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Episode 131 - What is Discernment Counseling and How It Can Help If You Are Considering Divorce with Matt Driggers
Leh Meriwether: Welcome, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. And you're listening to The Meriwether & Tharp Show. Here you'll learn about divorce, family law, tips on how to save your marriage if it's in the middle of a crisis, and from time to time even tips on how to take your marriage to the next level. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online theatlantadivorceteam.com.
Todd Orston: Well done.
Leh Meriwether: Thank you. I'm glad that I only took like 10 times for me to get ready for this.
Todd Orston: But still good job.
Leh Meriwether: Thank you.
Todd Orston: Now comes the hard part. We're actually going to keep talking, and talk about-
Leh Meriwether: You're going to be talking for once.
Todd Orston: No, no, no. No. Okay. That's the way it's going to be.
Leh Meriwether: You know, we might need some special counsel.
Todd Orston: What do you have in mind, Leh?
Leh Meriwether: Well, there's this new thing out there, you know what, I'm not going to talk about it. This is one of those days-
Todd Orston: Show's over.
Leh Meriwether: Show's over. We're going to have an expert talk about it. Today is one of those days where we're going to talk about situations where maybe you can save the marriage. This is one of those shows we're not going to talk about divorce per se, but we're going to talk about something that I learned about, you and I both learned about recently, a type of counseling I had never heard of before, and it's an alternative sort of to normal marriage counseling. I'm amazed to say, it's a different type of counseling. There is a marital component to it, but it is a great option in certain situations, I can't talk today.
Todd Orston: Just today? We're making some assumptions here, Leh.
Leh Meriwether: With us today is Matt Driggers. He is the owner of Nautilus Counseling & Coaching. Matt is licensed as an associate professional counselor under the direction and supervision of David Markwell, PhD. He is also a commercially rated pilot, a flight instructor, and avid boater. Matt is married to his college sweetheart, and they live in East Cobb with their three children and one dog. In his free time, you can usually find him involved in something to do with his family, flying or floating. You can read more about him at mattdriggers.com. Matt, thanks for coming on the show.
Matt Driggers: Thank you. It's good to be here.
Leh Meriwether: I'm glad I didn't scare you away because I can't talk today.
Todd Orston: This is going to be a long one. I'm just, yeah, but it'll give me a lot of ammunition to poke fun. Anyway, what I love about discernment therapy, that you're going to talk about, is it's not, and I want this to be clear for listeners, it's not cramming down the throats of people like, "You must fix the marriage."
Matt Driggers: That's right. That's right.
Todd Orston: It's a component, and maybe that is the ultimate outcome, and that would be fantastic, but for people who maybe are to a point where if they don't even know if that's possible, or they are reluctant to go to a therapy, because they feel like, "Maybe I'm just going to get beat upon, because I don't know if I want to still be in this relationship." That's not your approach.
Matt Driggers: That's correct. Yeah. Discernment therapy, or discernment counseling, when one of the couples, they come in, one is more leaning out of the marriage, considering divorce, I've got two people who have very different agendas for being in therapy, which makes traditional couples counseling a little bit tricky. I would hate to be in this position where somebody's just checking the box coming to counseling. If one partner is considering divorce, discernment counseling can be a great step for the marriage, because it is unlike traditional therapy, where you're expecting both couples to come to work on it.
Leh Meriwether: I was talking to someone just the other day where I kind of wished I'd been talking to the other side, because it was clear that they were on their way out, but if there had been sort of another option for them to consider that I would've recommended you for them to go to discernment therapy, or counseling. What I love about it is the person that's leaning towards divorce, there's no pressure on them. They're coming to this counseling session going, "Okay, let's work on this. I'm not sure what I want to do, but I'm not going to be beat upon," like you were saying, "And maybe divorce is the right option." But, you know what, I don't want to take anything away from it. I've got five pages of notes of questions-
Todd Orston: He'll be able to pronounce about one of them.
Leh Meriwether: What is it that discernment therapy does for the person. Why the word discernment?
Matt Driggers: Discernment comes from the idea that what we're helping the couple to do is to gain clarity and confidence over what's next. Whether you're leaning out, and there are legitimate reasons for leaning out of a marriage, or if you're more leaning in and wanting to support the marriage. What we try to do is help you get clarity and confidence over the next step. We generally, we limited, we do not do unlimited sessions, about five sessions. There are some situations where we'll go up to seven. But generally is a five session limit, that we are looking at to help couples figure out one of the three paths for their marriage.
Matt Driggers: The first path would be you can do nothing and leave everything the same. Second path would be divorce or separation. And then the third path would be an all out effort to work on your marriage through counseling.
