You’ve got hope for the future of your marriage.  Or you’re at least leaning in that direction.    We’ll be talking about the Leaning In partner from the lens of divorce but there are many other applications of this template.  Almost any stuck decision has Leaning In potential when there’s ambivalence and a mixed-agenda.

Discernment Counseling is a new way of helping couples.  Usually one person is “leaning out” of the relationship—and not sure that regular marriage counseling would help–and the other is “leaning in”—that is, interested in rebuilding the marriage.  Sometimes both people are leaning in or out. The structure and techniques in Discernment Counseling guarantee clarity and a deliberate path forward.

Couples need clear channels of communication.   Unless both partners have ‘two feet in’ to work on the relationship, it’s nearly impossible to be heard and understood.  Instead, each person retreats to their defended corner to make their (usually valid!) points in support of their feelings and experiences.  There’s little opportunity to learn about yourself and your partner to truly unravel the knots.

Leaning In Styles and Attitudes

The Leaning In person still has hope for the future of the relationship and wants to stay together.  There are three general emotional styles or attitudes with the Leaning In partner.

1. Anxious/


Big Mistakes of this Style

You may have only recently learned just how much trouble your marriage is in when your partner put divorce on the table.  You want to save the marriage, maybe at any cost. You’re in a panic, a tailspin. Your life seems to be spinning out of control.

Pursuing/overpursuing your partner: 

Trying to win your partner back through attention and physical contact or affection.

Why do I do this:  When there’s distance, it’s natural to try to bridge the gap.

Why it doesn’t work: Like you, your partner is in a scary and vulnerable place.  Giving them more attention comes from your own needs and ignores what they want or need.  It actually makes you seem less attractive.

Do Instead:  Neither pursue, nor withdraw.  Stay centered and work on yourself.

Getting angry and judgmental:

Trying to change your partner’s mind through scolding or shaming, talking badly about your partner to the kids, and/or triangulating with other family and friends.

Why do I do this: Maybe they will see the error of their ways or more critically evaluate the decision.

Why it doesn’t work: Just when your partner needs empathy and understanding, they get a barrage of criticism, pushing them farther away.

Do Instead: Process with a trusted person who will keep boundaries.  With your spouse, be courteous and polite. Fake it ‘til you make it if you must.

This emotional style is counterproductive to real changes.

2. Focused

Even if you just had the divorce talk, you get that there’s long standing trouble with your marriage.  You may even understand that you’ve contributed to it and are working to understand your partner’s pain.  You want to bring your best self forward and answer the wake up call. You know that something has to change.

What to do:

  • Work on seeing your own issues and how they may have contributed to problems in the marriage.  
  • Start experimenting with changes and getting outside your comfort zone.
  • Embark on a reevaluation of the direction of your life.  
  • Try to see issues from your partner’s point of view without taking them personally.

This is the ideal emotional style to make real changes.

3. Conflicted

Maybe you’ve been thinking about ending the marriage yourself.  You may go back and forth in your head about the right path. You’re tired of fighting and feeling rejected.  You’re starting to feel burned out and aren’t sure if you have the energy to work on things.

What to do:

In Discernment Counseling, someone has to champion the marriage.  The Leaning In partner is an advocate for staying together. When on the fence, you’re constantly undermining the arguments on both sides.  It’s tough to find a path out when you only take a few steps in any one direction. You can make a decision to explore staying together.

What helps:

Read or listen to the audiobooks from 6 Must Have Books for Couples on the Brink of Divorce.  

Try one session of Discernment Counseling and see what changes.  

Check out the services page to see if sessions or an intensive workshop is right for you and your relationship.  

This emotional style needs clarity to make real changes.

Hear more from the founder of

Discernment Counseling, Dr. Bill Doherty

Dr. Laura L. Walsh is trained in the Discernment Counseling method of decision making.  She’ll help you decide whether to try to restore your marriage to health, move toward divorce, or take a time out and decide later.

So, are you the Leaning In partner?

