Phobia of Divorce:One Last Perspective/Rabbi Dr. Yehuda Krohn

Posted on June 8, 2013


A distinction that is useful for me starts with the following question:  Is the individual projecting primarily positive or negative traits of self onto his or her spouse? 

Many of the clients about whom Dr. Klafter speaks – those who suffer from “divorce-o-phobia” – have relinquished their capacity for self-love, self-nurturance and self-direction.  Over the course of time, they’ve, in the least, located love, nurturance and direction as originating in the other.  For them, divorce can only portend a profound sense of loneliness; it may even be experienced as a fragmentation of self.  Those who project their positive qualities outward may face serial infidelity, consistently demeaning interactions and insoluble binds with their partners.  Still they are incapable of setting boundaries.  They may be reluctant to share expectations or even make requests of their spouses for fear of causing irreparable damage to the marriage and by extension their selves.  Here, a focus is to help them develop an awareness of their capacity to love, nurture and direct their selves.  This, in turn, allows them to take reasonable risks in and with the marriage, with the goal of saving the marriage. 

On the other side of the spectrum are those individuals who locate most of the negative aspects of self in their spouse.  They may view themselves as optimistic, reasonable and responsible, whereas their spouses are fundamentally flawed.  They blame their spouses and only their spouses for bad outcomes in terms of child-rearing, financial security and overall marital harmony.  In short, they project rage, issues with self-regulation and poor parenting onto their spouses.  Many of these individuals walk into couples therapy convinced that the lion’s share of their problems would simply evaporate were they to divorce. 

For those who project primarily negative qualities onto their spouse, the initial work typically involves inviting them to envision a realistic picture of divorce.  How may of the problems will disappear?  How many will actually intensify, or in the least, repeat themselves, were the individual to pursue divorce?

Rarely, is only one type of projection present with a given couple in therapy.  One member may project positive qualities and always seem to be pursuing her partner.  The other may project negative qualities and always seem to be distancing himself from his partner.  Interestingly, the dynamic can flip flop mid-therapy, with the pursuer finally deciding to set firm limits and the distancer suddenly discovering he cannot live without his partner.  In fact, many individuals simultaneously project positive and negative qualities onto their spouses and thus are in the impossible bind of being unable to leave and unable to stay.  In order to avoid extreme distress, they may either find travel jobs or locate distant relatives who need caretaking, so that they can leave and return again and again.  

With all of this, I find the most useful divorce-related question, in terms of furthering healthy change, to be: Can you realistically look at divorce – neither magnifying nor minimizing its effects – as you plot a course moving forward?

Rabbi Yehuda Krohn, Psy.D. works with individuals, couples and families in his Lincolnwood, Illinois practice.