In my first session with clients, I explore their position in the relationship. As William (Bill) Doherty, PhD (the mastermind behind Discernment Counseling) points out, when a couple is considering divorce, there is typically a “leaning in” partner and “leaning out” partner. The leaning in partner doesn’t want the divorce and the leaning out partner does. My process is different for each party. If the client is leaning in, I explore the circumstances for their partner wanting a divorce. I also explore the relationship dynamic as well as the communication patterns and triggers. I help the client determine if there is hope for the marriage and provide marriage counseling referrals. I will continue to work with the client to help them process their grief if there isn’t hope in the marriage.
If a client is leaning out, I use a different process. For the leaning out partner, I help them determine where they are in the decision making process. I take the stance of helping the client decide if they want a divorce, and if they decide they do, I help them prepare for what is to come. My philosophy is that the client should go as slowly as needed for her spouse to process this outcome. In order to accomplish this, a series of honest, compassionate conversations over a period of time taking an empathetic stance will be required. These conversations don’t have to involve making a decision. The purpose of the conversations is simply to explore feelings around the state of the marriage. In doing this, the leaning out partner is honoring the grieving process for the leaning in partner. I will discuss the grieving process for both parties in a future blog post.
Although I can’t predict how long it will take for you, I can say in my experience with other clients, it can take as little as a few months to as long as year for the leaning in partner to come around to the idea. Having said this, they most likely still will not want the divorce. Hopefully, the leaning in spouse will reach a level of acceptance that allows it to happen more compassionately. It is unrealistic to expect the leaning in partner to be “okay” with the divorce since there is still a grieving process. In honoring their process, the leaning out partner is showing compassion and empathy for their spouse.