Print Posted by Joy Dryer, Ph.D on 05/10/2017

A Third Pattern of Separation and Divorce: Understanding The Psychology of the Whistle Blower

A Third Pattern of Separation and Divorce:  Understanding The Psychology of the Whistle Blower

Wait a minute,” Jill protested.  “I thought we came to mediation to amicably discuss how to separate?!  So we stop fighting.  And so we stop freaking out the kids.”

“Yeah! I’m concerned about the kids too. But I’m more freaked out than they are,” Jack leaned intensely toward Jill.  “I don’t want this!  YOU do!  You’re the one who says you want “space”.  You’re the one who wants to separate!  So YOU should be the one to move out!”




  • AGREEABLE.  Both partners agree.  In my experience, the rarest of the three patterns is when both partners discuss and agree to separate.  They often want the process to be amicable and seek out one of the two Alternate Dispute Resolution [ADR] processes where they cooperate: Mediation or Collaborative Divorce.
  • DISPUTED. One partner does not want to separate.  This is the most common pattern.  From 1 to 10, one partner is at a 10 with both feet out the door. The other partner is at a 2 or 3, nowhere near the door.  There are two possible scenarios with this pattern:
  • The resistant partner can eventually come around to accept the inevitable, and the couple can choose to cooperate; or 
  • The resistant partner cannot accept the situation [and often his/her role in it].  S/he then chooses to punish and make life as miserable as possible for the other person.  These are the couples who often end up in court paying litigating attorneys to battle “right” vs “wrong.”
  • WHISTLE BLOWER.  Both partners agree but it looks disputed.  Both agree on their individual and combined dissatisfaction and need for immediate change.  But one partner remains passive, and behaves and speaks in a resistant fashion.  This forces the other to “blow the whistle” on the relationship, to state the truth [“this is not working] and to demand change.


The question is:  How can the passive Whistle Receiver move into a more “Agreeable” pattern so that s/he can work cooperatively with his/her partner for a better, well informed outcome? 



“Wait a second,” I said. “I know you’re both upset for different reasons. But that’s only part of the story.  That’s not fully honest.  Jill may be the one blowing the whistle on the marriage.”  I turned to Jack,  “But you’ve been unhappy too.  Let’s acknowledge that and then let’s walk through this step by step.”

  • It Takes Two to Tango.   “First, it’ll be far better for you both, and the kids, if you can BOTH acknowledge and own your responsibility for the sad state of your marriage.”
  • No “Victims” Here.  “Jack, you’re suggesting that Jill is doing this to YOU, that you are a “victim” here.  That’s a passive stance that says: ‘You [Jill] are doing this to ME.’  This puts all the blame for this situation onto Jill.  We all know that’s not accurate.  Even if you believe you added only 10 %... even 2%... to the problems, you still participated in co-creating the space in which your relationship now lives, or is now suffocating.”
  • Ownership.  “It’ll help you both if you [Jack] can acknowledge that you’re not a victim.   You’re not a passive recipient of Jill’s upset, anger, or whistle blowing.  You’re an active participant, to whatever degree.  If you can know you’re part of the problem, then you can be part of the solution.  You have your ‘half,’ and Jill has her ‘half,’ of the control over creating the problems, as well as the solutions.  Thus, there are no victims here.  Just two sad people heart broken that your relationship is not satisfying secure and sustainable.   You are different people with differing sets of emotions.  But Step One is for you both to acknowledge and to OWN that you are both responsible for the current state of your partnership.” 

So, Step One is joint ownership – i.e. you’ve both contributed to your relationship’s current state. You may not have contributed in equal amounts, but you’ve both contributed.  That you need to own.

Then Step Two is to acknowledge how you are different.  That is, without joint ownership simultaneously, one of you feels forced to blow the whistle first.  


Sometimes couples are able to sit down and both agree that it’s time for a break, time to separate, or even that the relationship is over.  But I’ve found it to be very, very rare for a couple to be on the same page.  Usually one person has been feeling very unhappy and dissatisfied for much longer than the other.  Often one partner has worked on separating in his or her head for a long time, and is much more ready to blow that whistle.  The Whistle Blower just got there first, which is why sometimes the Whistle Receiver is taken by surprise and sometimes the Whistle Receiver is aware that the relationship is in some place along the spectrum of suffocating… to last thread… to dead.  You don’t have to like it.  But if you accept where your relationship is, then you can move more easily into Step Three. 

STEP THREE.  While we talked in that mediation session, Jack gradually accepted that, Yes, Jill blew the whistle but No, she was not to blame.  She was not the bad guy.  She alone was not responsible for the distance between them, their fights, their sadness, or their pain. They had both contributed.  Denying his part, and claiming that only she – and not he – wanted change --- Well…that was not the whole story.  Jack saw his psychological choice:  Blame Jill, play the victim, feel sorry for himself and remain passive…OR,  He could own his part in the falling apart, feel sad for them both, mourn the loss and then be active in figuring out Next Steps.

In this case, Jack was thoughtful and courageous and was able to ‘step up.’ While angry at Jill for blowing the whistle, he came around to see that she demanded an honest assessment of their lives together.   Jill’s stating her unhappiness and need for change, gave Jack the chance for change as well.   They agreed to have a Trial Separation for 3 months with the same goal  -  to assess whether their relationship was salvageable.

Jill was only a “foot out the door”, in that she was willing to stay partially in the relationship to explore it further by changing the frame.  In other cases, when one partner is “two feet”, or definitely, out the door, then the Other partner has the choice to fight the harsh reality or to accept it. 

In summary, Jack and Jill were both mature enough adults to walk through the process together. After much discussion, each owned their contributions (Step One) to their faltering relationship.  They accepted being at different emotional places in the process, so that Jill was the one to blow the whistle.  But that did not mean she was at fault or to blame.  Understanding, then accepting, these differences is crucial (Step Two).  This enabled them to compromise and to work together in a proactive way (Step Three) toward the Next Steps.  

WORK TOGETHER.  I can’t say it enough times.  The ideal goal in the mediation process is for both partners to work together on behalf of the best interests of the whole family, adults and children alike.  In the case of Jack and Jill, we ended up working out a temporary living situation called “nesting”.  The kids remained in the home, while each parent alternated taking turns living elsewhere for two day stretches & alternating weekends in the home. This temporary living arrangement gave Jill the space she said she needed, and gave pretty equal time for each parent with the kids.  Jack was disgruntled with the arrangement.  He did not want to be inconvenienced by living elsewhere.  But he got the message that Jill could no longer live under the same roof together.  Thus, he agreed to it because he felt better about himself for being active in making the choices.  He gave Jill what she needed, and gave himself the opportunity to collaborate with her in examining their relationship, maybe improve it and maybe even be happier someday.  Now that would be something to whistle about!


*Dr. Joy Dryer is a psychologist/psychoanalyst in private practice in New York City, and Poughkeepsie, NY working with individuals, families, and couples [as a PACT Level 2 clinician]:  go to:   She also practices as a Divorce Mediator and Collaborative Divorce Coach:  go to  To contact Dr. Joy:  Follow her blogs at HuffPost/JoyADryerPhD and on Twitter @JoyDryerPhD.

Photo Credit:  Can Stock Photos

Contact This Member