Book review: “Games Divorced People Play,” by Dr. Melvyn A. Berke and Joanne B. Grant
Dell Deaton | contributor
Then they hire lawyers, have their proverbial day in court, and divorce — ostensibly to move on with their separate lives in new directions.
Yet it only takes a few months before they come to me for a fresh look at the way they are then currently dealing with their former spouses. Yeah, they’re divorced. But the dialogues and feelings are all too reminiscent of when they were married.
They’re still playing those same old games. Why?
Games Divorced People Play has the answers. Originally published in 1981, this book remains one of my top picks for helping individuals understand the nature of unhealthy, lingering attachments, the perceived benefits of continuing the games, and the exit gates for disembarking such perpetually painful rollercoaster rides.
“Divorce games are marital games in disguise,” write authors Dr. Melvyn A. Berke and Joanne B. Grant in their preface. The term “game” builds on “the ideas and language of Transactional Analysis, better known as T.A.,” explains Chapter 2. “T.A. was spawned out of the genius of a practicing psychoanalyst, the late Dr. Eric Berne,” a decade-and-a-half earlier.
For those readers who are interested, Dr. Berke and Ms. Grant provide a fine explanation of T.A., with illustrations. A simple outline is also provided to make the balance of their book readily accessible to the layman.
A game consists of three elements.
- Interactions between two or more people that “appear socially plausible.”
- “A hidden or ulterior motive which is the real message.”
- A predictable “payoff,” which is the real motive for playing, draws that particular game to a close. (Followed by the next round, with the same, variation, or different game.)
In February of 2005, I responded to an eMail from a reader of my Blog that put a very personal touch on this. In essence, she had a certain belief about the way “all men” are; she seemed to have developed a talent for gravitating toward prospective partners who acted consistently with this mindset. Their relationship dynamics and ultimate endings were invariably (and predictably) all the same.
Former husbands and wives in the process of “unhooking” from one another after their divorce paperwork is entered don’t need and shouldn’t seek intimacy with each other, of course. But their path to game avoidance is the same: Straightforward, authentic interactions, “free of hidden motives and exploitation.” Without these, they’ll continue to be subject to persisting, unhealthy attachment — and unavailable for next relationships, effective parenting, and other more fully enjoyed social outlets.
James 4:3 speaks to the results of prayer that is not genuine. In other words, playing a game with God.
“When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” Prayer comes from both our lips and our hearts. When these are not in synchronization, the message is ineffective, garbled, lost. It creates unnecessary pain.
As with so much of Scripture, we have here not merely instruction regarding our relationship with God, but also a model for our relationships with one another.
The games that Transactional Analysis helps us understand are primed for failure in three ways. First, they are by design intended to draw players toward closeness while at the same time keeping them from ever actually becoming close. Second, they require an ongoing understanding and ability to translate some overt interaction “a” into a quite different “b” interaction.
Finally, they need two or more players dedicated to achieving painful outcomes as much for themselves as much as anyone else.
Why would rational person do that?
It’s actually not as hard as one might think to find players.
In general, Dr. Berke and Ms. Grant lay out in their examples a case for gamers who are motivated by confirming their own established world views. In the case of Games Divorced People Play, these are both fundamentally marital themes and some uniquely related to post-marriage.
- What do you believe to be true about parenting, co-parenting, and parent-child relationships?
- What do you believe to be true about finances, the role of money in a relationship, and how partners can, should provide for one another?
- What do you believe to be true about the purposes and process of dating, sexuality, your image (“the image one should portray”), and transparency?
- What do you believe to be true about divorce, the legal system, forgiveness in society, and the possibility of fair outcomes?
Irrespective, this book says it always boils down the same. I believe this, too, and frequently quote Games Divorced People Play in the divorce recovery workshop where I present — often stirring strong reactions in return. “Successful After Divorce relationships consist of four basic elements:
- “Financial Commitment,
- “Parental Commitment, and
- “Minimal Personal Contact.”
Dozens and dozens of games are also listed and analyzed. Move-by-move discussions, reasoning, and escape recommendations are frequently provided. Player types include not just former husbands and wives, but also children, new romantic partners, and others who orbit just outside the original nuclear family unit.
Rubber hits the road in the concluding pages of Games Divorced People Play, with self-assessment inventories for improving the reader’s control over post-divorce situations where he or she can and should be exercising more control. Section heads include, “Know You,” “Know Your Wants in a New Relationship,” “How Much and What Are You Willing to Give in a New Relationship?” “Your Willingness to be a Stepparent and Extended Family Member,” and a “Game Checklist.”
Although Games Divorced People Play wouldn’t be categorized as “a Christian text,” its principles are very much in keeping with Biblical teachings and how I believe Jesus would have us act in dealing with divorce when it does come into our lives. Psalm 15:2 speaks to the fundamental here, which is “truth.” Commit to that among other key qualities, and, as verse 5, concludes, you “will never be shaken.”
Our own Ann Arbor District Library doesn’t have this book as part of its collection. But they told me this afternoon that they can make it available for loan to patrons through its “MELCAT” (Michigan Electronic Library) network, within one to two weeks of request.
It’s well worth the wait. I highly recommend this book.
Games Divorced People Play (ISBN 0-13-346205-6) by Dr. Melvyn A. Berke and Joanne B. Grant, 237 pages (hardbound), Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1981.