Your partner has just said the D word, and maybe it’s something that’s been thrown out here and there when tensions get really high, but this time it’s different. Maybe you’ve received official documents of separation or the ante has been upped, and suitcases are being packed. Whatever the case, it doesn’t feel good, and you don’t know what to do, but you know you want it all to stop!
Those feelings of anger, confusion, hurt, and sadness are normal responses, but what do you do when you don’t want to give up? When you want to keep at it, and try something that you haven’t?
The short answer is something that I recently added to my practice, because this is something that I’ve seen often, and before now haven’t necessarily had the right tools in my toolbox for.
Many times couples come in for couple’s therapy and one partner has already got one foot out the door. They’re trying therapy as a last resort, and just to appease their partner and themselves, so in the end they can say they tried everything. Typically couples come in 7 years too late – or at least that’s the statistic I’ve heard thrown around here and there.
In a perfect world everyone would do some premarital counseling, and continue to utilize counseling throughout their relationships when they encounter rough patches. They’d treat their marriages like their cars, and get regular tune-ups. But really, that’s just not the case for many, and I think that statistic exists because the approach to therapy has been wrong.
When one person is out the door it’s difficult to do couple’s therapy. They’ve made up their minds, and their interest level in therapy might no longer be about making improvements. At this point the leaning out partner might just be trying to get their partner to see all the ways they’ve wronged them, and hope that therapy will get them to change. Without each individual seeing their contributions and coming from a place where they are both invested in working together to get back on track, there can be little change.
So the trick is to get them both to that point before jumping into couple’s therapy, and I’ve started doing that with my clients in the form of Discernment Counseling.
Discernment counseling is short term, usually 1-5 sessions, and it’s for what we call, “mixed-agenda couples.” Where one spouse is saying, “I’m done, I want a divorce,” and the other is saying, “No, I want to keep trying.”
In those 1-5 sessions I work with couples to help them understand their contributions, how they arrived at this point where divorce is on the table, and what it will take to choose to enter into couple’s therapy. The goal of Discernment Counseling is to help couples decide between three paths:
Path #1 is to stay the course, and keep doing things the way they’ve been doing them.
Path #2 is the decision to separate or divorce.
Path #3 is a commitment to do 6-months of intense work on the relationship through couple’s therapy. This path isn’t about choosing to stay together forever, but it’s a commitment to take divorce off the table and see what can be accomplished in the next 6 months and then re-evaluate the relationship.
In the meantime, if you are the leaning-in partner, and wanting to make things work, my best advice is to neither pursue nor distance yourself from your partner. Talk to them about the possibility of Discernment Counseling, and take time to think about your contributions to getting to this place in your relationship. It's easy to point the finger at the person who's saying they want out, but it takes two to tango and you need to understand what you need to change in order to move forward.
Discernment Counseling is something that can be so beneficial because too often couples jump right into couple’s therapy and the timing is off, and both partners are on totally different wave-lengths when it comes to understanding what they really want out of their relationship and need to first decide if they both want to commit to be in the relationship.
While couples come into the office together, they mostly talk with me alone and we meet all together to report out take-aways from the individual time. Couples are coming out of these Discernment sessions with the clarity they need to make the best decisions about the future of their relationship, and I’m happy to be trained in this technique through the Doherty Institute. You can find out more information about the Doherty Institute here.
If you and your partner are at a crossroads in your relationship, and want to find more clarity about what to do next, feel free to give me a call at (909) 226-6124 and I’d be happy to discuss whether Discernment Counseling is right for you and your partner.
Additionally, I want to let you know that if you are in the process of healing after the loss of a relationship, I’m going to be launching an e-course to help those healing from heartbreak called, The Starting over Series. If you’re interested in more info about this course, click the link below and get on the interest list!