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Separation Counseling: Brief Interventions for Divorcing Couples
10 CEUs Separation Counseling: Brief Interventions for Divorcing Couples

Section 6
Satisfaction Trajectories and Divorce

Question 6 | Test | Table of Contents | Couples CEU Courses
Counselor CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

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In the last section, we discussed regaining self worth.  I found it productive to put self worth into different perspectives using four methods.  These four methods for regaining self worth are eliminating the idea, unrestricting the idea, acknowledging personal worth, and the compassionate perspective.

In this section, we will discuss intimate discontent.  A technique for becoming aware of intimate discontent that I implement in my practice consists of three steps.  The three steps to becoming aware of intimate discontent are experiencing feelings and defining what is wanted, and rediscovering old strategies.

I find that too often clients like Keith discover that the real experience of intimacy eludes them after a divorce or separation. Keith, age 37, knew how it felt to be deprived of emotional intimacy after his divorce. Is your Keith searching for another interpersonal connection which he believes would make him a ‘whole person?’ Keith, like my other clients, was unable to identify or articulate these feelings.

Love and Good Will Not Enough

I stated to Keith, "Clearly, love and good will are not enough to create an experience of fulfillment in relationships. No one meets anyone’s needs when those needs aren’t identified and revealed."  Keith responded, "I’ve always felt that way. I just didn’t know how to put it into words."

As a consequence of living out the post separation role which in itself inhibits feeling, clients tend to be incapable of making that deep connection. Instead, like Keith, divorced or separated clients continue to be brave, to act as if everything’s all right, to ignore sensations that might inform them that they’re hurt or discouraged. Instead, they experience their specific disappointments as a generalized vague discontent.

I find that clients like Keith can rarely pinpoint the exact nature of their intimate discontents.  Therefore, clients like Keith express discontent by not believing in the possibility of intimacy, by focusing all their attention on work, by being afraid of making commitments, and by avoiding emotional intimacy when they are in romantic relationships.

Keith stated,  "Why did I marry my ex wife?  I didn’t think I’d ever fall in love. She wanted children and so did I, so I married her.  She was as good as anyone else." How might you have evaluated the source of Keith’s intimate discontent? What techniques do you currently implement to help male clients with exploring the root of intimate discontent? Might the following technique for Becoming Aware of Intimate Discontent also be productive?

♦ Technique:  Becoming Aware of Intimate Discontent

To begin the Becoming Aware of Intimate Discontent technique with Keith, I stated, "Attempts to deny, ignore, and rationalize away reality are major obstacles to intimacy.  Your search for intimacy and your awareness of what you want from an intimate relationship are directly related."  Keith responded, "So if we can increase one, we increase the other."  I stated, "Precisely.  There are many different ways to increase your awareness of current reality.  Everyone finds different techniques more or less useful.  Use what is productive for you." 

3 Steps to Becoming Aware of Intimate Discontent

♦ Step # 1. Experiencing Feelings

First, I discussed with Keith how he might experience his feelings. I stated, "Keith, earlier you told me that you felt that no one meets anyone’s needs when those needs aren’t identified and revealed. I would like to ask you to fully experience that feeling occasionally on a daily basis until our next meeting. Consider fully experiencing for 45 seconds or so each time without trying to change it. Really get into the sensation of it. Then physically do something else. You might put something away, turn on a light, or sweep the floor. Repeat the process and see if you don’t begin to understand the feeling that no one meets anyone’s needs when those needs aren’t identified and revealed."

♦ Step # 2. Define What You Want

Second, I discussed ways Keith could define what he wanted.  I stated, "One way to explore the root of intimate discontent is to move on to something better. You can increase your awareness of intimate discontent by defining what ‘something better’ is for you. Simply make up a vision of what you want. If, after you get it, it turns out you don’t like it, make up another vision of what you want. The more specific you are about defining what you want, the easier it will be to make it happen. In the physical world, objects exist whether you think about them or not and despite what you think of them. In your psychological world, however, nothing exists until you create it psychologically. If you want it, think about what it is and how to achieve it. Your vision, what you want, and how you are going to make it happen, depends on you."

♦ Step # 3. Rediscovering Old Strategies

In addition to experiencing his feelings and defining what he wanted, the third step I implemented with Keith in the Becoming Aware of Intimate Discontent technique was to rediscover old strategies for coping with intimate discontent.  I find that many divorced or separated clients may not realize it, but they have already identified and accepted catalysts for intimate discontent due to failed past relationships. 

I stated to Keith, "You already have a set of skills you can use to explore the root of intimate discontent, even though you may not be aware of them.  Think of an intimate disappointment and analyze how you came to accept it.  What did you do to achieve acceptance of your discontent?  How can the same technique help you in accepting and exploring your current intimate discontent?"

Keith used these three combined techniques to become aware of intimate discontent.  The purpose was to increase Keith’s awareness of the discontent he already felt.  How might these techniques benefit your divorced or separated client regarding the inevitable search for intimacy following a divorce or separation?  Could playing this section in an upcoming session be productive?

In this section, we discussed becoming aware of intimate discontent.  A technique for becoming aware of intimate discontent that I implement in my practice consists of three steps.  The three steps to becoming aware of intimate discontent are experiencing feelings and defining what is wanted, and rediscovering old strategies.

In the next section, we will discuss anxiety complex as it relates to the divorced or separated client.  The focus of this section will be on uncertainty training.  Intolerance of uncertainty can be a core issue for clients with anxiety, specifically when following a divorce.  Therefore, you may find it productive to implement uncertainty training in two steps.  Step one is examining the costs and benefits of accepting uncertainty and step two is flooding with uncertainty.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Jamison, E. C., Bol, K. A., & Mintz, S. N. (2019). Analysis of the effects on time between divorce decree and suicide. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 40(5), 309–316.

Solomon, B. C., & Jackson, J. J. (2014). Why do personality traits predict divorce? Multiple pathways through satisfaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106(6), 978–996.

van Scheppingen, M. A., & Leopold, T. (2019). Trajectories of life satisfaction before, upon, and after divorce: Evidence from a new matching approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. 

Weiss, B., Lavner, J. A., & Miller, J. D. (2018). Self- and partner-reported psychopathic traits’ relations with couples’ communication, marital satisfaction trajectories, and divorce in a longitudinal sample. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 9(3), 239–249.

Question 6:  What are three steps to becoming aware of intimate discontent? To select and enter your answer, go to the Test.

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