Thursday, December 17, 2020

Dr. Alan Singer Achieves Certification As a Discernment Counselor

Discernment counseling is a protocol for treating mixed-agenda couples where one is leaning out of the relationship and is reluctant to work on it in therapy, and the other wants to save the relationship. Studies suggest that as many of 30% of couples presenting for couples therapy fall into the mixed-agenda category, and they present a significant challenge for couple’s therapists because our models assume a basic willingness to try therapy and to stay in the relationship for the time being. Discernment counseling is intended for couples who once made a lifetime commitment, whether legally married or not. It’s not for couples considering whether to commit.

Goal: greater clarity and confidence in their decision making about the future of their marriage, based on a deeper understanding of what’s happened to their marriage and each person’s contributions to the problems.

2. A clear distinction between discernment counseling and couples therapy. No couple interventions occur in discernment counseling and no experiential enactments during sessions. The “deeper” work occurs during one-to-one conversations with each partner.

3. Distinctive structure: • Short term: 1-5 sessions. Preferably weekly. A decision made each time whether to meet again. • Two hour opening session. 1.5 hour follow up sessions. Both partners come for all sessions. • Session flow: first part with the couple, then separate conversations with each partner followed by a brief sharing of something learned during the individual time, and then couple together at the end. Confidentiality guideline for individual conversation: the discernment counselor does not share the specifics of what each spouse says, but is free to share impressions and reactions to each spouse when talking to the other. • Insist that both spouses come for each session, even though they each spend part of the session in the waiting room.

4. Focus on decision making about three paths: the marriage as it has been (path one), separation/ divorce (path two), or a six month reconciliation period with an all-out effort in couples therapy (and using other resources), with divorce off the table—and then a decision about the long term future (path three)

5. Use different approaches with leaning in and leaning out partners • Leaning out: Help them make a decision based on more a complex understanding of the marriage and their own role in its problems and potential future • Leaning in: Help them bring best self to the crisis, not make things worse, get what the other spouse is saying, and work on self. 

6. Outcomes: Path three: launching couples therapy (usually but not always with the discernment counselor); Path two: move towards divorce; or Path one: stay on hold for now—neither divorce nor start couples therapy 

7. Study of 100 consecutive discernment counseling cases: 48% chose path three, 42% path two, 12% path one. About 40% of the total sample were still married two years after discernment counseling. Ref. Doherty, Harris, & Wilde (2016)



Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Marital Survival Guide (by the letters) Second Installment

Following my first essay on, I received several requests for a continuation of the alphabet. Below are the E, F, G, and H of the fifty day Marital Survival Guide. Your comments are greatly appreciated. 


Empathy:    It is normal to want to help your spouse soothe when they are upset. Telling them to “calm down” doesn’t work. It is simply another way of conveying that you feel they are overreacting. Dr. John Mordechai Gottman suggests that the goal is not to try to fix your spouse's feelings but to communicate that you understand and accept them. This is empathy.    

Ears:     There is a well-known question: Why did God give us two ears and one mouth? The answer: so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. Here is sound advice for productive conversations: be interested, not interesting.  

Easy:    Men, do you want to make regular deposits in the Care Bank? Ask your wife each morning what you can do to make her day easier.

Eliminate    the “D” word entirely from your discussions and disagreements. Why? It is like hitting the reset button and waiting for your computer to slowly reboot. With all couples on-the-brink who come to see me for counseling, I ask them to commit to two or three months of weekly therapy sessions - with the D word completely off the table. Otherwise, progress is nearly impossible.  

Enforce     a no-phone zone at family meals. Researchers found evidence that mobile phones have negative effects on closeness, connection, and conversation quality. (See G section below _ Google) Przybylski and Weinstein, May 6, 2013.   

Engage       the services of a qualified pro-marriage therapist earlier than the norm of two years that most couples wait before seeking professional help. Why pro-marriage? Because some therapists will proudly proclaim, "I'm not about saving marriages, I'm about helping people".  My slogan is the opposite:  “I'll be the last person in the room to give up on your marriage".  