Todd Orston: Let's say you get to the end of that five or seven session period, and let's say luckily the parties are able to go track three, and they're going to work on their marriage, they're going to throw it all back in and really work on it. At that point, they can transition to regular marriage counseling?
Matt Driggers: That's correct. Then we could transition into, and we would all be onboard, now we are transitioning to couples counseling. That's different. With discernment counseling, the couples spend very little time in the room together. I spend time working with each one individually, even though they're both showing up for the session.
Leh Meriwether: So is path one ever a good option?
Matt Driggers: Path one can be a very good option. Path one again being that position where we just choose to do nothing. For instance, if a couple comes in, and we take discernment therapy one session at a time, so at the end of the first session, we agree that we want to do this again, and we do that up to about five sessions. At the end of this discernment, or sometimes during discernment, a couple may realize just what it's going to take to get divorced, and what it's going to take to work on a marriage. And both may realize, "We just don't have the energy for that." Sometimes that's personal, sometimes life happens. There is an illness, a death, you've got graduation coming up, "We don't have the energy to do anything."
Matt Driggers: That'd be a great scenario where path one, "We're not going to do anything right now," but at least they had come together and made a conscious decision over what they're doing.
Todd Orston: The way that I'm looking at it then is it's almost like path one, or step one, is the analysis phase. You're trying to figure out, "Okay, what is the path?" Then, it might be divorce, or it might be working on things. So it's not that nothing is happening, it's that you're gaining clarity, you're gaining a better understanding of your situation. Then, once you have that, it could take one session, five sessions, whatever, then you can make some bigger decisions as to what path the relationship is going to take.
Matt Driggers: That's right. For instance, another reason why we would choose this path one is if there was a certain behavior in the marriage that the other spouse found intolerable, well, we can, they don't want to get a divorce, but they're not willing to work on the marriage while this behavior is going on. There would be another path one. We're going to leave the status quo while the spouse gets the help, or does the work they need to work on that behavior.
Leh Meriwether: That would include like maybe a spouse that's dealing with some sort of alcohol, like an abuse issue, perhaps drugs or alcohol.
Matt Driggers: Alcohol, pornography, some sort of addiction, some behavior that's bothering the other spouse. Yeah.
Todd Orston: Okay. Wow. So the spouse that's being bothered by, let's say, a porn addiction, I'm not being bothered, I think most people would be bothered by that. But they are the ones sort of leaning out, "I want out." But this sort of opens the door, "Okay, I'll wait while you work on that."
Matt Driggers: Right, right.
Todd Orston: I think that really does set the stage up for success a lot of times. Obviously, we're all about, we would rather save a marriage, we'd rather someone not hire us. But when you realize that that's not an option, that this happens. But I feel like either path, path two or three, if you choose path one, you're setting yourself up for a later success regardless of whether you stay married or get a divorce.
Matt Driggers: Right. And sometimes just the process of going through the discernment therapy, there has been enough of an emotional release, or one spouse has realized, "I've got some of my own work to do, let's pause on getting a divorce. Or let's pause even on doing couples therapy at this point."
Leh Meriwether: I also like that because I've seen situations where one spouse is unhappy. And I think we even have a radio commercial about this, one of our marriage tips commercials is one spouse is unhappy, and they think it's because of their marriage, and it turns out there's something internal going on. Is that something that discernment therapy can sort of identify?
Matt Driggers: Absolutely. One of the reasons, oftentimes, when I have an individual spouse, and the other spouse [inaudible 00:09:44] be out in the waiting room, I love to tell people, "You can't divorce yourself. So rather than point your finger to your spouse during this time, let's figure out what's going on, what are your contributions that you have to bring to the marriage that you're going to work on whether you get divorced or go into couples therapy, you've got to address these issues."
Leh Meriwether: That's a great point, because let's say they do get a divorce, but they never addressed their problem. They're going to have that same problem in the next marriage.
Matt Driggers: Right. The patterns continue.
Leh Meriwether: That's, like I said, set yourself up for success even if you go forward with the divorce, because hopefully that next relationship, because there will be another relationship, is going to be a positive one.
Matt Driggers: Absolutely.
Leh Meriwether: Well, we've got a lot more to dig in here, Todd. I know, this was the first time you'd even heard, today actually when you got the show notes was the first time.
Todd Orston: Absolutely, and thank you for calling it out on the radio. That's fantastic. So we're sharing secrets now? Is that what's going to happen?
Leh Meriwether: Up next we're going to go into some more Todd's secrets.
