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April 17, 2018 Podcast

Season 1 Episode 7: The Intersection of Couples Therapy and the Divorce Process

Gailor Hunt
Gailor Hunt
Season 1 Episode 7: The Intersection of Couples Therapy and the Divorce Process

Episode 7 features special guest Caroline Landen, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in Couples and Sex therapy with the Awakenings Center for Intimacy and Sexuality. In Episode 7, Caroline and host Jaime Davis discuss the benefits of marriage counseling both before and after a decision to end the marriage has been made.

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Note: Our Podcast, “A Year and a Day: Divorce Without Destruction”, was created to be heard, but we provide text transcripts to make this information accessible to everyone. All transcripts on our website are created using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers and could contain errors.

Jaime Davis: Welcome to Episode 7 of ‘A Year and a Day’. I’m your host, Jaime Davis. In Episode 6, I discussed the potential impact adultery can have on a family law case as well as potential claims a spouse may have against a third party for alienation of affection and criminal conversation. In this episode, I will be speaking with Caroline Landen, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in couples and sex therapy. Caroline also specializes in attachment-based therapy and is a Circle of Security parent facilitator. She works at the Awakening Center for Intimacy and Sexuality with locations in North Raleigh, Greensboro, and Winston-Salem. Welcome, Caroline.

Caroline Landen: Thank you for having me, Jaime.

Jaime Davis: So, I’m sure a lot of folks may be wondering what a divorce lawyer and marriage therapist could possibly have to talk about, and I think it may come as a shock to our listeners that our two fields actually have more similarities than differences. Would you agree that there are a lot of misconceptions about what you and I do in our respective roles as a divorce lawyer and a marriage therapist?

Caroline Landen: Absolutely.

Jaime Davis: Well, hopefully this podcast episode will help dispel some of those misconceptions. So, at a very basic level, what is couple’s therapy?

Caroline Landen: So, couple’s therapy is when you have more than just one person in the therapy room, and the two people that are in the therapy room are engaged in some kind of intimate relationship. That could look like many different things. We see married couples. We see non-married couples. We see dating couples, premarital. We see divorced couples. Um, anyone who wants to come in and work on their connection.

Jaime Davis: So, what is the role of the therapist in couple’s therapy?

Caroline Landen: So, the role of the therapist in couple’s therapy is really similar to the role of the therapist in individual or any other kind of therapy, and that’s to create a safe place to explore all the different varied experiences or narratives that couples have, um, before they come into therapy and while they’re in therapy.

Jaime Davis: And so, does the therapist offer any advice to the couple?

Caroline Landen: That’s a big misconception with therapy. Therapists never offer advice. Hopefully when people come into therapy, they get information and they get to spend time with the therapist processing and sitting in things, things most likely feelings that they’re not used to sitting in outside of the therapy room.

Jaime Davis: What can a person expect from couple’s therapy? How does your process work?

Caroline Landen: So, generally how our process works is someone gives us a call, and when they call us, they’ll be met with someone at our front desk who will tell them a little bit of information, more information about the process, what to expect. Um, kinda help put some of those anxious thoughts at ease. In our first session, we ask our clients to fill out a whole lot of paperwork. Um, most of our clients say that that was really intensive paperwork, but we use that paperwork to make a treatment plan. With couple’s therapy, generally we meet together that first session. Oftentimes, the second and third session will be individual sessions, one with each person in the couple. And then we’ll come back and from there, we’ll do weekly, twice a week couple’s sessions.

Jaime Davis: So, in that initial paperwork that you give to your, your clients, what types of questions are you asking?

Caroline Landen: Oh, we ask all kinds of questions. We ask ’em what’s brought ’em into therapy. We ask ’em to tell ’em a lit, tell us a little bit about themselves outside of what’s brought them into therapy. Of course, we ask about mental health symptoms, anxiety, depression, but we also go a great deal into family of origin. I think one of our questions that we ask is give us three words to describe each of your parents. What’s your earliest memory with each parent? Um, and people generally are thrown off by those questions.

