In Or Out?


Treating the Mixed-Agenda Couple

November/December 2011


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…

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9 Comments

Saturday, December 17, 2011 3:34:40 PM | posted by Kenda-Ruth Stumpf
Thank you so much for this article. I have several different questions along with comments and since they are varied I would like to submit them separately.
I am not a therapist. I run a website and support forum for Standers and the main issue is midlife crisis (MLC), typically with infidelity. I reference them to your list of Family Friendly Therapists—but I wish the list were bigger.

“After 40 years of marriage and 33 years as a marital therapist, my own view of incompatibility is that it’s much overrated.”
Thank you. To me it is like some convenient-sounding excuse—along with irreconcilable differences—that means nothing in the long run.
Compatibility is a result of a concerted effort to work together; it doesn’t just happen or already exist.

Saturday, December 17, 2011 3:35:21 PM | posted by Kenda-Ruth Stumpf
“But I’ve learned to be cautious about a quick decision to try couples therapy from the leaning-out spouse; the result often is halfhearted therapy. Instead, I suggest slowing down and spending time (up to five sessions if necessary) to explore which path to take. I want to avoid both precipitous decisions to divorce and precipitous decisions to try reconciliation.”
Okay, but in many situations isn’t this still too fast? And it is still about exploring which path—thus focused on marriage-divorce. For some Leaning-Outers would it be more helpful to suggest they make no decision, but instead put their marriage on a shelf and work on themselves? That is what I advised Sweetheart to do—probably a few times over the years he cycled in-and-out. I told him I was not going anywhere and so I would not pressure him to work on us, choose me, go to therapy… and if one of his fears was that he might choose me and I’d have changed my mind I reassured him that was not what would happen. It took a long time before he truly believed that; I had to prove it through his cycling in-and-out.

Saturday, December 17, 2011 3:36:00 PM | posted by Kenda-Ruth Stumpf
“I’ve been amazed at how much challenge leaning-in partners will accept from me in Discernment Counseling because they know I want to help them pull their marriage out of the fire.”
But what about those leaning-out partners who agree to continue, but they are only doing it to help their spouse accept the end (the leaning outer ‘knows’ it’s inevitable) or to get their spouse off their back?
Soon after Bomb Drop Sweetheart agreed to go to a single session with me—to help me accept the end and this is common with others at my forum.

Saturday, December 17, 2011 3:36:25 PM | posted by Kenda-Ruth Stumpf
What about Leaning Outers who are in an on-going affair—usually the case at my forum? The may be pressuring the Leaning-Outer to not only leave but to also file for divorce.
Is it more true that counseling will not work when a third party is involved? That’s what I’ve been told and believed, but individual counseling can remains beneficial—though most MLCers refuse any kind of counseling other than a first session or two to help the spouse accept the end.

Saturday, December 17, 2011 3:36:52 PM | posted by Kenda-Ruth Stumpf
“Discernment Counseling is all about helping both parties own their own contributions to the marital problems before deciding to exit a failing marriage”
But what about the couples who continue to be on different sides of the choice—a leaver and a Stander? The now-Leaving partner may refuse continuing counseling, but what do you or will you offer in the way of help to the Standing spouse and how will you support him or her in their Stand?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012 12:39:47 AM | posted by dina lewis
enter your message here...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012 12:41:39 AM | posted by dina lankester
Great article on a very common presenting problem, highlighting common pitfalls.
Thanks for the posting.
'regards

Wednesday, July 18, 2012 10:51:30 PM | posted by tobi ellen
hi ms. dina lankester: pls. e-mail me @ your earliest convenience, as have lost your e-mail address!!! or, use
my street address, same old one you have? thanks!! All best, tobi g.

Monday, November 17, 2014 3:44:53 AM | posted by Brustvergrößerung Risiken
Incredible story there. What happened after?
Thanks!

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