Couples counseling while going through separation and maybe divorce
June 8, 2018 5:09 AM   Subscribe

If you have gone through a separation—maybe also a divorce—from your spouse, and you two stayed in your couples therapy together throughout, how did that work? Was it helpful, or did it hurt?

Over the last few months, there were dozens of times I wanted to post an anonymous question here. In fact, my plan was to post this question anonymously, linking to an earlier anonymous question from me. Well, it turns out I didn't post that question anonymously, so I guess there's not much point in posting anonymously now.

Important details up front:
- First marriage for me, second for her
- Together since 2010, married for 4.5 years, no kids
- Each in therapy individually, both of us in couples counseling off and on since 2011 or '12, actually. As explained in the linked question above, we started going at her request to work through problems and work on communication issues in advance of getting married. We weren't even engaged at that point, but it was definitely in the cards.
-There's nobody else in the picture, for either of us. Infidelity is not an issue for sure.
-I've confided in two friends about what's going on. She's confided in two or so as well. Neither of us has shared anything with family.

March 22 - She announced in our therapy session that she'd been thinking about leaving our marriage, and was starting to make plans. This was a complete surprise. The amount of resolve she had was alarming. Bless our therapist, who was able to help talk her down off the ledge, so to speak.
April 12 - She started sleeping in our guest room and never wavered.
May - We added a sex therapist to the mix because intimacy issues for both of us played into my wife's wanting to leave. My therapist, our couples therapist and the sex therapist all work for the same practice, and my wife and I both signed paperwork that lets the therapists talk to each other, for whatever that's worth. I call them the Dream Team.
Memorial Day weekend - She organized an amazing birthday for me, with a whitewater rafting trip for us, dinner with friends, brunch with my parents. Things were looking up. Better than before, certainly.
Yesterday - Again in front of a therapist first, instead of just telling me, the news that she had made up her mind and plans to move in with a friend on Saturday. Blindsided again.

I know part of the reason I'm glad we have at least one more appointment on the books and a commitment to continue in therapy is that I'm definitely having trouble letting go. She has said that leaving our marriage is difficult for her, too. Part of the reason she wants to continue in therapy is she believes we'll need a third party to help us negotiate all the challenges ahead. She's right, I'm sure. But when therapists encounter a couple who want to stay in therapy together while they're separating, does that tell them anything about the couple? About the chances for the marriage?
posted by emelenjr to Human Relations (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I haven’t done this so this may not be helpful, but one thing to consider is what exactly each of you hope to get out of continuing therapy. When you say “to negotiate all the challenges ahead,” do you mean the logistics of divorcing? If so, a mediator may be your best option; some counselors are effective mediators but some don’t view that as their role. Or is it to determine whether this is really a final decision and whether you may be able to work things through to get back together? The impression I have from your question is that her mind is clearly made up, but I don’t know if that’s the case. A couples counselor would make sense in that situation.

I suspect, however, that individual therapists are probably best for each of you. Does she see a therapist individually now? If not, she may be interested in continuing for that reason, even though having her own therapist may be the best option.
posted by metasarah at 5:49 AM on June 8, 2018


I think you need to get comfortable with the idea of letting go. This will not get better. She will not fall back in love with you. She is already gone. I've been there. I've been her.

The fact that her expression of leaving was a complete surprise to you makes me even more certain that you will not be able to get her back. There's been plenty of opportunity for you to recognize the seriousness of her unhappiness with your relationship.

This sucks. It hurts. But look: you will be happier finding someone who wants to be with you. I'm sorry it is not her anymore.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 5:52 AM on June 8, 2018 [11 favorites]


Blindsided again.

Truly, if she had said she was planning on leaving back in March, you're not being blindsided. You just don't want to hear the painful truth.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 5:53 AM on June 8, 2018 [10 favorites]


Part of the reason she wants to continue in therapy is she believes we'll need a third party to help us negotiate all the challenges ahead.

