Saturday, January 20, 2018

A Counselor Suggesting Divorce for a Good Marriage

by Marriage Counseling Hope on June 6, 2012

“The last marriage counselor we saw said that we should get a divorce”. These are the most painful words for me to hear when I work with a couple that has been courageous enough to seek out help for their troubled marriage.

Marriage is hard and conflict inevitable, and that conflict can cause a relationship to feel empty, stuck and desperate. In fact, the marriage can feel “depressed”. If you were depressed and saw a counselor who suggested that you end your miserable existence, I would hope you would fire the individual and report them to their board. When a marriage counselor advises a couple to end their miserable marriage that professional is suggesting that the couple kill their depressed relationship.

Steve and Becca were just this couple. They saw two other counselors before me who both suggested that they divorce. Somehow they had the good sense to keep looking for help with their unproductive conflict styles. They were a typical two income couple with busy lives, two kids and a seven-year marriage. In the first session I asked them to describe their marriage, starting with what they appreciate about one another. After 20 minutes of listing their appreciations I had to cut them off and ask them to share what wasn’t working. What felt awful was their conflict style. Also typical, Steve’s conflict style was to retreat inside, not answer Becca’s questions, go silent and refuse to talk. In other words, he was a Turtle. Becca on the other hand was out spoken, expressed her complaints aloud, pursued Steve when he retreated, and escalated the tension by threatening to leave. She became a Hailstorm in their conflict style. Because Turtles are afraid of hail, Steve would retreat further and then finally blow up and become a snapping turtle.

After listening I recapped their stories, “so what I hear you saying is that about 90% of your relationship is wonderful. You are both hard working, good parents, sex is good when it happens, you do helpful things for each other, you are nice to each other’s families and you often have fun vacations and weekends. Your conflict style, that other 10%, is so powerful that it sometimes hijacks the relationship and feels so bad that you can’t remember anything else at the time. Is that right?” Becca and Steve agreed that I got it and said that when I put it that way; they didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

I had started the session wanting to cry because this couple with common and ordinary problems (and two kids!) had been told to break up, all because they didn’t understand how to navigate the power struggles of marriage. But I ended the session (and many future sessions) laughing with them over the extremes people go to when they just want to feel safe and connected.

Becca and Steve worked with me for the next six months in sessions and attended one of my marriage education workshops. They learned how their protective behaviors made matters worse, and began to use communication tools that provide safety and respect. They left counseling with me knowing how to identify their needs, ask for what they need without blame shame or criticism. They learned to share feelings without taking the feelings out on the other. They learned to listen, to validate and to incorporate the other’s point of view. In other words, they found the missing skills…all that was needed to save their marriage. So don’t give up on your marriage, give up on your old, ineffective habits. Keep shopping until you find a counselor who can help you develop some new ones.

Editor note: [Everyone at Marriage Friendly Therapist has signed a values statement and has the experience and training to help you in your marriage or committed couplehood.]

Written with maximum confidentiality by Marriage counselor Norene Gonsiewski, MSW, LCSW. She can be found at

Marriage Counselor Portland

Portland, OR Marriage Counselor

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