Todd Orston: No.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. And you're listening to The Meriwether & Tharp Show. If you'd like to read more about us, you can always check us out online theatlantadivorceteam.com. Today, it's not going to be just us talking, thank goodness, because I'm having trouble talking today. It's Matt Driggers from Nautilus Counseling & Coaching. Matt has enlightened me about a new form, is it new?
Matt Driggers: Newer, it's been around for a few years.
Leh Meriwether: So a newer form of counseling, in many situations, we're going to talk about which situations here in just a minute, it's better than marriage counseling when you have couples in crises. So we're going to sort of define when it would be better. But there were something I wanted to, we didn't get to in the last segment, that I think is really important. Because you do have situations where there's this big knock-down, drag-out fight, and perhaps the parties separate. So my question is, if couples do choose separation, are there guidelines they should consider?
Matt Driggers: Yes. I would absolutely. I think when couples of separation, especially when it comes at the end of one of those knocked-down, drag-outs, I've packed a bag, I've moved out. You're not really set. It's not a conscious choice. [inaudible 00:12:24] yeah. The goal of discernment counseling is to get clarity. When it comes to separations, the best analogy I [inaudible 00:12:32] is it's like playing with dynamite. And if you're building a road through a mountain, dynamite is incredibly helpful. But it can also be extremely, extremely dangerous.
Matt Driggers: If separation is something that you choose, and it's a valid option, and there are times when I might even recommend it for a couple, let's be smart about it, let's be intentional about it. And a couple things to consider would be, what is the purpose of this separation? Ideally, it's a redemptive separation, have a reason for doing it. How long is it going to be separated for? What timing? What sort of family time will you spend? Parenting, finances, sex. How do you navigate sex while you were separated? And communication. All would be aspects to consider when going into a separation.
Leh Meriwether: Now I'm thinking an important guideline would be just because you're separated, doesn't mean you could start dating.
Matt Driggers: That's correct. Yes.
Todd Orston: It might throw a hurdle up in reconciliation efforts, I would think.
Leh Meriwether: Yes.
Matt Driggers: And who do you talk to about the separation? And how are you going to talk about it together?
Leh Meriwether: So is that something you can help a couple that come in there, let's say, they decided to separate, or if you recommend it, have you ever had situations where you've helped them work on sort of a temporary parenting plan? Like how are they going to deal with the children?
Matt Driggers: Yeah. These are all topics we talk about if it becomes a separation. Occasionally I'll see a couple, and the damage, the toxicity in the marriage is so much so that any ground we gain in therapy is getting undone. Separation may be a chance. So yeah, we work through and talk through, "Let's come up with a redemptive separation plan and agree as to why we're doing it."
Leh Meriwether: Wow. I didn't even think about the toxicity causing things to take a step back. All right.
Todd Orston: Let's jump into a term that you keep using that is definitely a new term for me, leaning out. And I know during a break we talked about it, sort of a softer approach to something that gets dealt with in therapy, I guess, all the time. But what does the term actually mean in the context of discernment therapy?
Matt Driggers: It is a term that I would use. In discernment therapy there's one partner who is more in favor of the marriage, more championing the marriage, and the other one who is less so. So rather, they haven't stepped out, they're not checked out, but they are leaning in that direction. And it's a way to go, understand for the couple, "Yeah, somebody is leaning out." And usually when I talk, if you've got good reasons, like I understand why you would be leaning out.
Todd Orston: Right. So it's not a negative. It's simply a party who is at least at a place that they think, "This relationship is over." Meaning, "Whatever it broken is broken to a point that I don't know if it's fixable, and I'm thinking we are headed in the direction of separation and/or divorce."
Matt Driggers: That's correct.
Leh Meriwether: You've mentioned that people are considering divorce for all kinds of reasons, but there's often four reasons where you think there might be, if they're considering divorce for these four reasons, they would be a good option for discernment therapy. Can you tell us about what those four types of leaning out spouses look like?
Matt Driggers: Yeah. For any listeners who might be in a leaning out category, for those who thinking, "Divorce might be an option for us." If you fall into one of these categories, then it may be worth just slowing down enough to consider discernment. The first one would be if divorce is a liberation. This would be the person who is really glamorizing the single life, you've got single friends, you think it would be fun to be single. Perhaps you have been scrolling on dating websites.
Todd Orston: The grass is greener.
Matt Driggers: The grass is greener. You may even have somebody in mind who you would go to and sometimes that's a real person, sometimes it's a fantasy person. But that would be one reason if you are considering divorce, just liberation for the other side. Discernment counseling might be a better next step for you. The second one would be if you're leaning out because you see divorce as a release of pressure. You're in a relationship, it is just really antagonistic, you can't see to make headway, and you just don't have any other option. The only way out seems to be divorce.