Jaime Davis: Yeah, those are pretty intense. You’d have to do some thinking about those answers.

Caroline Landen: Uh huh, and people oftentimes come in and say, why are we talking about my family or origin. I wanna talk about my relationship, my couple. And I, I’ll say to them, you know, we all come from somewhere. We can’t go back and change our past, but if we don’t understand our past, there’s a good chance in some way, somehow, we’re gonna repeat patterns from it.

Jaime Davis: Do you find that people are afraid of couple’s therapy?

Caroline Landen: I know a lot of times people are afraid of couple’s therapy. Um, I think people are afraid of being that, what they feel like is going to be that open and vulnerable with a third party in the room. You know, if they can’t talk to these things with their partner, how is a complete stranger gonna help them or make them feel comfortable to talk about these things?

Jaime Davis: Is there anything specifically that you think folks are afraid of when they come to see you?

Caroline Landen: I think folks have lots of fear, and I think one of them is, you know, this is easy for me to say as the therapist on the safe side of the room, but I think people are really scared about being seen and being vulnerable and not being accepted. Generally, when a couple comes in, at least one of them, usually both, feel like they don’t matter. The very core things feel like they don’t matter, and to be vulnerable enough to then come into therapy and share that with someone else, it’s really hard.

Jaime Davis: Yeah, I bet.

Caroline Landen: Um, people also worry that I’m gonna read their mind, or that I’m gonna dig stuff up from childhood that they don’t wanna talk about.

Jaime Davis: So, do I need to be concerned with mind reading today?

Caroline Landen: You know, I haven’t tapped into that super power yet.

Jaime Davis: Good, good.

Caroline Landen: If I figure out how to do that, I’ll let you know. Um, but yeah, I don’t do any mind reading. But as soon as people sit on my couch, I’m watching them, and I’m looking at them and I’m asking them questions. Um, but I’m only a therapist that sees them 55 minutes out of the week, in my office, and so I only see a small part of them. What they do outside of my office, I’m not aware of unless they tell me. So, there’s only so much that I’m able to see.

Jaime Davis: Do you ever find that people are not always as honest as they could be in your therapy sessions?

Caroline Landen: Absolutely. I, I think we all have a fear about being honest and sharing that piece of ourselves and it not being accepted. I’ve worked with people for 4 and 5 years who’ve kept huge secrets from the therapeutic process, and until those secrets come out in some way, shape or form, it keeps them from really truly engaging.

Jaime Davis: So, you mentioned you worked with a particular couple 4 to 5 years. Is there a typical length of time that this process can take?

Caroline Landen: You know, that really depends on the couple. I like to tell people when they call in, expect 8 to 14 sessions. I know that’s a huge range, but our first 4 sessions are gonna be assessment because I can’t create a safe space unless I can align with my clients in some way.

Jaime Davis: Right.

Caroline Landen: Um, kinda figuring out how they tick, right?

Jaime Davis: Yeah.

Caroline Landen: Not the mind reading but figuring out those ticking pieces and parts. And then the next 6 to 10 or however long it takes is sitting in that process and working through things and making, or helping, assisting, each person in the couple feel understood, strengthen the connection, and then however long that takes, after that is really then the reconnecting piece. This is the part where I tell couples, okay, now you’re gonna home and practice this. And I believe that couple’s therapy is a tremendous investment. You know, most times people think of the monetary investment.

Jaime Davis: Sure.

Caroline Landen: But it’s a relational investment, and it’s an emotional investment. So, the way that I like to do couple’s therapy is after they go home and practice everything, I say, you know, come back for a tune up any time you need to. We always do a relapse prevention plan at the end of therapy where we talk about what brought them in the first place, and I, you know, I remind them of all these things that we’ve worked on and we make a plan of how to keep them out of my office, and then we talk about when they’ll need to come back in.

Jaime Davis: So how do you decide what the goal of the therapy is? Is that something you work on together with the client, or is there a set goal?

