“I want a divorce and now my partner wants to go couples counseling but I don’t want to fix our relationship. What should I do?”
I have had many clients come to me with this frustrating dilemma. They have spent years trying to save their marriage, wanted to go to counseling, tried everything and their partner either wouldn’t go to counseling or stopped going after a few visits, refused to do the homework, etc. After trying unsuccessfully to save their marriage they told their partner that they want a divorce. As you have probably guessed, when faced with the “D” word, their partner suddenly wants to try couples counseling and do the work. Is it too little, too late or should they give it one more shot? There are a few ways to look at this situation and use therapy to move the divorce forward or use it to fix the issues before making any big decisions.
The problem comes when the partner, who has been trying all along, is just done. Their pleas were ignored or they were brushed aside as not being important or their partner just didn’t realize how miserable they truly were. Until the “D” word was dropped. Then, suddenly they are highly motivated and want to go to therapy. What would you do? This can be complicated and there is no right or wrong answer, and it does depend on the situation. In some cases, yes, it makes sense to go and give it one more try, especially if you truly want to put in the work and feel that with time the issues can be “fixed”. Another important piece of going to counseling is so that no matter what happens, you know you put in the effort, and can look back with confidence that you showed up and did your best. And, if both partners truly want to commit to doing the work, there is hope that things will work out. This last part is extremely important, BOTH partners have to be invested and not just there going through the motions.
Now, if you are just “done” and no amount of therapy will change your mind, then there is no reason to go to couples therapy to try to save a marriage that you have no intention of staying in. Going will give a false sense of hope to your partner and will likely drag the inevitable out even longer. However, even if you are not interested in fixing your marriage, there are reasons to go to couples counseling. The focus of the therapy would shift. Rather than having the intention of saving your marriage, the idea would be to focus on building a new version of your relationship where you are working together to construct what that will look like as divorced partners, especially if you have children together. Creating a new relationship, one with respectful communication, clear boundaries and where you have set the groundwork to coparent in a healthy way is vitally important. It is extremely important to build the foundation of what your relationship will be and how you will communicate in a healthy, positive way for the future. Going through this process will allow you to both move forward with a sense of closure and with optimism for the future.
Many couples have come through to the other side of divorce having a much healthier and positive relationship, even (gasp!) taking family trips together, sharing holidays together, planning their kids’ weddings together and creating a new version of their family dynamic that is healthy and positive for everyone. You may be reading this now and going “that will never be me!”, but I can assure you, it is possible. With some hard work, open communication and setting of boundaries where both partners have the same goals of working together to raise their children, it can be done.
Bottom line: Therapy is a great tool, one that couples going through a divorce should consider. If you have no intention of staying together, it may make sense to use counseling to create a positive path forward. It goes a long way to creating a healthy emotional future for all involved and sets a great example for the children to see their parents taking a difficult situation and rising above it all and maintaining peaceful communication.