Review of DivorceCare® Divorce Recovery Groups:

Pros and Cons

 

DivorceCare® (DC) is a conservative Christian divorce recovery program used in about 10% of Protestant churches. It runs 13 weeks typically. To find a group near you, click here: https://www.divorcecare.org/findagroup
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I've led the 2nd, 3rd, and (new) 4th edition of DivorceCare over the past 15 years. In Spring 2021 I led a 50-person DivorceCare 4th edition group on Zoom. So I am familiar with the pros and cons of the curriculum. 

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PROS of DivorceCare®

Pro #1. Because it's so conservative, DivorceCare® is one of the few divorce-related Christian curricula found in conservative churches. Many groups are healthy and provide great fellowship and emotional support for divorcees.  (The curriculum is not available through other retailers; it must be ordered by the church directly from the publisher, Church Initiative.)

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Pro #2. It is good for those Christians who are divorced due to ADULTERY or physical ABANDONMENT by an unbeliever. Infidelity is the #1 reason for divorce in the U.S.  So this aspect is very helpful and supportive.  (Note: other top reasons for divorce in the U.S. are:  physical, verbal, and emotional abuse AND drug/alcohol abuse, but DivorceCare isn't quite as helpful for these situations.)

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Pro #3: If a particular DC leader is emotionally healthy and believes that physical abuse and emotional abuse are valid grounds for divorce, the group can be fine for abuse survivors, and will offer valuable friendship and encouragement. If you are considering joining a DivorceCare® group, contact the leader before signing up. Ask: “Do you personally believe that divorce might be the best and most godly option for people facing serious physical or emotional abuse?”

(By the way, If you don't mind meeting via Zoom, WildStream Retreat Center does a good job with their online DivorceCare group. It’s a safe place for abuse survivors. See the bottom of their page:  https://wildstreamretreat.org/)

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Pro #4: DC offers an online version, thanks to COVID-19, and now people around the world can participate by watching the streamed videos.

 

PRO #5:  This is a good choice for people who want a group at their local church to build friendships in their fellowship.

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PRO #6: Their DivorceCare for Kids (DC4K) is an excellent curriculum for children. The kids curriculum and program changed my family's ability to talk about the divorce, and was a major turning for me and my little children (about 9 and 7 at the time). However, I don't know what updates have been done.

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Pro #7: If a marital abuse survivor has no emotional support after divorce and no one to talk with—and they aren’t connected to any of the private or secret online Christian abuse recovery groups—then this is a place to come and share.

The good private faith-based groups online are Natalie Hoffman’s women’s group “Flying Free”; Sarah McDugal’s women’s group, “Wilderness To Wild”; Betrayal Trauma Recovery’s groups btr.org; Helena Knowlton’s women’s group “Confusion to Clarity ARISE”; or Gretchen Baskerville’s coed private Facebook group “Life-Saving Divorce,” for example.

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Pro #8:  New 4th edition is much better on the topic of physical abuse. The videos include an interview with a uniformed law enforcement officer talking about domestic violence and saying the victim should contact law enforcement and get to safety. There are so other helpful comments in the video that would apply to participants who've experienced marital abuse. [Thank you to the participant who took the time to transcribe this.]

The male host says:
“Going down any of these paths [referring to coparenting, friendship and remarriage], of course, assumes it’s safe for you to do so. Sometimes separation and divorce happens because the marriage relationship was physically dangerous or emotionally toxic. In those cases, the wisest option is to maintain distance while you carefully determine the future the of the relationship.” Note that he doesn't say divorce is acceptable, but does affirm that it happens.
Then the title screen that comes up reads “Ensure your emotional and physical safety” and a woman who is a family law attorney named Tiffany Lesnik tells her story, describing a former [destructive] spouse who is clearly high conflict, this is a toxic situation/emotionally abusive, and she highlights the importance of learning how to set healthy boundaries.
The next screen, “responding to an abusive spouse”, and the male host continues: “If you have been in an abusive of demeaning relationship and you feel threatened even after leaving the relationship contact your local courthouse about getting an order of protection.” It adds, contact your bank about the status of joint accounts and if you suspect your children are in danger, contact a family law attorney about your options for protecting them.

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Pro #9: The curriculum is attractive and inviting from a graphic design standpoint, and the video production quality is very good.

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Pro #10: The tips for parents in the 4th edition have been greatly improved, miles beyond the typical advice. They show real empathy toward children's feelings and show some experience in trauma-reduction for children. (I only wish they would go one step further to counteract a common myth in our Christian narrative: that divorce is universally bad for children. In reality, 30 years of family research know it is not true in the case of highly toxic homes. Fathers or mothers with multiple antisocial traits—the more, the worse—are bad for children's mental health. A parent involved with marriage-endangering behavior has a negative influence that cancels the benefits of a two-parent married home. See: http://www.lifesavingdivorce.com/jaffee, and http://www.lifesavingdivorce.com/wallerstein.)