Caroline Landen: Um, I think a set goal’s important because we all do really well when we know what we’re working towards, and that’s something the client comes up with.

Jaime Davis: So, the goal is not necessarily to keep the marriage together.

Caroline Landen: It is not necessarily to keep the marriage together, although sometimes the first session, I’ll hear from one partner, sometimes both, we wanna keep this marriage together, whether it be because of the children, religion, family, other pieces, and parts, and so that’s very much kept in mind throughout the process.

Jaime Davis: So, they’re motivated to fix it in those situations.

Caroline Landen: Sometimes they’ll say they’re motivated to fix it –

Jaime Davis: Ah, gotcha.

Caroline Landen: – but I find a lot of people say that wanna stay married just for the sake of staying married but they’re not quite sure what that looks like.

Jaime Davis: So, what would you say are some typical realistic goals that folks can work toward in couple’s therapy?

Caroline Landen: I think the main goal that all the couples that we see work towards is trying to find congruency.

Jaime Davis: And what, what does that mean, when you say congruency?

Caroline Landen: That’s a very therapeutic word, isn’t it? It means figuring out the authentic, the genuine piece, kind of whittling down all the surface interactions to how we feel underneath the surface. Um, I said this a few minutes ago, but the way that I do couple’s therapy’s based off attachment theory, and that’ the idea that we all wanna know that we matter. And so, a lot of times, it’s helping each person, each part of the couple see how they wanna feel as though they matter and for them to be able to understand how their partner best feels mattered. And so that’s kind of the big overarching goal. And the way that I work towards that is by helping couples see different patterns in relationships.

Jaime Davis: And are there typical patterns that you see in relationships that maybe aren’t going so great?

Caroline Landen: Mm hmm. John Gottman indicates that there’s four symptoms that suggest that any couple is close to a breakup. He calls them his four horsemen of the apocalypse, which I think is a pretty good name.

Jaime Davis: Yeah.

Caroline Landen: Um, the first being criticism, then contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. And when couples use any of these four as their go-to with their partner, that’s a sign of relational shutting down, and that’s a sign that the relationship has gotten stuck in a pattern that’s no longer healthy.

Jaime Davis: Okay, so you said there were these four symptoms, and one of them is criticism, which I think is fairly self-explanatory. Is that when you’re just critical of everything that your partner does, or –

Caroline Landen: It’s, yeah, so criticism is always putting the critical remark in to the comments you say about your partner. So, if your partner left the toilet seat up, you don’t just say, oh, you left the toilet seat up again. You say, you’re such an idiot. Why do you have to be such a jerk? You left the toilet seat up.

Jaime Davis: Gotcha, so it’s a little more personal, little more of an attack.

Caroline Landen: It’s, yeah, very attacking, very personal, very difficult to have a conversation when that’s what you’re getting from your partner –

Jaime Davis: Sure. And then you mentioned another symptoms is contempt. What is that?

Caroline Landen: Contempt’s probably the most dangerous of all of them because it’s putting this idea out there that you don’t care.

Jaime Davis: Oh, wow. Okay.

Caroline Landen: And so, whenever your partner’s bringing anything to you, you shut it down. And not shut it down as the fourth example of stonewalling, where you would avoid, ignore, the contempt is really this anger-driven frustration, complete shutdown that the partner experiences.

Jaime Davis: And then, the last one is defensive, is that right?

Caroline Landen: Uh huh. And defensive is when the partner’s no longer willing to try. This looks like many different things. One of the things we see a lot, especially with infidelity, is when the partner who’s been betrayed says things like, well, you had an affair. So, it doesn’t matter that I’m yelling at you. I can yell at you. I can be angry with you because you’re the one that messed up. And so, they’re constantly deflecting from themselves onto their partner. Um, and that makes it difficult for the partner to say anything or express anything.

Jaime Davis: And so, typically, do you see these symptoms with both partners, or one or the other? Does it vary?

Caroline Landen: So, it varies. Generally, these symptoms follow different relational patterns. We really see two main relational patterns that come out, and they’re the pursuer and the distancer.