Matt Driggers: If that's you, I would say, releasing pressure it's like with a pressure cooker, you can do it the right way, or you can do it the wrong way. And there are many people with holes in their ceilings from doing it the wrong way. Finally, if somebody is out there leaning out and thinking divorce, if you're in the category of leaning out and it's more of a reluctance, and you're looking at your spouse going, "They'll never change." Perhaps you tried counseling in the past and it didn't work. And you're tired of running into the same patterns. You don't really want to divorce, but you don't see any other option. It may worth slowing down to consider discernment and get some clarity and confidence together over the next step forward.
Todd Orston: Is that sort of like a feeling of resignation?
Matt Driggers: Yes.
Todd Orston: Okay. All right.
Matt Driggers: There would be one other category too, if there's a listener in this category. You hear this a lot, I'm sure you guys do too, that the love is gone. "I still like this person, we have a life together, but our love just ended." This would be somebody also, I think, let's slow down and look at discernment, because love doesn't just end. It is a thousands of decisions over years, in which you just miss these bids for affection for each other.
Leh Meriwether: I know, when we were talking at lunch the other day, you told me about John Gottman calls these bids for connection, can you explain what that, for those that weren't at lunch with us?
Matt Driggers: If you missed the lunch, bids for connection, in every marriage there are little bids that are made, and in the early days you may notice some. For instance, your spouse makes the coffee, and you realize, "Wow, that was so thoughtful. That was so nice." After 17 years, all of a sudden, the coffee is just made, you don't even realize they made it. When a bid is made, you can either reject it, you can just miss it, or you can receive this bid. And part of a learning to receive these bids for affection are knowing, "Oh, this is my spouse. My spouse took my dry cleaning. Thank you for picking up my dry cleaning, they were thinking about me." Whereas over time you can just miss these.
Leh Meriwether: What's the friendship system?
Matt Driggers: The friendship system, it is the basis of all the relationships. If you think when you're first dating somebody, you're asking questions, you're getting to know them, you're asking favorite colors, people at work who bothers you, and you really get to know a person. Over time, we each change. My spouse changes, I change, and I still have a friendship system, or an operating system, that is how my spouse was 15 years ago when we met. And I haven't updated this.
Leh Meriwether: That's almost like an operating system.
Matt Driggers: Correct.
Leh Meriwether: It's your friendship operating system. All right, let me you ask this, the friendship operating system is out of date now, so can discernment therapy help you update that system?
Matt Driggers: Discernment therapy wouldn't, because the goal of discernment therapy would just, let's gain confidence and clarity over what to do. If a couple would realize, "Our friendship started to drift, we'd like to rebuild this." That would be moving into couples therapy. The good news about falling out of love slowly is, we know that you can fall back in love and start rebuilding the friendship system, and renoticing or remaking those bids for affection.
Leh Meriwether: Correct me if I'm misunderstanding it, so part of the clarity that you get through process is, "Oh, wait a minute. My friendship's operating system, it's out of date. And I need to update it." So you might not have realized it, because it happened slowly, and going back to the Todd comment about the grass is greener on the other side, and I heard a great quote, this was years ago, that the reason it's greener on the other side is because you forgot to water the grass under your own feet.
Matt Driggers: That's beautiful.
Leh Meriwether: So this sounds like, it helps you to identify this, and go, "Oh, okay. Maybe that's why I fell out of love."
Matt Driggers: That's exactly right, yeah. You've got it.
Todd Orston: Let me ask a question. What differentiates discernment therapy from counseling, you know, normal marriage counseling. Even if one party is leaning out of the relationship more so than the other? If they go to a marriage counselor, isn't the marriage counselor going to spend sometime to do some analysis and find out where did the break downs occur? Why are you no longer in love? Why are you no longer friends? Why are you no longer able to communicate? Or whatever the problems may be. Isn't there going to be some similarity between discernment and marriage counseling?
Matt Driggers: Very much similarity. The biggest difference that I could say kind of quickly would be in marriage counseling, we're going to start working on those problems, in discernment counseling, you're just trying to figure out, do you want to work on those problems?
Todd Orston: That's an interesting, that's very interesting.
Leh Meriwether: What I'm also hearing in the discernment is sometimes you realize that there were problems you weren't even aware of.
Matt Driggers: That's right.
Leh Meriwether: So at that point, when you realize that, you can also decide, "Either I'm going to work on those problems, or I'm not."
