Often times couples find themselves so emotionally exhausted from the issues that plague their relationship, they look for a way out and make the decision to file for divorce. Many times the couple is made up of two people who still love each other, but they just don’t know how to get along with each other. They don’t necessarily want out of the marriage, but they want out of the pain and frustration and think divorce must be the answer.
For this particular couple, they were in very damaging cycle in their relationship and did not know how to break out of it. They had already begun the divorce process at the time they came in for counseling.
In the first session, they were unable to be productive because they were so caught up blaming each other that they could not see their own part in the cycle. They decided to separate. During their separation, they continued individual counseling.
Jim was a laid back person who often became passive in his relationship. He defaulted to Denise to make all the decision making in order to make her happy. She was a strong-willed and demanding person, so whatever she wanted, he gave in, even if he didn’t want to. He rarely communicated to her his own thoughts or desires. When he would try, she would get angry. Since he didn’t like conflict, he would not stand up for himself, he would back down and let her “win”. In doing individual work, he realized that his own passivity allowed her to control the relationship. He was blaming her for the resentment he felt and the degree to which he lost himself in his marriage. He began to realize his own level of responsilibity in allowing this to happen. He was able to be accountable and learn how to put a voice to his thoughts and feelings and cope with the intense emotions that sometimes accompany conflict, and to realize that he cannot be responsible for his wife’s emotions.
Denise, in her own work, realized that she made it very difficult for Jim to be open with her. She would complain at him that he never participates in decision making, but when he would participate she would criticize his ideas. Initially she was unable to see she was doing this because she was stuck in the perception that she was right. She realized she was expecting Jim to read her mind and know what she needed and wanted, and when he didn’t meet her expectations, she would become angry and resentful at him. She began to realize how she would set him up to fail with this way of thinking.
After 4 months of separation and individual counseling, Jim and Denise moved back in with one another and began again with couples counseling. The atmosphere or their relationship was completely different. They were no longer blaming and attacking each other, but were much more willing to listen to and understand one another with compassion and without contempt. They were excited about their new relationship and felt like they were falling in love all over again. Something they never thought possible 4 months prior.
For this couple, separation helped them take some space to recognize their love for each other, and recognize their own part in the patterns of conflict they were encountering which allowed them to make changes necessary to break the cycle.
Sometimes couples see only 2 options, stay in a miserable marriage, or get a divorce. There is a 3rd option, turning the marriage into what you want it to be.