When one or both members of the couple have serious misgivings about the relationship continuing and/or whether couple therapy can help, I offer a process called Couple Decisioning, based on Discernment Counselling (developed at the University of Minnesota by Dr. William Doherty) to help you determine your future.
Even so, I refrain from advising couples whether or not to split up. Each partner has a responsibility to make that decision for themselves and the family. Oftentimes, it can work either way, as people may turn things around within their marriage, or find relief by parting ways.
I do not promote pairing up or breaking up as a means to meet individual goals. Yet, in some sense, being in a couple is a lifestyle choice, to play as a team rather than solo. In addition to living better materially, research shows that people are generally happier and healthier when in a couple. However, these benefits come only through a sensing of intimacy, support and security. These feelings are built on an ability to trust in a mutual commitment to shared goals, and sustained effort to meet each other’s needs and expectations. Not everyone can or wants to do that. But most of the time, people just don’t quite know how.
While I encourage people to get in touch with their feelings, I am careful to neither minimize nor magnify discontent. Many times, people have a short-term outlook, and powerful feelings will rule the moment. When their partner is also acting or reacting in a heated moment, the future of the relationship can seem bleak.
At no time is it my role to instruct anyone on their moral obligations, shame them to hold to their vows, or uphold the institution of marriage. However, I can usually offer hope. I assume that people who come to me are looking for ways to remain together, and I urge a long-term view. There is almost always some progress that can be made. Divorce is seldom a balm for unhappiness, and it typically has its own major negative consequences.
On the other hand, longevity is not always a good measure of a successful relationship. Therefore, success in couples therapy should not be defined as preserving a union at any cost. When problems remain significant and insurmountable, it is sometimes helpful to explore all options. If one or both partners come to a firm conclusion that preserving the relationship is not in their best interest, I believe it is not a therapist’s right to persuade them otherwise (even if that were possible). Keeping hold of an ever-reluctant or punishing partner will not make for a happy partnership. In those cases, I work toward the best level of communication and accord possible between the partners as they navigate the process of parting.