Matt Driggers: Yes.
Leh Meriwether: All right. Up next, we're going to talk about what are some of the postures or reactions that you see from the spouse who's leaning into the marriage, how do they react to discernment therapy.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome back, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. And you're listening to The Meriwether & Tharp Show. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online atlantadivorceteam.com.
Leh Meriwether: Today, thankfully, we're not the only ones talking. We've got Matt Driggers in studio with us from Nautilus Counseling & Coaching. We're talking about discernment therapy. Something I didn't know about until a few weeks ago when I went to lunch with you, Matt. And I'm learning all kinds of great terms that I'm looking forward to using the next time I talk to someone on the phone about a different kind of therapy that can help those couples that where one is leaning out of the marriage, ready to go to divorce, and one is leaning into the marriage, they desperately want marriage counseling, the other one, if they go to marriage counseling, they're just checking a box. It's not going to be successful. You have learned how to be a discernment counselor, is that a fair term?
Matt Driggers: That's fair.
Leh Meriwether: All right. And to help people get clarity, what's really going on? I know it's deeper than that, but-
Matt Driggers: It's a good summary.
Leh Meriwether: All right, where we left off, we've talked about the different, I've learned about friendship operating systems, I love that. I'm totally borrowing that. I may not quote you when I do. But I'm quoting you here. So that way I can just-
Matt Driggers: [crosstalk 00:23:39].
Leh Meriwether: ... refer back to the radio show. We've talked about what discernment therapy is, and in what situations, when that person is leaning out of the marriage, when would it be good for them. Now, let's talk about for that spouse that's leaning in, they just, they want so desperately to go to marriage counseling, they want this marriage to work. What do you say to that spouse that comes into discernment therapy?
Matt Driggers: Yeah. If there's a listener in that category, first I'd like to say, I can understand just how devastating that can be. That hearing those words, divorce, from the mouth of your spouse, that can be a real eye opener, a real world shaker. And generally, there are three patterns that somebody might fall into if they are still more leaning into the marriage. And the first might be to really start to pursue too much. The second would be to withdraw. Then the third, or middle one, may be just starting to bargain, or plead for so many sessions of marital counseling, or can we do something? And each one of those has a drawback to it.
Leh Meriwether: I can imagine. I have heard of these situations where they just, they put a lot of pressure on the other person, and it basically feel like they're being smothered. And I can imagine, that might push the other person faster towards divorce.
Matt Driggers: Right. You can't pursue somebody fast enough, anybody who's [inaudible 00:25:01], to catch them. So it's a very anxious, anxiety provoking state, when they are trying to pursue, and trying to please. And it also leads to a place of burnout. One example would be, your spouse has been complaining, the house isn't clean enough, now divorce is on the table. You run around, this house is going to be spotless forever. There are other aspects [inaudible 00:25:21], that's not a sustainable change to the marriage.
Matt Driggers: So the anxious sort of pursuing behavior eventually is to just a burnout place of giving up. While it was an effort to do something, it was an effort in the right place. So, for those who are listening that are in the space of leaning in, not wanting the divorce. To you I would say, this is a time not to pursue, but also a time not to withdraw. The withdrawing may look for you like, "Well, it's their fault, their choice. There's nothing I can do." Giving up your agency and your power in this situation is not helpful either. So we encourage people to bring their best self forward. Not to pursue too hard, and not to withdraw.
Todd Orston: So in situations where the leaning in person might be dealing with their own issue, maybe it's an addiction, or whatever the case might be. It applies in that kind of a situation, right, that's what you're saying. Like that person may very much want to fix what's broken, may want to get back on track, but the other party is not ready yet.
Matt Driggers: Right.
Todd Orston: So then rather than marriage counseling, which is sort of an in your face to both parties, come on, we're trying to get you both back together. If that other part is leaning out and is not there yet, discernment therapy might be a good choice, because you're not trying to browbeat anybody into doing anything, you're trying to gain clarity, or help them gain clarity so they could determine what the next steps are going to look like.
Matt Driggers: That's right. Yeah. The goal of discernment therapy is not to move to marriage therapy. There are three paths, and I would just like to help you gain clarity over which path to choose. Because the goal of couples therapy is very much let's discover what's possible for your marriage. I don't know what's possible yet. But together, let's kind of find out what is possible, which it's really hard to get a good gauge on that if you got one person that is half checked out, doesn't want to really bring their best self forward and grow.