If you recognize yourself within one of the three emotional styles, this gives us a place to start.  I can coach you to become your best self. Discernment Counseling is a structured process for saving your marriage.  Our primary focus is working to get your feet under you, manage anxiety, and figure out your specific steps for the future.  If you’re not already there, we want to move you towards the Focused style. Focused Leaning In partners are ready to do the work.  It gives you a sense of order and control amid the chaos. You cannot control your partner no matter what you do. But you can significantly influence yourself and your feelings to get better wherever you can.  In turn, this will likely affect your partner and not in the ways you’d expect. The magic is in keeping your efforts focused on yourself.

Working on yourself maximizes the potential for the marriage

Almost all the time, the Leaning In partner is convinced that saving the marriage means doing what their partner ‘wants and needs’ and the distance required for personal work is terrifying.  The questions I always as are:

How do you really know what your partner needs?  

Have you asked?

What were the actual words they said?

Often, we think we know what the other person wants.  We’ve either gathered the knowledge through experience or have read their minds.  Stop to evaluate a few things. First, how much of your own story is coloring what you think they need?  Is there a difference between their actual words and the interpretation in your head? We all naturally skew information and determining how far off from their true requests will make you more accurate.  Second, after stripping away the story and getting to the heart of their comments, how healthy is the request? Is it something like wanting you to communicate more frequently or put appropriate limits on your worklife?  Or is your partner requiring you to give up or suppress parts of yourself for them? What is the intention behind the request? There’s a difference between wanting you to get in shape for longevity and your self esteem and wanting the same thing so they don’t have to change their standards of beauty or connect to the real you.  Finally, ask yourself what you think about their request. Is it feasible? Do I want this for myself? Am I willing to give it an honest shot? Taking the example of getting in shape, it is likely the ship has sailed for getting back to your 20 year old body. However, if you’ve neglected your health, are you willing to work on the barriers that have contributed to where you are?  Deciding what is possible and choosing it for yourself is key.

Curious about the Leaning Out partner?  Check out: Are you the Leaning Out partner?

What do you want and need?

It can be difficult to figure out what makes you happy – especially beyond your relationship.  In the Discernment Counseling process, the focus is on learning about yourself and what parts would need to change in this or another relationship.  The sweet spot for working on change is not accommodations to your spouse – it’s aspects of self that are barriers to having a mutually intimate relationship in which both people are well defined individuals with boundaries.

This way of thinking is often foreign to Leaning In partners.  A marriage is on the rocks is a sign the balance is off. Restoring the balance is risky but the rewards are high.  Balance in a healthy, nurturing, and fulfilling relationship requires both partners to give and receive – to make both deposits and withdrawals from the emotional bank account between you.  

Learning to receive love and care is the trickiest part for Leaning In partners.  Maybe you’re thinking, “There hasn’t been a lot of love the receive lately.” This may be true, especially if there’s been distance for years.  Acquiring this skill is still important. In order to get the spiral going in a positive direction, you must be flexible enough to be influenced by your spouse.  This means putting aside your belief that you know the score and can accurately predict the future. Change isn’t possible unless we believe in it. You can start by recognizing the small things and saying something.

The work on yourself is an investment in the marriage.  Take a step back and evaluate your life. Is this how you want to live?  Are you happy? Your natural inclination may be to answer with, “No! My marriage is crumbling!” but that’s not what I mean.  Are you satisfied with your work? Do you take care of yourself, have hobbies, your own friends, and like or even love yourself?  If you’re living a life that is less than satisfactory to you, that’s where we begin.

Big decisions are hard.

You’ve come to a crossroads and it’s time to make some decisions. To confidently move forward, you need clarity to take the next steps. Assisted by a licensed clinical psychologist, this short-term, specialized process of 1- 5 sessions gives you the wisdom and insight you’ve needed to break free of ambivalence.

If your marriage is on the rocks, I can help.  Contact me for a free phone consultation to see if Discernment Counseling is right for you and your relationship.

Below are some resources to help you get some traction.  Also check out 6 Must Have Books for Couples on the Brink of Divorce for more resources.

The Divorce Remedy: The Proven 7-Step Program for Saving Your Marriage by Michele Weiner Davis

Getting Back Together: How To Reconcile with Your Partner-and Make It Last by Bettie B. Youngs

I Wish I Knew This Before My Divorce: Ending the Battle Between Holding On and Letting Go by Elaine O. Foster PhD and Joseph W. Foster

What are your recommendations?  What books have helped you or someone you know navigate the process of deciding to work on yourself as an investment in your marriage?

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