Failed Bids:    What do couples argue about most often? Nothing. It turns out that most arguments are not about topics; they are about failed bids to connect. That’s fancy wording for "nothing" says Gottman as illustrated in this example using the television remote control. The husband is changing channels on the remote as they’re watching television together on the couch. The wife says, “leave it on that channel.” The husband responds, “I will, but let me just see what else is on.” She counters “no----leave it on that channel.” He says, “Fine!” Finally she declares...”Well the way that you said "fine" hurt my feelings.” He effectively ends the discussion by retorting, “I don't even want to watch television with you now.” What was this couple arguing about? Nothing, or like stated above, failed bids to connect.

Family:    The greatest danger of having a child-centered family is that when the children leave home, often the marriage does too. Empty nesters know this well. Second is the danger that even if the couple stays together after the children leave home, they may feel diminished as a couple. One couple that I counsel told their adult children "We were a great mom-dad team but a lousy husband-wife team." The third danger is benign but still regrettable. Some couples work on fixing their marriage after the children leave home and make significant progress. This is positive but sad for two reasons: many years of unmet marital potential, and even more important is the lack of good marital role models for their children (Dr. Bill Doherty).   

Father:     The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother (Theodore Newburgh).   

Feeling:     You are not going to feel "in love" all the time. If you want to recapture that magic from when you were in love, be loving (Dr. Frank Pittman obm).   

Forgive:     You hear the phrase forgive and forget so often that the two become equated with one another, when in fact, they have nothing to do with each other. Just because you have forgiven someone and given up the desire to take revenge, does not mean that you have forgotten the event ever happened (Michelle W. Davis).  The weak can never forgive; forgiveness is the attribute of the strong (Mahatma Gandhi).  

Friendship:     This is a combination of affection, loyalty, love, respect, and trust (Oxford Dictionary). Friendship is an infinitely more stabilizing basis for marriage then romance. Get good at friendship before you even think about falling in love (Pittman).  


Gaze:     Men and women tend to experience intimacy differently according to Anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher. Women experience intimacy from face-to-face contact; they use the "anchoring gaze". This comes from thousands of years of mothers holding their babies in front of their face. Women tend to draw closer, face each other, lock eyes, and proceed to reveal their hopes, worries, and details of their lives. Men are not going to look deeply into another's eyes because this is foreign to them. Men experience intimacy by working or gaming side-by-side. This male approach to intimacy probably also dates back thousands of years. Picture ancestral males gathering behind a bush, quietly staring across the prairies in hopes of killing a passing buffalo in order to provide food for several families. Fisher suggests that in order to build intimacy with a man, a woman should do things with him that are side-by-side so that he isn't threatened by her gaze.  

Grand:       Gestures like diamond rings and weekends in the Caribbean are not as effective as smaller daily gestures.  

Gradual     is the key to successful change. Drastic change like huge swings of a pendulum tend not to be enduring.   

Grammar:     Surprisingly, correcting your spouse's grammar in the middle of a disagreement, can be considered contempt which is the most harmful form of communication. Who’d have thunk it?

Grudge Bearing:      Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski heard this at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and it helped him to rid himself of resentment. “Harboring resentment is like allowing someone you don't like to live inside your head without pay rent....and I'm not that nice a guy.”  

Google "phubbing definition" and pay attention to what you find.  


Happiness:     The happiest people don't have the best of everything, they make the best of everything (Old Adage).  

Marriage     is not supposed to make you happy; it is supposed to make you married. And once you are safely and totally married, then you have a structure of security and support from which you are free to make yourself happy rather than wasting your adulthood looking for structure (Pittman).  

I never met a woman yet who wants her husband to raise his voice to her. It is contemptuous because the husband feels and acts superior. It is putting oneself on a higher plane looking down from a position of authority, with an attitude of I am better/ smarter/ neater/ more punctual than you. Gottman asserts that contempt is the single best predictor of relationship dissolution. It is for this reason that I give every husband who I counsel permission to yell only these three words at his wife (when applicable) “Fire-Get-Out!”

Hope:  Think hopeful      Speak hopeful   Act hopeful

Rabbi Yissocher Frand explains that "despair" is indeed a grave sin. According to the legendary Chassidic master Rabbi Aharon Karliner, it is the most destructive of all sins, because when hope is lost, all is lost. 

Be hopeful that all your efforts at nurturing your marriage will bring you true and lasting Shalom Bayis.