Leh Meriwether: To follow up on what you said, Todd, like let's say someone has an addiction that they're working through, I think one of the worst things you can see is they'll do what you said, they'll just pour themselves into it, it's not something that's sustainable. Then, they got to the other spouse, the one that's leaning out and says, "See, I changed." And, oh my gosh, I've represented the leaning out spouse, and they're like, "I have heard that 10,000 times before. It's not going to last. It's going to go away." So that's brilliant right there. I guess, that's what you, I don't know if teach is the right word, but something that you work with that spouse leaning in saying, "Look, you need to back off, or slow down." I would imagine maybe the best thing to do for that spouse leaning in is just listen and learn.
Matt Driggers: There is, even with couples therapy, we call that the three A's. We have abuse, affairs, and addictions. If any of those are ongoing, couples therapy is not the next step. Discernment therapy adds this fourth A of agenda. When you got mixed agendas, one wanting to fix the marriage, one really looking more towards a divorce, what adds this fourth A, [inaudible 00:28:27] abuse, affairs, addictions and then just different agendas for the marriage.
Leh Meriwether: I've learned a new term, another one, agenda. Wow. I am learning so much on this show.
Matt Driggers: I will say too that sometimes you get a leaning in spouse, and after spending sometime with them, we learn that that would put them in the category of a conflicted leaning in spouse. By that I mean they don't want to be divorced more than they want to be married. Sometimes, there's religious reasons for this, sometimes it's family reasons you may have seen divorce, and you just made this blind vow, I will never get divorced. That's not enough to stay married. And wanting to have a healthy marriage is very different from, "I just don't want to be divorced." So that would be something that would come up during discernment therapy, hopefully, that we could then start to look at and work on together.
Leh Meriwether: So, during this process. Let's say we don't have anybody that has an addiction issue, but they're leaning in, maybe there's sort of a breakdown of the five love languages, or something like that, and the other person is going back to Dr. Chapman when he was on our show, that the other side's love tank is empty, and the other one's is full, they are pouring themselves in, pushing the other one further away. Do you tend to refer them out to their own counseling, to get their own separate counseling, separate from discernment therapy?
Matt Driggers: That would be something that would come up during discernment. And that's generally, I would say, if we're going that route, if we're referring out for individuals, then for the marriage, we are probably choosing a path one. That the marriage in these days, we just leave it as the status quo, while each individual go works on their own issues, their own parts that they're bringing to counseling.
Leh Meriwether: And in that case, each person has to get their own separate counselor?
Matt Driggers: Yes.
Leh Meriwether: They can't use you for that?
Matt Driggers: No, that wouldn't be good.
Leh Meriwether: Are you ... I know that counselors have all their own sort of, they have rules, professional rules as far as who they can represent, or counsel who they can. Can you switch from discernment therapy to couples counseling?
Matt Driggers: I do. And I do most of the time. As long as the couple is comfortable with that. There may be a scenario where it works better to refer out, but generally I will in that case with the couple self-refer, and we will all agree. Now we are switching into couples therapy. It is tough. If you are the leaning in spouse in this case, and you've heard this news that your spouse does want divorce, or divorce is on the table, and whether they made steps in that direction, or it's just a cry for help. As the leaning in spouse, I will say to you, you're in a really unfair situation, that somebody has got to be the flag bearer for this marriage.
Matt Driggers: With you being the more leaning in, this responsibility falls on you. So it's no longer a 50-50, for this season, it may be more 70-30, 80-20, and yes, that is unfair. But as the leaning in spouse, this is what I can ask of you.
Leh Meriwether: I mean, that's a good advice right there, because I think you've got to sort of set the expectations, which is what we try to do as lawyers when somebody comes into our office, set expectations. You're setting their expectations of, "You're going to have to carry this marriage for now."
Todd Orston: I like that analogy, because if one party is leaning out, and they're at 30% investment, if you're only willing to put in 30%, then there's a chasm there. So you either need to be, watch this, I'm going to do some math, 65%, no I'm kidding, so you need to be able to lean in that 70%, otherwise, that gap isn't filled.
Matt Driggers: Right.
Todd Orston: So, actually I like that analogy.
Leh Meriwether: I would think the person leaning in needs to have a certain level, and this is going to be hard to accept, but a certain level of gratitude that you're in discernment therapy, because I could tell you there's a lot of people that won't even take that step, they'll just call a divorce lawyer, and then sometimes the first time they ever really hear about divorce is when they get served with divorce papers.
Matt Driggers: Yeah. And I think discernment therapy is a great fit in that case, because the partner who's leaning out, it's not couples therapy. But the one who is leaning in, we do have something we can be working on.