 


CONS of DivorceCare®

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Con #1: Unless the leader and pastor condone divorce for abuse, it is not explicitly a very supportive curriculum for Christians who filed for divorce due to physical or emotional abuse, as they don't accept domestic violence or family-crushing addictions as biblical grounds for divorce. (See screenshot of their 3rd and 4th edition curriculum, below.) Session 12, which discusses DivorceCare's two acceptable reasons for divorce, is highly traumatizing to abuse victims.
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Con #2: The videos make divorce seem like a personal or spiritual failure, even on the innocent spouse's part. This tone seeps into their videos and curriculum. This is not a good curriculum for people who had to file for divorce to save their life and sanity or who were betrayed by a serial cheater. It is not their fault. Many people in my groups have said some videos are triggering. And this attitude sets a bad example for pastoral counselors in the church, who may be well-meaning but accidentally do further damage.
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Con #3: The videos seem pretty naive about the likelihood that a serial cheater or chronic abuser will change. (Experts say it’s about 2% who actually do the hard work to change.) They never mention any psychological studies by family researchers, which is really strange since some of the experts on the team have Ph.D.'s. I suspect that's because conservative churches are extremely anti-psychology.
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Con #4: The prior edition (3rd Edition) included a salvation message every week. Although Christianity helps people overcome their depression and fear, this seems a bit overkill. Also, the version 3 videos were about an hour long – just too long to allow for time to discuss and share and pray. (This has been improved in the 4th edition: 30-min videos and less spiritual pressure for conversion.)
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Con #5: The session on “Your Former Spouse” (Session 11, 4th edition) is completely out of touch with the high number of Christians in high-conflict divorce and custody situations. Although there was a statement made on the video that some people/relationships are not safe, they suggest a “civil relationship” with your ex is required, and offer naïve suggestions about co-parenting, not even acknowledging the possibility of a hostile ex who wants vengeance and uses the court to abuse.

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Con #6: This curriculum promotes reconciliation to a fault, never suggesting that divorce might be the most godly and best solution in a horrible situation. The organization makes a big deal on their home page about how they save a lot of marriages. They try to get the innocent spouse to bend over backwards to figure out ways they contributed to the bad marriage. This is destructive. It's called "mutualizing." And while we all have our faults, most of us were not the adulterers, the abusers, the child molesters, or the addicts.

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Con #7:  DivorceCare® never goes through a list of behaviors and attitudes must improve in your ex before it might be safe to get back together. They are behind the curve in their understanding of characterological issues known to have poor long-range outcomes, such as pedophilia and personality disorders. Without a good leader to minimize this attitude, this curriculum can be unsafe for abuse survivors, pressuring them to reconcile.

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Con #8: Look at their expert list online. You'll see that several are "nouthetic counselors." They've added Dr. Tim Lane, the new president of CCEF (co-founded by Jay Adams) a "biblical counseling" organization. "Nouthetic" or "biblical counselors" are usually not licensed counselors. They don't have years of schooling, classes requiring reading the top research studies, and hundreds of hours supervision by licensed professionals. They are not required to follow ethical guidelines or confidentiality.  Most don't allow divorce for abuse, even though 1-in-4 Christian marriages have interpersonal violence. Some pressure people to sweep long patterns of marriage-destroying behavior under the carpet and reconcile at all costs. And many promote husband-over-wife hierarchy, where—in some cases—women must submit to her husband even if he’s involved with marriage-destroying sin. Some may have a problematic view of anger. See Con #12.
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Con #9: Their experts don’t talk much about trauma, so important topics like identifying symptoms of PTSD are not mentioned.

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Con #10: Most DC groups are coed. This is how the founder, Steve Grissom, wants it. Sadly, 1-in-4 Christian marriages in the U.S. have interpersonal violence. That means there could be abusive men (and women) in the group who aren't safe. Many Christian men have been taught by churches that they are entitled to make the final decision and call the shots in the household. Taken to the extreme, this means a few men (and women) attending these groups believe the husband has almost a free pass to do anything he wishes, regardless of the damage he does to his wife. These men feel aggrieved that their wives left them, often claiming they have no idea why their wives left, and suggesting their wives had no biblical grounds for leaving. This is a red flag that some men (and perhaps some women) in a DivorceCare® group (and frankly, any divorce recovery group) could be abusers themselves. The DivorceCare® leader guide recommends precautions to take at the end of each session, including escorting women to their cars and prohibiting dating. But abusive people don’t think the rules apply to them. Over the years, there have been multiple reports by DivorceCare leaders of problems in this area.