I would be careful here - you haven't touched on any of the issues that have led to her leaving, however if you're seeing the therapist from the point of view of "trying to resolve our issues" and she's seeing the therapist from the point of view of "mediating our breakup" then I think you need to cover off in your next session what the goals of continued therapy are and then assess whether or not you need these therapists, a mediator, or your own lawyer.
posted by notorious medium at 5:55 AM on June 8, 2018 [9 favorites]


My first wife and I did one or two sessions of couples counseling together after she decided for certain that she wanted a divorce. I think it was helpful for us — I know at least it was helpful for me. But it didn't fix our marriage, and it wasn't a sign we were going to get back together. In fact, the biggest benefit we got out of it was that it helped me get it through my head faster that it really was over.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:55 AM on June 8, 2018 [2 favorites]


I think it can be helpful in negotiating the emotional fallout of the break-up in a conscious, respectful way, assuming that's everyone's (including the counselor's) goal. notorious medium's point is really on the nose: "if you're seeing the therapist from the point of view of 'trying to resolve our issues' and she's seeing the therapist from the point of view of 'mediating our breakup' then I think you need to cover off in your next session what the goals of continued therapy are and then assess whether or not you need these therapists, a mediator, or your own lawyer."

You don't have to all be on the same page immediately, and it's ok to take a couple sessions to work out what you want from therapy (or if you want therapy) going forward, but I think that needs to get worked out.
posted by lazuli at 6:15 AM on June 8, 2018


then I think you need to cover off in your next session what the goals of continued therapy are and then assess whether or not you need these therapists, a mediator, or your own lawyer.

I don't know your situation, but I do think it's important that you basically look at what couple's counseling is going to do for you personally and not think of it in terms of "the relationship" because that's not how she is looking at it. It might be useful just to keep things from being worse--dividing stuff, making a game plan for dealing with post-marriage details, how to talk to other people--but if you're someone who is having trouble letting go, it's a continued "relationship" activity and that can be confusing/difficult. So I don't see it as a bad thing, but I agree with the other commenter, you describe being blindsided by something that had come up before in counseling, there's something going on there about how this is all working for you.

And a specific personal anecdote. My current partner was in a complicated co-parenting relationship with his son's mom when I met him and they went to counseling together. She was, I would consider, pretty controlling and verbally abusive. These therapy sessions, and her insistence on his attending them, was part of her trying to continue to manipulate his life well after it was appropriate for her to be that level of involved in some of the more personal aspects of his own life. So you may think about whether continuing to attend therapy together is going to get in the way of you being able to see yourself as someone who is not a part of that couple anymore.

Put another way, one of the toughest things about splitting up is that even continuing to argue or disagree on things is still continuing the relaitionship albeit in a way that people don't particularly like. Some people can pull off being friends, but for most people, having at least some time where you're not entangled with each other is useful.

I'm sorry this is happening, I know it must be confusing and unpleasant.
posted by jessamyn at 6:20 AM on June 8, 2018 [3 favorites]


Counselling improves your chances of staying together when you're trying to fix the problems with your relationship. It sounds like she is past that and wants to continue counselling to work through feelings in the aftermath of leaving, or that she's trying to get you on the same page as her in that regard.
posted by Polychrome at 6:27 AM on June 8, 2018 [1 favorite]


Part of the reason she wants to continue in therapy is she believes we'll need a third party to help us negotiate all the challenges ahead.

This is what a mediator is for. Going to a couples' counselor together implies that there are components of your marriage/relationship that are salvageable or can be worked on. Your wife isn't interested in that. You should each see a counselor independently, and start working with a mediator on the details of the separation/divorce.

