' Someone has to be in control enough to walk away."

Don't fight in front the children: "They will carry this emotional memory for the rest of their lives," she said. Don't drag in outsiders like family and friends: "It makes it worse," she said.

But some couples are skeptical of counseling once the relationship fails.

Suzanne Garnmeister of Greenville, S.C., noticed her husband of eight years beginning to act "increasingly odd" in the summer of 1999.

"Normally even-tempered, he became angry and volatile," she told

Garnmeister was getting her college degree and couldn't pin down what was going on, but he soon asked for a divorce.

"I was completely devastated, and requested counseling, which he agreed to," she said. "However, when we were in counseling, he was never honest. He was hostile and resentful, but never admitted that he'd had an affair."

Therapy Only Works With Honesty

Two years later, she found about the affair when she found a letter he had written to his girlfriend.

"When I saw how Jon Gosselin was acting, it reminded me of how my ex acted at that time," she said. "In order to deal with the guilt he was feeling, he made me the 'bad guy' to justify his actions.

"I don't think counseling works unless both parties are honest," she said.

Ken Warner of Florence, N.J., tried marriage counseling with his first wife, even though he had made up his mind about divorce.

"We had one child and that played a big part of why I went," he told "My experience there was that it wasn't going to help; I had already made my mind up and wanted out of the marriage. The counselor couldn't change my mind. What could they possibly say?"

The couple had multiple pressures, not owning a home and renting from Warner's mother. His brother was also living with the couple.

"My wife couldn't stand him, but she was a real tough person and, at the end, I had enough of her too, she always had to be in charge, or she was a yeller." he said. "No counselor was going to change that."

But therapists say that the "crisis" of divorce is an opportunity for learning and personal growth, especially because an estimated 70 to 80 percent of those who divorce will remarry.

Such was the case with Washington, D.C., divorce lawyer Marjorie Just, 41, who sought counseling to cope with her own divorce eight years ago and today is remarried.

"In the aftermath of my separation and divorce it was incredibly healthy not only for venting, but also examining what I did to contribute to the relationship and what I was looking for in my marriage," she told

Just has been successful the second time around, even though 60 percent of all second marriages fail.

Divorce therapy can be difficult, but "some people are craving it," said Just, author of "Divorce Decisions."

"They don't want to be at war with the person who they loved and built a home with for years," she told "Not everyone is consumed by hatred by the end of the marriage."

She recommends counseling for all those going through a divorce, especially parents. "The marriage may be ending, but the relationship doesn't," Just said.

Today, the concept of divorce therapy has moved into the legal arena in a mediation process called "collaborative divorces."

All parties sign an agreement at the onset. The lawyers consent not to litigate against each other. They also agree that if the collaborative process fails, neither lawyer can represent them in court.

"The incentive for the clients is to have to come up with another retainer," Just said. "The incentive for the lawyers is if they can't resolve it, they've lost a client."

The goal is to allow couples to "transform" themselves out of conflict and to "move on and have a better life," said Roberta Eisen, whose Washington, D.C., counseling practice focuses on restructuring families.

Divorce therapy is designed "so we don't kill the children in the war," Eisen told

Sadly, she said, the Gosselins have made divorce "chic."

What counseling and, in some cases, collaborative divorce can do is "help them shift into respectful business-like relationships, to transition into the business of parenting children."

About 25 percent of couples "get it," Eisen said.

"But there are 25 percent down at the bottom who are really stuck in the mud and half of them have serious pathologies or other reasons that are holding them there," she said. "They are not willing to do the work."

"We aim for the 50 percent in the middle," Eisen said. "They could go either way -- stick in the trenches or rise above their own issues."

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