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Con #11: DivorceCare tends not to interview very many individuals who filed for divorce, so you don’t hear many positive stories of godly spouses who left destructive situations whose children are safer and have greater wellbeing today. On their videos, they mostly interview people who got “dumped.” Some of these are troubled people with a history of anti-social behavior: fighting, substance abuse, deceit, impulsivity, recklessness, etc. To DivorceCare®'s credit perhaps, they appear to have improved since their divorce. Only a few of the interviews are with normal healthy divorced Christians who are grateful to God they left horrific situations and saved their lives and their children.

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Con #12: Session 3 (4th edition) on anger is very controversial. Many of the speakers in this session were very good. Several people talk about anger getting out of control, such as the woman who is considering violence and revenge. I do agree that if your anger is making you mean and resentful at everyone around you, there’s something going on. On the other hand, I do believe that it’s OK to withhold your time, your attention, and money from a person who is motivated to hurt you. You can treat them fairly and NOT give them all the time, money, energy, and emotional loyalty they want. I also think it’s OK to view someone in a negative light. If your spouse has lied about you, falsely accused you, molested children, cheated on you, gambled away your rent money, treated you with complete indifference, it’s only appropriate to view them in a negative light. (This is one example where the "nouthetic counseling" influence comes into this curriculum. You're not allowed to call a spade a spade. This mind-game, called "sin-leveling," is dangerous.) Forgiveness is also a touchy topic. Forgiveness takes time. When the betrayal and abuse take place over a period of time, it takes time to identify the sins and hand them over to God. It's not an instant "forgive and forget" moment. To their credit, they do encourage you to ask the court for your half of the assets, or whatever your state’s guidelines are. Another positive: several people in the video talked about being angry at God and I’m glad that they said it is OK to be angry, that King David was angry. We have evidence of that in the psalms of lament in the Bible.

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Would I lead DivorceCare again? Yes, if my pastor asked me, I would. But in the end, it's best if the facilitator integrates some changes, braces participants before Sessions 3 and 12, gives a more wise perspective, and invites the participants to voice disagreement. A Lutheran pastor wrote his dissertation on divorce recovery curriculum and compared DivorceCare® with other options. See his p. 151-152 for his recommendations about adapting the curriculum to make it more balanced.

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Another option for groups is the classic book, Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends. #ad. Any facilitator with basic Bible study skills can add the appropriate Bible verses and have a time of prayer and sharing at the end of each session. If your goal is to give divorcees hope and strength for the future, this is a good choice. It has more topics (22 weeks of material), no shaming messages for abuse victims, and would be more comfortable for inviting people who don't have a faith background.

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If you wish to lead a group, I would recommend first reading my book, The Life-Saving Divorce. #Ad Paperback: https://amzn.to/3cF1j25  Or Kindle: https://amzn.to/3CCBsnr. It gives you the tips I have learned from leading divorce recovery groups since 1998.  Some of what we are taught about divorce is incorrect. Once you start leading groups, you'll discover that very few Christian divorces are "frivolous" or "I miss the single life" divorces. We were always told that only a handful of divorces are for very serious reasons, but multiple studies actually show that half of U.S. divorces are for a pattern of sexual immorality, physical violence, chronic emotional abuse, family-destroying addictions, or severe neglect/indifference. We were also taught that only people from dysfunctional homes get divorced, but that's not true either. There are simply a lot of troubled people in society and our churches, which results in about 1-in-4 highly religious homes experiencing interpersonal violence, according to the experts. The book also covers the landmark studies on kids and divorce, which concluded that if the marriage was very toxic, divorce was better for the children (up to 10 times better) if the home had very high conflict. Pastors, you can use my book for training leaders or as a 9-week support group by using the FREE study guides for each chapter and FREE videos for each chapter.

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Another option for groups—as the perfect follow-up curriculum—is Boundaries by Drs Henry Cloud and John Townsend which has a new fill-in-the-blank workbook. (Note: The Boundaries workbook requires the Boundaries book or Kindle. The participants need to have both the newest edition of the book and workbook. #ad)

See Image of 3rd Edition – Divorce for domestic violence, physical abuse, emotional abuse is not condoned in DivorceCare curriculum

DivorceCare®'s 3rd edition condoned only two reasons for divorce: adultery and abandonment

See next page for Image of 4th Edition – Divorce for domestic violence, physical abuse, emotional abuse is not condoned in DivorceCare curriculum

DivorceCare 4th edition leader guide abuse 2 biblical reasons for divorce

Are you considering a life-saving divorce and need support and clarity? I’d like to invite you to my private Facebook group, "Life-Saving Divorce for Separated or Divorced Christians." Just click the link and ANSWER the 4 QUESTIONS. This is a group for women and men of faith who have walked this path, or are considering it. Supporters and people helpers are also welcome.  I’ve written a book about spiritual abuse and divorce for Christians, The Life-Saving Divorce: Paperback: https://amzn.to/3cF1j25  Or eBook: https://amzn.to/3CCBsnr

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