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 often 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. These folks tend to drop out of regular couples therapy or come quickly to a stale-mate. 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.
There is another alternative that may assist these couples and marriages in such a situation. It is an alternative type of "couples counseling", namely discernment-type counseling. This discernment-type counseling allows a couple to evaluate 3 potential paths 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.
See research done at the University of Minessota by Dr. William J. Doherty, Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project. More information about mixed agenda couples can be found at www.discernmentcounseling.com
In my style of this therapy, I help the couple attempt to identify core issues and hurts, express their feelings about them, and attain some sense of what it would take to reverse the unhealthy patterns. In identifying these things, I offer the couple an opportunity to focus on their interactional cycle within the session without being fully caught up into it. This is done through directive interventions that identify feelings, thoughts, behaviors, etc. (modes) with some limited detachment from them, rather than become overly activated in the session and caught up into the details. When we achieve this, it tends to make it more emotionally safe.
In this way, the couple gets a flavor of what it might look like to express but at the same time contain these feelings in a positive frame-work of "Connect-Talk" techniques and tools.
It does not involve working them all through, as would therapy. But it does provide enough of a taste of what Schema Therapy for Couples would be like, and if their partner (or oneself for that matter) would be willing to cooperate with this approach. It also allows for some softening and repair-attempts, though only a beginning of a much deeper process, as would happen in Marriage Therapy.
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 couple is seen individually and together in a set format of 6 two-hour sessions. They are under no obligation to continue to the next session, and they come to a decision about this at the conclusion of each session. The total number of sessions may be extended if the situation warrants it, with the couple's request.
Although change at times happens, it is not the goal of Discernment-style counseling. But you do get to hear the concerns of the other spouse as well as explore your own contribution to the problems.
If the couple wishes to continue with Path 3 counseling, I am often available to see them for this, or will also be happy to refer them to another provider if this works better for them or for their budget. They 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, they obtain an opportunity to tell the story of their marriage and gain some understanding of what has happened. Hopefully this will better their relationship or future ones by providing some insight into areas each need to personally change in themselves.
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.
Dr. Chiara Simeone-DiFrancesco
January 1, 2019