Jaime Davis: And so, what does that look like?

Caroline Landen: So, what that looks like is, it looks like one person is leaning into the relationship and that’s the pursuer. And they tend to be the more anxious one. So, they’re the one during a fight who wants to talk, and they wanna talk right away, and they have lots of words and they have lots of feelings. They’re also usually the ones that contact the therapist to start therapy. Not all the time, but usually they’re the one who kind of gets the ball rolling. And they feel feelings and they feel a lot of feelings. So, when they lean into the relationship with all of that, their partner who’s generally going to be a distancer has no room left in the relationship and so they distance themselves. And what that may look like, um, is picking up their cell phone and getting on Facebook, or not listening to what their partner is saying, shutting down completely, um, any of those four symptoms I indicated earlier, they may do that, um, but their main one is probably gonna be stonewalling. The ignoring, the avoiding, they’re always the one that says, I need a 15 or 20-minute break. This is too much. You’re too much. Could we just table this for a little while?

Jaime Davis: So, your distancer, is that person the one who’s just kind of checking out of the relationship?

Caroline Landen: They’re checking out of the relationship and that’s probably their go-to pattern. Distances learn, just like pursuers, learn that behavior early on in the family of origin. Which is why we ask all those family of origin questions.

Jaime Davis: Makes sense.

Caroline Landen: And so, if you come from a family who never talked about anything, you don’t necessarily learn how to talk about things versus if you come from a family who over talked about everything, you don’t really learn how to control your feelings and control what you say. So, what the hope of is in therapy is we point out these patterns. We talk about them in the therapy room. We process for each partner how that feels and then we encourage them both to do something differently.

Jaime Davis: And so, at that point, do they either work on things and learn how to do something differently, or, or what happens next?

Caroline Landen: At that point, if couples get these relational patterns, it’s generally this really incredible ah-ha moment, and they have a sense of, oh, that makes sense. That’s me. Okay, so when I do these behaviors, that causes these feelings in my partner. And vice versa. And when they’re able to see that, then they’re given the opportunity where they can do something different. And what we generally encourage the pursuer to do is that they have to contain their anxiety moving forward. They can’t put all that off to their partner. We encourage them to decrease their anger. If they have something they need to request, they need to do it directly, but they also need to be limiting their request. So instead of saying, gosh, we never go on date nights. I really wanna go on a date night. Why don’t you love me? Why don’t you care for me? Can’t we just go on a date night this week? We would encourage them to say, hey, I’d really love to go out Friday night. Do you have plans?

Jaime Davis: You mean, it doesn’t need to boil down to whether or not their partner loves them?

Caroline Landen: It doesn’t need to boil down. That’s, really the crux of therapy is creating security with feelings because then the distancers have to learn how to initiate. So, they have to learn how to go to that anxious, pursuing partner, and the way they usually learn to do that is they have to discover what their own personal needs are. Distances are usually not given that opportunity growing up. Right? People don’t necessarily sit down with them and have that wonderful Mr. Rogers moment of tell me about your feelings. Or, distances tend to attach all feelings to the negativity of anger and then minimize or avoid the feelings of sadness, frustration, and fear, which are difficult feelings to experience. We also challenge the distancers to under promise and over deliver, to care about the little details and to be affectionate. We encourage them to be affectionate because we tell the anxious partner that they have to be seductive, meaning they need to be a little bit more mysterious. They need to hold their cards a little bit closer and kind of allow a shift to take place.

Jaime Davis: So, is it about finding a balance do you think?

Caroline Landen: It’s all about finding a balance. I often tell my couples that it’s not quid pro quo. It’s not I’ll change when you change. It’s taking the risk, which is a tremendous risk, of “I’m gonna do something different because I trust you enough to do something different”. And that’s where couples get really stuck, on that quid pro quo, and I hear the phrase all the time, but my partner cheated on me. I shouldn’t have to do these things.

