By Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
There are three general scenarios that bring couples to counseling. There are
those couples that are jointly committed to the relationship and are seeking
improvement. There are those couples that are jointly seeking to dissolve the
relationship and are seeking to manage the process of change. There are those
couples where one is committed to the relationship and the other is not.
It is this latter scenario that can be fraught with the greatest difficulty
in managing feelings and determining the direction of the relationship. In this
last scenario, it is not uncommon to see one partner present as committed and
the other as ambivalent. Underneath the ambivalence may be a desire to attend
therapy, not to maintain the relationship, but to find a safe place to end it.
Hence there may be contrary goals where the outcome is the inevitable end of
the relationship despite interventions aimed at improvement or reconciliation.
Counseling in this scenario can still be of benefit.
Ending a relationship through counseling provides opportunity to manage the
process in a manner that can reduce hostility and conflict. The parties have
the opportunity to receive guidance and direction prior to anger and upset taking
over as a driving force in their judgment or decision-making. By virtue of both
persons working with the same person, settlements may be achieved. Counselors
understand the nature of conflict and distress and help couples work through
Alternately, when couples see individual counselors or respective lawyers,
greater conflict may result. By each party seeing their own respective support
person (therapeutic or legal) it can increase the likelihood of having their
version of events and position reinforced and differences magnified. The support
person is only privy to the one side and does not have the opportunity to develop
a balanced view. Also the opportunity to help parties resolve matters between
themselves together is non-existent when each goes off in different directions.
Hence couples entering counseling due to conflict have the opportunity to work
their relationship through the entire counseling process. Even though feelings
may be high and persons upset or even feeling betrayed, remaining with the counselor
can provide for a better outcome in terms of untangling the relationship and
matters arising – particularly where children are concerned.
Depending on the level of conflict and in ending a relationship, parties may
feel exposed without a lawyer to advise them along the way. In these situations,
legal input can be helpful. A reasonable lawyer can provide input to assure
that the direction of settlement is appropriate and that certain rights or expectations
are addressed. Final agreements can be set in writing and made contractual.
In terms of what is best for children, it tends to be less what the agreement
is, than how it was achieved and the degree of conflict between the parties.
A good counseling outcome then, when the relationship doesn’t work, is
where the parties can dissolve the relationship amicably and reasonably and
transition as smoothly as possible to a new way of life that balances competing
needs and wants.