When there is one partner “leaning into” the marriage and the other “leaning out”, often engaging in all out couples counseling has shown to be ineffective. I see this frequently connected to the thoughts and feelings one partner has where they are not ready or not sure they wish to make this sort of commitment. Others have a hard time believing that things could really be different and stay that way. These folks tend to drop out of regular couples therapy or come quickly to a stalemate. Nobody likes to feel “boxed-in” or pressured. The “leaning-out” partner may have significant ambivalence of pros versus cons, yet at some level would not mind more information in order to make a sound and wise decision about the situation. The “leaning-in” partner may have no clear idea of how deeply wounded the other feels and why, or what they are doing to make the situation worse.
There is another alternative that may assist these couples and marriages in such a situation. It is an alternative type of “couples counseling”, namely Directional Counseling. It allows the couple to have some understanding of the schema & mode cycle together, and to experience a new understanding of what has happened in their relationship and how it needs to change before deciding on whether they wish to jump into couples therapy with both feet. For the “leaning-in” partner, it is also provides individual tips on what to do and not do to immediately improve the situation.
The basic goal of Directional Counseling is to allow a couple to evaluate 3 potential directions to take: Path One: to do nothing different; Path Two: to separate or divorce; Path Three: to engage wholeheartedly in 6 months of couples therapy, giving it their all-out effort, with divorce off the table for these 6 months, and then to make a long-term decision.
If you are deciding whether to stay or to go, or are working with a couple struggling with this, you can also look at the work of Dr. William Doherty and see the different ways he speaks about addressing these situations. Professionals wishing more information on Dr. Doherty and mixed agenda couples can go to his website and work developed out of his Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project (click), associated with University of Minnesota.
In my Directional Counseling, I help the you attempt to identify core issues and hurts, express your feelings about them, and attain some sense of what it would take to reverse the unhealthy patterns. In identifying these things, I offer you an opportunity to focus on your interactional cycle within the session without being fully caught up into it. This is done by together getting a little idea of what might be your relevant schemas and modes. These are patterns of unmet needs over your life and how you typically respond or cope, which in turns causes a clash with your partner/spouse. The nice thing about this is that it can put the blame more out of the room, and makes some sense out of unhealthy behaviors you observe with each other.
In this way, you couple gets an opportunity for sharing about yourselves and your history that has affected how you were in the marriage or relationship, at a level often never revealed before. This may help you empathize a bit more with some deeper understandings.
Discernment Counseling does not involve working through these schemas or clashes, as you would in therapy. But it does provide a taste of what Schema Therapy for Couples would be like, and if your partner (or yourself for that matter) would be willing to cooperate with this approach. It also allows for some softening and repair-attempts (like “I never realized this.” Or, “I am so sorry!”, though only a beginning of a much deeper process, as would happen in Marriage or Couples Therapy. Sometimes, in the individual or joint portions of the session it allows for me to help you get in touch with your feelings, or a softer part of yourself through various Schema Therapy helpful interventions like guided imagery. Though this is not designed to change the relationship, I have seen it bring clarity to the decision-making process as at times the partner may have never seen that part of you before and this may change their thinking or bring up new options they did not know were possible.
I have found that partners often need this information, e.g. an understanding of their cycle, their coping modes, what that means, and the partner’s willingness to go to a more vulnerable level. This helps the decision-making process of which path to take.
The process: The couple is seen individually and together in a set format of 4 to 6 one and a half to two hour sessions. You are under no obligation to continue to the next session, and you come to a decision about continuing at the conclusion of each session. The total number of sessions may be extended by a small limited number if the situation warrants it, with the couple’s request. We do not stay stuck in “dead-lock” with no movement.
Although change at times happens, it is not the goal. The goal of Directional Counseling is that by hearing the concerns of the other spouse, identifying the cycle between you, as well as exploring your own contribution to the problems, you will both obtain greater clarity and confidence in your decision making about what direction (the three paths mentioned above) to take.
If you wish to continue with Path 3 counseling, I am often available to see you for this, or will also be happy to refer you to another provider if this works better for you or for your budget. You are under no obligation to continue Path 3 with me. If you wish to pursue subsequent Schema Therapy for Couples, I would be honored to be a part of your personal journey where you would each establish personal goals to help you decide what is best for your relationship and children. Unfortunately, as you know, too often the children suffer the most when their parents do not know where to turn to get the help they need.
My hope is that those who choose the path/option of continuing forward with their divorce will do so in a more collaborative fashion; and those who decide to take the path of a 6 month commitment to couples therapy will find renewed hope. At the very least, you obtain an opportunity to tell the story of your marriage and gain some understanding of what has happened. Hopefully this will better at least yourself by providing some insight into areas you each need to personally change in how you relate, get triggered and become distant.
For attorneys who have clients that are ambivalent about what direction to take, your sensitivity and professionalism in helping them decide what is best for them demonstrates the integrity of your practice. I hope that I can provide another resource for you to offer them. This program is non-judgmental, non-blaming and I attempt to model for them a manner of relating that demonstrates respect and acceptance.
Please feel free to call me at: 920.233.2347 for further details.