Now and then a new couple comes to me, and one or both of them is considering ending the relationship or seriously wondering whether the relationship can be repaired. This kind of counseling could be called “decisional therapy”, as there is a lot of energy spent trying to figure out whether to even try to change the relationship.
Couples therapy, when both people are committed to remaining in the relationship, looks for common ground. What is it that BOTH people agree they need to work on, even if it’s only because one person accepts how important that topic is to their partner? For example, one partner might want to improve their sexual relationship and the other partner genuinely is satisfied. However, the satisfied partner recognizes the need to respect their partner’s desire for change, and is willing to be curious and consider what changes might bring their partner satisfaction.
But sometimes couples therapy becomes a place where one or both people can explore their thoughts, feelings, doubts and fears, and work on how they will end their current relationship in the best possible way. If partners are willing to stay with that process despite their hurt, disappointment, and often anger, they can find that they will move forward in ways that allow them to grieve the ending, and at least tentatively take a look at a different future.
As an experienced couples therapist, I do not tell my clients that they should either stay or go – that decision is one they must make for themselves. What I often do is offer a combination of couples and individual meetings where each person can safely talk about their individual concerns, opinions, thoughts and feelings, reach some tentative conclusions, and bring some of that out to their partner in a contained environment.
These meetings usually go on for 3-6 sessions, at which time we meet together and evaluate where each person is in regard to the process. Sometimes we stop at that point, and sometimes we do work on repair, or we work on topics such as co-parenting.
Consider the use of professional help when you feel stuck; it can help you both to move ahead with your lives, together and apart.