Relationship Ambivalence Counseling

Posted by: Center for Growth Therapists

Feeling breakup ambivalence? Not sure if you want in or out of your relationship? Are you fighting for working on your relationship but feel like your partner is half out the door? Feel yourself looking for a last- ditch effort for your relationship but worried it is already over?

Ambivalence, or not feeling sure about something,  in relationships appears often in couple’s therapy offices. The majority of times, people just mean I don’t want to continue doing this relationship the way we have been doing it. I’m desperate! I’m hopeless that we will get out of this. Other times people genuinely feel ready to end it. They just need a little space to process their readiness, make sure they do it thoughtfully, or want emotional closure with the help of an objective professional. This tip will explore what is discernment counseling and how it can the benefit couples with relationship ambivalence.

When couple's reach the relationship ambivalence stage, it is important for both partners to discern whether they want to continue working on the relationship or not, no matter where you fall on the ambivalence-commitment spectrum. Discernment counseling is definitely a better fit than couple’s therapy when both partners are unsure of wanting to continue working on the relationship. Other times, one person is more “out” of the relationship than the other which can make traditional couple’s therapy painful for the person who is committed to making it work. The partner who is “in” is burdened with doing a lot of the work of holding things together while they try to convince the other person to make up their mind or give the space for them to decide. Couples therapy, on the other hand, is great for couples who are both willing and able to work on the relationship together even if ambivalence creeps in occasionally. Candidates for discernment counseling have often already tried couple’s therapy. Other couples have not tried couple’s therapy yet, but feel so ambivalent they do not want to sign up for that either.

Discernment counseling is a unique approach and frame of mind to assure the ambivalent person(s) that it is different than couple’s therapy you may have already tried. It also is a shorter commitment to help folks who are struggling to decide if they want to want the relationship to get better. Its purpose is really to help both partners flush out the meaning of either decision before taking on even more pressure and having to commit to the couple’s therapist that you want to try therapy. Of course, this can be accomplished in respective individual therapy; however, a couple's therapist is trained to assess both perspectives and hold space for each person's experience to better understand the relationship ambivalence. Your individual therapist only knows your side and is missing a lot of information about the effort the other person is working on and a truer picture of the role each person plays into the problems they are having.

You many wonder if it is hurtful for either of you to push to lay out your deepest insecurities and fears to a partner who may choose to leave you afterward. Yes, you will benefit from learning how to take emotional risks, but depending on your history this may not help you take future risks in relationships if you end it. Your therapist can help you decide which vulnerability risks might be useful in helping to work on your relationship ambivalence or what to save for after you decide to fully work on it again. It’s possible you have not fully given your partner a chance to be there for you vulnerably and it would be worth it for you to give them a chance before you can walk away. If you cannot look yourself in the mirror and feel assured you tried everything and feel done, discernment counseling is worth the investment.

What discernment counseling looks like:

Your therapist will meet with you and you partner together at first and then separately. Sometimes those sessions can happen in the same day. For example, 30 minutes with each of you and then a 30-minute check-out conjointly. Other times for more ambivalent couples, it is better to schedule entire sessions individually for as long as it takes in order to make this decision, before coming back together conjointly. A good discernment counselor will recommend the structure and continuously assess the commitment level of each partner. After a few individual and conjoint meetings, each partner will have a more solid understanding of what they want and need along with a game plan for what it would look like to move forward and transition into more traditional couples’ therapy. Essentially, knowing what each of you want the relationship to look like compared to how it currently is so each partner can thoughtfully decide if they are willing to work on their individual role in the couple’s problem.

Unsure if you should try a discernment counseling approach to couples’ therapy? Call us for a free consultation!