Michigan Family Institute Newsletter
www.mifamilytherapy.com        248-593-4784
September  2012
In This Issue
Helping Teens Caught in Difficult Divorces
Marriage: When is it bad enough to ask for help?


Power and Compassion: Working with difficult adolescents  

(Guilford Press 1996)

Jerome A. Price


Take Control of Your Divorce

(Impact Publications 2011)

Margerum J, Price J, and Windell J 

Defusing the High Conflict Divorce 

(Impact Publications 2007)

Gaulier B, Margerum J, Price J, Windell J


The Right to Be the Grownup
A Parent Skills Training     Curriculum 
(Zeig-Tucker Publications 2003)

Price J, Margerum  J 


As a courtesy to the many trusted professionals who refer to us, we offer presentations for staff development and for parents in schools or treatment programs at no charge.
Subjects are many and varied and can be coordinated with your program's needs.

Just call or email us

Let us know which of the following groups would be helpful to you and your clients.

  • TUNE UP YOUR MARRIAGE: It's not that bad but could be better. 
  • THE RIGHT TO BE THE GROWNUP: Helping Parents Be Parents to Their Difficult Teens  

Please call or email us with your preferences or with other subjects you'd like us to speak on or do groups for. We're interested in what will best meet the needs of you and your clients.


Helping Children Caught in Difficult Divorces

Jerome A. Price, MA, LMFT, LMSW


As I developed as a therapist I found myself treating progressively more troubled teenagers and preteens. The more deeply I became involved in their lives the clearer it became that there was a pattern. About half of my client families were from many and varied situations. However, the other half of these families were either currently undergoing a painful divorce or were caught in an ongoing divorce struggle.


In these divorce-based cases, I found myself with a choice. I could see the parent who brought the child and stay safe, or I could try to get a positive connection with the other parent as well.  


Post-divorce co-parents are embroiled in a much more heavily polarized struggle than the average family is who walks in our doors. This polarity faces all professionals with the challenge of living in two worlds at the same time when those two worlds contradict each other. This is also the world the child or teenager lives in. We must start by showing everyone that we will be respectful and inclusive with both parents despite the other parent's heinous description of his or her ex-spouse.


Whether a therapist, teacher, social worker, counselor attorney or judge, we are trained to live in these two worlds whereas a young person isn't. The intensity of the feelings and world views of these divorced parents often pull us into buying in to one person's position. If we professionals can be co-opted by this intensity, imagine the effect it has on a child or a teen who thrives on drama.


The heart of our professional role is to be the one party in this divorce situation who helps everyone see that more than one world view can simultaneously co-exist. Both parents can believe that they were the better parent in the marriage and have evidence to prove it. This level of ambiguity, though, causes serious anxiety in most children and teens. The obvious way for them to resolve this ambiguous source of anxiety is to side with one parent. Then the world becomes understandable.


There is another option, though. Whether we, as the professional, were brought in to the case by the court, referred to for therapy or thrust into the family because the child is in our school, there's something we can do to immediately help the child. We can make them a deal. We can ask them to allow us to take their place in the middle. Once we've heard their concerns we can offer to help solve the problems that they are continuing to attempt to solve unsuccessfully.


We can explain that parents are more likely to accept criticism from a professional than they are from their child. We can further point out that this is an activity that we do routinely and, in fact, get paid to do. The child or teen is doing it pro bono and getting no appreciation. Most importantly, if something we say or do antagonizes a parent, we don't have to go home with that parent. It's remarkable how many children and teens this makes sense to.

If he or she agrees to the deal, we shake hands on it. We can ask them to keep us informed of situations that he or she would ordinarily jump in the middle of so that we can intervene in it instead. Once we're in the middle in their place we can work to make it so that there is no middle by negotiating, intervening and generally helping support a set of adult interactions between parents. These parents are often operating outside of their own conscious control due to the emotional intensity of divorce and the dramatic changes it causes in their lives. Once helped to move in a new direction they usually feel better and continue on down this new path on their own.


         Marriage: When is it bad enough    to ask for help?


Judith Margerum, Ph.D.



Marriage is hard. Everybody knows that. Right? But what does that mean?


Does hard mean you have to help with the laundry or watch Monday night football? Does it mean that have to think about your spouse before you commit to an outing with your friends? Perhaps. Marriage does require compromise, change and growth.


Does it mean you have to give up your hopes and dreams? That you have to give up everything you enjoy? Well it certainly means rethinking your life as an individual and a couple/family but it should feel like a worthwhile choice/investment rather than a loss.


Does it mean having that argument that you have had 1000 times that always goes the same way like a badly choreographed dance or like the movie Groundhog Day? Does it mean dreading that conversation with your spouse or finding ways to come home later and later? Talking more and more with the one person who understands you (not your spouse)? That certainly doesn't sound like what a marriage should be but many people live with a great deal of misery for years before finally seeking help.


By the time they seek help a great deal of damage has been done. To an outsider, it often appears too late for help but people can get past a lot of hurt if they believe things can be better. Why do people wait so long? Often they think things will just get better on their own and sometimes they do. They might think they are trying to change things (and they are) but they keep doing the same thing over and over unwittingly making the problem even more intractable. Sometimes they are afraid that they will find out in therapy that the marriage is over and so they avoid dealing with it. They might be afraid that all the problems will be blamed on them (that is not good marital therapy). There is an old saying "The misery you know is better than the misery you don't know."


Sometimes the smallest changes can begin larger changes that create hope, renewed commitment, caring and tolerance and a path back to a loving and supportive marriage. Do something different! This is not as easy as it sounds as most people think they do this by waiting until after dinner to list their complaints or explaining their complaints more fully. Try looking for and commenting on only positive things you notice about your spouse. Try this for a week (you can do this with your children as well) no matter what your spouse does and see what happens. If you notice even the smallest change keep it up. Marriage may not always be easy but it should feel like a relationship that is worth the effort and it should feel good more often than not!



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Southfield, Michigan  48076