I work with couples who are what is referred to as ‘mixed agenda – one person is ‘leaning in’ to the marriage and one is ‘leaning out.’  Having them do traditional marital counseling is not a good fit for them at this stage in their marriage. This is because one person isn’t sure if they want to stay married. Traditional marital therapy works on the premise that both are invested in the marriage and want to discuss, address, and resolve the marital issues. Discernment Counseling provides the couple the opportunity to slow down, take a breath, and look at their options for your marriage – before you pick a definitive path. It creates calm where there is distress, a platform for each person to express how they feel and hope things will be, and the changes they will make individually to make the marriage stronger and healthier.

The Leaning In Spouse:

If you are the Leaning In spouse, you want to salvage the marriage but have been put on notice that divorce is on the table. The process may or may not have been started by your Leaning Out spouse. Since that time, you have experienced a roller coaster of emotions and are making attempts – often strong attempts – to change your spouses mind. In some cases, you find yourself distancing from your spouse and hoping for the best. You are often reactive to any slight that indicates your spouse is heading down the divorce path, looking for cues – either way- to help you make sense of your world which feels like its spinning out of control.

The Leaning Out Spouse

If you are the Leaning Out spouse you are extremely unhappy in the marriage. You might have brought up divorce – and find yourself in a place you never imagined. You may or may not have started the divorce process but either way you are still not certain this is the direction you want to take.  No doubt you have been confiding in friends and family and everyone has their own opinion. This only makes things more confusing for you. You find yourself needing a more objective viewpoint to gain clarity over this challenging and confusing time in your life. Your spouse who is leaning in to the marriage most likely makes things more difficult by having strong reactions and feelings about the possibility of the marriage coming to an end. This is a normal reaction because no matter how evolved we become, when threatened with a significant loss in our life, we react with strong emotions, grounded in fear. Their strong reactions of sadness, anger, and clingy behavior may be the panacea you are looking for to relieve you of your current turmoil and distress. However, this is a short lived answer and creates an illusion that things will magically get better but just saying they will.

Sam and Maria

They have been married for 25+ years and have two children. Maria is leaning in to the marriage and desperately wants to stay married. She states, ‘we grew up together’ and I cannot see myself with Sam.’ I am just devastated by what could be the ending of my marriage. Sam, is ambivalent about the marriage. He is not sure if he wants to stay married. They have experienced many issues over the past 10 years and became extremely disconnected from one another. They had zero intimacy in their marriage for over three years and he is finding it difficult to get past the hurt and pain from that time in their marriage. He goes back and forth about wanting to either stay or walk away. He knows they have been together for a very long but doesn’t want this to be the defining reason why they stay together. They continue to be reactive towards one another, which is dominating by a strong sense of fear. We have discussed individual changes each will need to make to help them determine or ‘discern’ the path they will take.

Ultimately, Discernment Counseling helps couples decide one of three paths:

  • Keeping the relationship status quo
  • The divorce path
  • Making a 6-month commitment to couples counseling with divorce being taken off the table.

As for Sam and Maria, they have started marital therapy. The relationship work they are doing is challenging and extremely emotional. They know it will take time to address and work through their issues while continuing to make individual changes, which will help them as a couple. Although they have chosen the path of couples counseling, its never a guarantee. They remain a work in progress and only time will tell if their marriage can survive.

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The blog was originally posted on IRIS.xyz

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