When You Need A Divorce, According to Couple’s Therapists

No 4: When trust is nowhere to be found.

by Chase Scheinbaum
Originally Published: 
a black white edit of woman and a man kissing

As any couple’s therapist will tell you, it’s not their place to advise you whether or not to get divorced; they’re there to help you arrive at their patient’s own conclusions. Still, they’ve stood on the platform and watched many a train go off the rails, which means they’re adept at spotting it. You won’t find many black and white issues in therapeutic settings, but a handful of therapists outlined the themes that most frequently end with a Google search for a divorce attorney.

READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Divorce and Kids

One Partner Feels Forced into an Impasse

“In therapy sessions, I’m thinking in the back of my mind that may not be workable is when there are impasse issues,” says Catherine Q. Nelson, a clinical social worker with the Raleigh, N.C.-based Aspire Counseling Group. For example, when one person wants to buy a house, the other wants to rent and neither wants to compromise — that’s an impasse. “Forcing the other into a situation where negotiation or compromise doesn’t work,” Nelson says. “Another would be having an open marriage. That’s not something where there’s a lot of middle ground.” But even with an apparent impasse on your hands, Nelson recommends seeking the opinions of other therapists. “I don’t believe I’m the end-all be-all. Someone else’s approach may be more effective,” she says.

Sex Has Left the Marriage and No One Wants to Change or Accept It

A couple with a house, kids, and savings accounts still does not have it all if there’s no sex in the relationship. The absence of sexy-time has the potential to be a non-starter, says Dr. Karen Ruskin, a therapist in Sharon, Massachusetts. and author of Dr. Karen’s Marriage Manual.“You can love the other person but not have desire,” she says. And if one person doesn’t want to bring back that intimacy, then that spells trouble. Of course, there are ways of dealing with barely smoldering embers. Namely, “Can you either commit to making the necessary changes or can you accept a marriage that is not going to have sexuality?”

There’s An Unwillingness to Change

The real problem in your relationship might not be what you think it is. “I’m not so concerned with what people come in with, even if there’s hostility, says Lori Gottlieb, a psychotherapist who’s authored books and numerous magazine articles on relationships. “I’m looking at how willing people are to take responsibility for their own role in whatever’s going on.” When couples come in, one person often outlines the problem in such a way that they’re minimally at fault for the happiness, Gottlieb says. “It’s important to see if that story will change.”

When Trust Is Nowhere to Be Found

Whether or not your last name is Focker, almost nothing is so important as being inside the Circle of Trust. As Robert De Niro’s character puts it, “Once you’re out, you’re out. There’s no coming back.” Said another way, “Once a certain level of trust is gone you don’t want to open up and take risks. The gap becomes undeniable and intolerable,” says Sue Johnson, a real life psychologist, researcher, and author of Hold Me Tight. “People can’t tolerate being alone in relationships or feeling abandoned or rejected for very long. There’s no basic sense of safety in the relationship.”

When Children Are Witnessing the Discord

Adults make their own messes, and they should probably spare kids from bearing witness to them. If your marital discord is open for your children to see, “It’s definitely time to separate,” says Lisa Hall, a marriage and family therapist in Louisville, Colorado. “The number one factor that affects children and their self-esteem is parental conflict. If you can’t get that under control, you’re impacting your children.”

Hall has one additional bit of wisdom that’s uncharacteristically assertive for a therapist, though it’s more legal in nature than psychological. “If someone takes the children and withholds them and won’t give information about they are and takes a large sum of money out of a bank account,” she says, “It’s time to talk to a divorce attorney.”

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