Leh Meriwether: So, when we come back, we're going to go into what do you do when a spouse is considering divorce, but they don't want to go to any kind of therapy, not even discernment counseling.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. And you're listening to The Meriwether & Tharp Show. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online theatlantadivorceteam.com.
Leh Meriwether: Today, we got with us Matt Driggers, and we've been talking all about something that I didn't even know existed until a few weeks ago, discernment therapy. It's a great alternative, not alternative, I think a better option for many people that are in the edge of a divorce, let's say one person is leaning out, and the other person wants to stay married. In those situations, counseling may not be the best option. It may be a waste of money and time. Whereas discernment therapy could potentially lead to saving the marriage.
Todd Orston: Can I jump in for one second? Because we keep talking about one lean in, one lean out. Does this apply if you have two lean outs? Because lean out doesn't mean stepped out, or doesn't mean checked out. What if you have two that are leaning away from staying together. Is this still an option where basically you could get them leaning in the opposite direction?
Matt Driggers: Generally, if they're both on the leaning out for discernment therapy to work. We need somebody to be carrying the banner. So I need somebody to be a little more leaning in.
Todd Orston: Okay.
Leh Meriwether: It goes back to your analogy that there's a chasm if they're both at 30%.
Todd Orston: Yeah, but that was like last segment. I can't be expected to remember what I said back then.
Leh Meriwether: No, but that was a great question, because I hadn't thought of it.
Todd Orston: Well, [inaudible 00:34:36].
Leh Meriwether: Matt, when we were talking on the break, you had mentioned something about, when you have that person that's ... the leaning out person is leaning out because of perhaps an addiction, or some sort of behavior that they can't seem to get away from. Then, all of a sudden, they're pouring themselves into fixing it, and then they tell the other, "I'm all better now, let's not get a divorce." And you had mentioned something about motivation, but no connection. So before we get into the last part of this, can you explain what you meant by that?
Matt Driggers: Yes, sure. The word divorce can be a catalyst for people to start doing some work. And you see people who get very, very motivated. Motivation can carry you so far. But the problem with most marriages isn't a lack of motivation, it's a lack of connection. So getting this motivator partner just to slow down, and see what are the blocks to connection, and that is a lot of the work that'll come up in discernment therapy, the motivation to fix it is not enough to [inaudible 00:35:36] your marriages. My motivation to run is not enough to help me run a marathon anymore than that.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah.
Todd Orston: I got to tell you, I'm motivated to go running every day. It doesn't happen, but I feel a little bit healthier. I mean, I thought about running, so that doesn't work? That's why I'm still putting on weight.
Matt Driggers: One can try.
Todd Orston: Yeah, that's all right.
Leh Meriwether: That and the doughnuts.
Todd Orston: And the doughnuts, right. I'm motivated to believe they don't have any calories.
Leh Meriwether: Apparently that doesn't work either.
Todd Orston: It doesn't work either.
Leh Meriwether: All right. What if someone has found out their spouse is considering divorce, but they won't go to any type of therapy, not even like discernment counseling. You can't get them to counseling or any kind of counseling. What can you do in that situation?
Matt Driggers: Yeah. This is a really hard situation. A lot of the research shows that, I wish I can remember the name of the person who did it, but to work on a relationship with just one person has not very good success outcomes. In an ideal world we've got two people who come, but we don't live in an ideal world. So if we have one person who wants to work on the marriage, I then switch, and we'd put it more into a hopeful spouse counseling, similar to discernment counseling, I'll limit this to five, to maybe seven sessions. And with that person rather than look at how did your marriage get here? What did you each bring to the table? We spend our time going you are here, now what are you going to do about it?
Matt Driggers: And end up still looking at these three paths, helping that person to get some agency, some power back. What are your options? And which option seems right for you?
Leh Meriwether: All right. So there's one thing we haven't talked about yet. What happens if the couple does choose divorce?
Matt Driggers: Great question. That happens. Some of the statistics around this, about 30, sometimes 50% of the people do go on and choose path three, couples counseling. Up to 40% of the people are going to choose divorce. And that is their choice. Then there's the 10% that kind of stay and choose path one, maintain status quo. If together, in these sessions, we have determined that, "No, we want to still move forward with divorce." Well, now the conversation shifts into how do you move forward well? Especially if there are children involved, how do you have a family friendly divorce? Because you will still have a relationship afterwards. Let's make this something that each of you look back and go, "We did the best we could, and our family is still communicating [inaudible 00:38:07]."
Leh Meriwether: So do you help them craft goals? How involved do you get in that process? Like getting them to look at what it looks like later on.
