The trouble starts almost immediately. Doing what you think is your best first-session work, you point to issues they could work on, but the “leaning-out” partner slinks down further in his/her chair. You try your best empathizing with that partner’s hopelessness, whereupon the “leaning-in” partner, sensing you, too, are giving up on the marriage, dissolves into sobs. Soon the session degenerates into blaming and defensiveness, or pleading and cold distance. At the end of this most unedifying hour, you offer a follow-up appointment, half-hoping they won’t come back. You need the business, but not this kind of business.
When you bring the case to your consultation group, your colleagues give you an analysis of the couple’s dynamic, but nothing concrete about what to do. They say you can’t save every marriage (and that you shouldn’t see that as your job), that when spouse A has made up his/her mind to leave spouse B, you just have to accept the decision, and that the leaning-in spouse had probably been guilty of ignoring the problems until it was too late, anyway. You tried, but it didn’t work. The marriage was already DOA when the couple got to your office. All in all, it isn’t your fault. Still, you wonder if there wasn’t a better way for you to have handled this marital emergency-room visit.
Not that it necessarily gets any better if the couple surprises you by coming back for more sessions; they’re just inviting you to get deeply enmeshed in their polarized…