Mixed agenda couple

Giving Your Mixed Agenda Partner Space

Couples often come to counseling with mixed agendas. Working through this process is often called discernment counseling. While schools and even
some of the most advanced training like the Gottman Method and Emotionally
Focused Therapy (EFT) tend to focus almost exclusively on the assumption that
the couple wants to stay together, that is not always the case for both
partners. One person may be 95% out the door and only in counseling as one last
ditch effort or perhaps to show the courts that they gave marriage counseling a
try and it didn’t work. On the other hand, some may be in counseling with the
primary objective of determining if they want to stay in the relationship and
be more like 10-50% committed.

When this happens, the person considering time-apart, separation, break-up,
or divorce often wants space. If you are the leaning-in person (want it to
work), frequently, the worst thing you can do is try too hard. Unless your
partner tells you they want you to try harder, be more romantic, etc., it is
usually best to give them space (especially if they ask for it). The logical
conclusion the leaning-in partner often makes is if they provide them with
space, they will decide they are happy without them. This is, of course, a risk,
and there are no guarantees. What often happens instead is that the leaning-in
partner becomes smothering. Understandably, many leaning in partners have some
combination of sadness, anxiety, depression, and desperation. These qualities
do not often come across as attractive, however, when your partner is
considering ending the relationship. It can be helpful to be intentional and be
as positive as possible. You don’t need to be a doormat, but if the leaning-out
partner asks you to stop doing something, that is usually good advice. You
don’t need to be fake. You don’t need to try and pretend there is nothing
wrong. But you can try to be the authentic self that you were before problems
started and the self your partner fell in love with.

Discernment counseling is the type of counseling where you explore whether
the relationship should go on. It often entails more individual sessions than
traditional couples counseling, but it is still a mix of the two. Counseling
can help the two of you talk through what has gone wrong, whether you want to
fix it, and hopefully get you on the same page. At worst, couples often emerge
from this experience prepared to have a healthier next relationship. Many
couples realize they still have a lot going for them, and proven techniques and
hard work can keep them together. Clients often look at me in these scenarios as
if they want me to tell their partner what they must do. I may get an
occasional comment like, “tell him he has to honor his vows,” or “tell
her this will destroy our children for life. I do not believe that is more role
or even an ethical or legal role to take. Most counselors want relationships to
work out, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a natural bias toward that,
but our job is to try and keep that bias at bay. If one person is part way out
the door, discernment counseling may be what you need.

Scroll to Top