Matt Driggers: Part of the goal. Sometimes first we have to back up, that there's still a leaning in spouse that doesn't want the divorce. So part of the work there is helping that person process, helping them come to terms with the reality of their life at this point. So, that's some of the work. When we've got them both onboard, we start looking at things, what do you want for your spouse? What do you want for yourself? What do you want for your children? Then, I love the question, and you referenced the book Crucial Conversations on this show a few times, if you really want that, what would you do?
Matt Driggers: Then we also start looking together, and working together, what don't you want? What do you want to avoid as you're going forward with this divorce?
Todd Orston: Now, you just made that last statement, what don't you want? I would imagine that we have that leaning in spouse, and they're leaning in 90%, the other one's at 10% leaning, I mean, you know what I'm saying, how do you get them past, they're going to say, "I don't want this divorce." Are you working one-on-one with that spouse?
Matt Driggers: Yeah. This isn't a back to back conversation. Well, we've chosen divorce, okay, great. Now, let's move into how. There is time. And it's still one-on-one with helping the person come to terms with what does their new reality look like, even it's just for this short term. One of the questions that comes up as people have chosen divorce, one of the first things we look at is timing. You know, you chose to get married, most people didn't go into the courthouse right away and get married. You waited, you spent time planning.
Matt Driggers: So timing becomes an issue. When there are valid reasons of choosing path two, and then still saying, "Yeah, but we need to hold off on this for live events that are happening."
Todd Orston: So, that's another, I guess, big difference between marriage counseling and discernment therapy that, tell me if I'm wrong, marriage counseling, if you get to a point where either both parties are leaning out, or you get to a point where it is clear what is broken cannot be fixed, really the purpose of that therapy is over.
Matt Driggers: Right.
Todd Orston: Whereas, you may only still be scratching the surface as to what needs to be accomplished if in discernment therapy it is determined that the path is going to be separation and/or divorce. There's still a lot to talk about.
Matt Driggers: Yes.
Todd Orston: All right.
Matt Driggers: Yeah. There's still a lot to talk about. Maybe, now that somebody, Leh, you referenced the person who still doesn't want the divorce, this would be a time where we're referring out to that person to get individual therapy to help adjust to their new norms, new reality, would be an absolutely appropriate next step.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah. When you have the one that doesn't want the divorce, they can get bitter, and angry, and slow down the divorce process. They can make it very, very difficult. And I understand the feelings, the problem is that they're not ... yeah, they are impacting their spouse, but who they're really impacting are the kids. And they don't feel like it, they feel like, "Well, I'm protecting the kids, because I'm trying to fight for this marriage." But in the reality we are today, it only takes one person wanting a divorce to get a divorce. So you have a choice, it's that clarity.
Leh Meriwether: You have a choice that either I'm going to make this as amicable as possible, so that we're not going to be husband and wife anymore, but we are going to be a good father and a good mother, we're going to be great co-parents. And gosh, let me ask, how many times do you have the leaning in spouse like really fight? How much are they fighting? How difficult do you find it to get them to that, "I've got to accept this?"
Matt Driggers: I don't know if I've got a number on how often in those times when the person still doesn't want it. I get it. I mean, my heart breaks for them. Because this is a very difficult reality you're facing. Part of our conversation that has to be, "Let's look at your support system. Because you are about to go through something that I don't want you to go through alone. If that mean getting other counselors, [inaudible 00:42:26] going to connect it to a church, getting connected to a small group, finding friends who you can trust, people who are on your side," our conversation has to switch to, "You are facing something you don't want to face. You need to get some people on your side."
Leh Meriwether: That's great advice. You know what I don't want to face? The fact that we're out of time again. Hey, Matt, real quickly, how can people, if whoever is out there listening is a leaning in or leaning out spouse, how can they get in touch with you if their marriage is on the edge of a divorce?
Matt Driggers: The easiest way would be go to my website, MattDriggers.com, and there is a button on the top that says contact me. Or an email to email@example.com.
Leh Meriwether: Real quick, can you spell your last name just in case?
Matt Driggers: Yes. It's D, as in Delta, R-I-G-G-E-R-S.
Leh Meriwether: All right. We'll have that on our website too. MattDriggers.com. We'll put it on our website, and by the way, if you're listening to this, we do have our past shows on our website. If you go to divorceteamradio.com, you can find past shows. And we even transcribe these shows. So go check it out there. You'll see his information, you'll be able to get to his website. The great thing is, I mean, this could save your marriage. Even if it doesn't, it could set you up for an amicable divorce. Unfortunately we're out of time. Thanks so much for listening.