I'm really sorry you're going through this. I would be devastated if my partner announced he was leaving in a therapy session instead of having the decency to discuss his concerns with me in a 1:1 setting. But once you've healed from this, you may meet someone who treats you and your relationship with respect.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:47 AM on June 8, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry this is happening to you, but a couple's counselor is for couples who want to put in the work towards staying together. If that's off the table, it's time to switch to a mediator. You could always go to one last session and specifically ask for a referral, which your marriage counselor is sure to have.
posted by juniperesque at 7:03 AM on June 8, 2018 [2 favorites]


Going to a couples' counselor together implies that there are components of your marriage/relationship that are salvageable or can be worked on.

This isn't true. Many couples use counselors to help them work through the emotional issues of breaking up. Counselors can't/shouldn't be giving legal advice, but they can certainly help navigate the grieving/ending/good-bye/transition process. Certain counselors are more skilled or experienced with that than others -- there are therapists who think "Couple must stay together!" is the only goal of couple's therapy -- but it's certainly within an expected skill set of a relationship therapist.
posted by lazuli at 7:11 AM on June 8, 2018 [8 favorites]


I was determined to leave my wife and she was interested in salvaging the relationship, in part through couples counselling. Because I was determined to leave, and saw going to counselling as a move oriented towards staying, I was not fond of going and didn't see the value. If I were doing it again, I would have liked to have gone longer, with the idea that going to counselling together could have helped us deal with some of the ending the relationship details and emotions together in a positive way.

We were not communicating well enough to navigate this terrain.
posted by Kwine at 7:54 AM on June 8, 2018 [1 favorite]


I think a pre-requisite for you would be to completely accept that the counseling won't save your marriage and to define what exactly your goals would be from this therapy. From your question, it seems like you haven't yet accepted this and if you have a different 'secret' goal, there will probably be no help with the counseling.
posted by jazh at 8:00 AM on June 8, 2018 [1 favorite]


With no kids in the picture, I would stop and focus on your new life. I’m sorry.
posted by snickerdoodle at 8:31 AM on June 8, 2018 [1 favorite]


Sounds to me as if she has no real interest in counseling, that she has made up her mind about a lot of things and is using the counseling as a safe place to drop bombshells on you. She has no intention of staying with you. If you need a third party to navigate through the divorce process, I suggest a trained mediator or a lawyer. Your lawyer.
posted by AugustWest at 11:29 AM on June 8, 2018 [2 favorites]


I like therapy as much as the next person and have done lots of it myself! However, you guys have done a whole lot of therapy for a very long time, and here you are; being blindsided (in therapy) that your wife wants to leave you. This fact really makes me wonder about the efficacy of therapy for the two of you. It doesn't sound like therapy has addressed your communication issues, but has rather turned into a surrogate communication space for your marriage. Why, after all this therapy, was your wife not able to tell you she wanted to leave outside the therapy space? Sometimes therapy teaches you to do the hard work, and sometimes it actually prevents it. I think this is the latter.

I really think you need to stop this now. Keep going to personal therapy if you must, but stop the couples therapy and do the hard work of accepting your marriage is ending - and accepting that maybe it wasn't right for a long time.
posted by thereader at 12:20 PM on June 8, 2018 [3 favorites]


You absolutely were blindsided here, I just want to validate that, given the amazing birthday party she threw for you just days ago over Memorial Day weekend. Things were looking up, you say. You had every reason to be optimistic after all the therapy work you’ve been doing. In your shoes, given the blindsiding she’s done, I’d feel very uneasy about re-entering the therapy space with your spouse. When people have a sudden change of heart like she did in March and again here in June, there is often an affair going on that the other spouse does not know about, and certainly the therapists don’t know about it either. When there is blindsiding like this, it’s pretty much impossible for you to rule out cheating as a causal element. I hope I’m off base, but maybe give that some thought when you meet with a divorce lawyer. Also check out Chump Lady.
posted by edithkeeler at 4:10 PM on June 8, 2018 [2 favorites]


I appreciate all these comments. I’m still reading.

Both of us have long histories with depression, and we’re both on meds in addition to being in individual therapy. Both ACOA as well, so abandonment issues are affecting us both.
posted by emelenjr at 5:16 AM on June 9, 2018


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