When Happy Couples are Very Unhappy 10% of the Time

discernment counseling

I often hear from couples that they are reluctant to begin couples therapy because really, their relationship is good or even great 90% of the time. It’s just that other 10% – are they being greedy by focusing on that?

Shouldn’t they be able to fix it themselves?

As we get deeper into the conversation it becomes clear that the 10% can be extremely distressing. They become volatile, distant, stop talking, are hurt and frustrated and don’t understand how they got there. The trigger seems so silly it’s embarrassing.

The anchor in any good relationship is connection. This can be spending time together or simply a check in, letting each other know you’re there with each other emotionally. When this doesn’t happen small resentments build and a simple misunderstanding can trigger an all out war.

Sex and intimacy is a primary way couples stay connected. Each may have somewhat different sexual needs or they are out of sync sexually and distance creeps in, this can be subtle and happen without either person realizing it, or it can be extremely obvious. In many cases both partners avoid talking about it, resentment and confusion builds.

Another volatility trigger is “the in-laws”. At times the needs of your parents and the needs of your partner may be in conflict. The pull to satisfy both often results in your partner feeling neglected, not a priority, or misunderstood.

It all comes back to connection, the anchor of every relationship. What that connection looks like varies from couple to couple and for each person in the couple. One may require more alone time and the other may need more together time. This has to be communicated so it doesn’t turn into a trigger.

These are some of the ways couples end up in the volatility cycle going down a rabbit hole of arguing that only leads to more hurt and distance.

Identifying these triggers can help prevent fights or repair and reconnect after some volatility has already occurred.

As your relationship partner, I help create a safe space for these conversations so that you can identify triggers and communicate in a way that brings more understanding and closeness.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Couple sitting on couch listening to therapist

They enter my office, nervous and uncertain as many couples do during a first visit—he is trying to smile and break the ice; she is stone-faced and clearly contemptuous—of him? Of the process? Hard to say, but what quickly becomes clear is that she doesn’t want to be here. Her body language speaks volumes as she turns her body away from him and avoids making eye contact.  

What emerges is a story I’ve heard all too often: both agree that it isn’t working but he feels they can save the marriage; she is in the other camp, thinking it’s too late.

We have all seen this—attorneys and therapists alike. A couple in distress comes for your services; one wants to work on the marriage and will do anything to save it while the other wants a divorce. Are they done?

What is clear is that they can’t go on like this any longer.

This situation is fertile ground for volatility, frustration, and a feeling that the professionals they have consulted have let them down.

How can an attorney or therapist make headway with this kind of “mixed agenda” couple? The truth is, going the usual counseling routes, it’s almost impossible. They will continue to sabotage each other’s efforts until they have a common goal. Often they will blame the attorneys and therapists, calling them incompetent and unhelpful, saying they “just don’t get it”.

Many couples in this predicament are frustrated by the lack of progress in couples therapy. In a sense they are correct. It’s virtually impossible to make any progress when two people are working towards entirely different goals. One or both may consult attorneys but they don’t take the next step because they see the writing on the wall. The break up will be ugly and harmful. They don’t want to go down the road of contentious divorce.

That leaves them stuck, stuck, stuck, and unsure and even untrusting of where to turn for help.

This is the perfect time for a focused, time-limited method for getting couples on the same page, working toward the same goal, so they can move forward.

This is Discernment Counseling:

Discernment Counseling gives couples a safe and constructive environment to hear each other’s pain and despair while not having to agree to any long-term arrangement. It sets the stage for either committed couples therapy or moving through divorce. Most importantly, it allows each to take personal responsibility for where they are and where they are going.

  • A structured (or specific) approach to choosing the goal
  • Takes the focus off of blame and how each person was wronged
  • Puts the emphasis on what comes next, and attaining an outcome that will benefit all involved

That same couple that entered my office with arms folded and bodies turned away from each other is now engaged in a dialogue. They have softened toward one another and have joined together to choose the best path forward for themselves and their family.