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For Better or For Worse - Divorce Reconsidered


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E. Mavis Hetherington is professor emeritus, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia. She lives in Charlottesville. John Kelly is a writer in New York City.


University of Virginia psychology professor Hetherington and writer Kelly offer a "primer" on the "postnuclear family experience." After studying more than 1,400 families and 2,500 children over three decades, Hetherington sees divorce as part of a series of "interconnected transitions" in life rather than a one-time event. While destructive in the short-term, divorce can also be positive, creating new opportunities for long-term personal growth. The authors begin by looking at the character of the marital relationship, which is like a bank account: each partner makes "deposits" of strengthening factors (like mutual support and intimacy) and "withdrawals" that debilitate the relationship. The emotional base of the marriage erodes if there's an imbalance of "deposits" and "withdrawals" for too long, resulting in divorce. Depending on their "protective" factors (maturity, autonomy) vs. "risk" (impulsiveness, antisociability), ex-partners will weather the stormy first year after divorce with varying degrees of resilience. After six years, most are happier. While the general picture is fairly positive, the detail can be unnerving. Children may be adjusting, but after six years, a quarter of them see their noncustodial father once a year or less. One fourth of ex-spouses are still having conflicts after six years. Most stepfathers give up the struggle to connect with resisting stepchildren after two years. With these darker realities in mind, the authors offer a series of practical suggestions at the end of each chapter. (Jan. 21) Forecast: Given the vast number of people divorcing all the time, the market for this jargon-free book should be huge. But its scholarly bent (aimed at its primary audience of upper-level college students and counseling professionals) and its claim to be "the most comprehensive study of divorce in America" may turn off some. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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