Jaime Davis: So that’s a really good segue. In my line of work, I deal with issues of infidelity quite a bit. Do you ever work with couples who are dealing with these issues as well?

Caroline Landen: All the time.

Jaime Davis: And, in your experience, how does infidelity typically impact the relationship?

Caroline Landen: Infidelity is a tremendous betrayal. Um, but it’s a betrayal of so many different pieces and parts. So, as a therapist, I believe that infidelity gets the relationship’s attention.

Jaime Davis: What does that mean?

Caroline Landen: Usually when infidelity occurs, there have been other things going on in the relationship that haven’t been healthy for a while.

Jaime Davis: So, I’m really glad to hear you say that because when I meet with a client who is thinking about separation or divorce, maybe they were the person who committed the infidelity, maybe they were the person who feels like they were cheated on, I always say that cheating is a symptom of a bad marriage –

Caroline Landen: Mm hmm.

Jaime Davis: It’s not the cause.

Caroline Landen: Uh huh. Well, and that’s, that symptom, that infidelity is what brings a lot of couples in, and if there’s, if they come in and they’re still in crisis, therapy looks very different than if the air is cleared.

Jaime Davis: So, so describe that for me. When you say that they’re still in crisis, what does that mean and how is the therapy different for that couple?

Caroline Landen: So, the therapy for the couple that’s in crisis, the therapy is different because there is the immediate aftershocks, if you will, of the discovery, and a lot of times those afterthoughts come in, the rolling disclosure which means the person who committed the infidelity doesn’t disclose all at once. And, usually there’s a genuineness behind this, right? They don’t wanna hurt their partner so they only tell their partner what they think they can handle which is a tremendous injury.

Jaime Davis: And, is that because they’re reliving the hurt over and over as they get more information, or is it because they then don’t trust their partner to reveal the whole truth?

Caroline Landen: I think it’s both. I think the lasting hurt focuses more on, here’s another reason they shouldn’t trust their partner.

Jaime Davis: Right.

Caroline Landen: And at what point had they said everything. That rolling disclosure, you know, it also conveys to the partner that the person who committed infidelity doesn’t trust them either because they’re saying, I don’t trust you to hold onto this information and do something with it. So, if we can get couples in during that crisis period, right? And, I say crisis period meaning before too many questions are answered, before the partner becomes a detective, and before a lot of threats are made. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean before they’ve contacted a lawyer, but it doesn’t matter where in that process they contact the lawyer because that’s just something we can talk about.

Jaime Davis: So, tell me why it is you like to get them in before those things have happened, before the turning into the detective and the question asking, and all of that?

Caroline Landen: I think less damage is done. I mean, there’s been enough damage with the infidelity.

Jaime Davis: Sure.

Caroline Landen: More damage doesn’t have to be found out in the details. I often tell my clients that there are ghosts in the details, and outside of the initial trauma of the infidelity, if you find out too much about the infidelity, you’re gonna create ghosts and these ghosts are gonna be really hard to get rid of. And so, when I say details, I think partners need to know a scope. They need to know general outline, about when did it begin, about when did it end, and I’m not talking about dates. Was this 3 months? Was it 10 years? Um, you know, what the **** did the relationship look like? In a perfect world we, we know less about the affair and more about what was going on in their relationship, but there’s such a sense of urgency to try to understand the affair that a lot of times people get stuck on those questions. And then, maybe at some point the partner decides they have to be a detective. So, they do that wonderful thing where they take the cell phone, they take the computer. They call the phone company. They get all the records, and when we’re a detective that, that isolates our partner, right? As a therapist, I’m all for clients being curious. I, I think it’s fantastic when an anxious partner says, I’m worried about what you’re doing on your phone. It’s causing me some anxiety. Could we talk about it? And then for the more distancing partner to say, oh, I’m talking to a friend about this. You know, my phone’s open. It’s transparent. That’s a much healthier dynamic than the anxious person grabbing the phone and going through everything in it. Once you go into that detective kind of mindset it’s difficult to pull yourself out of it and create some semblance of partnership in the relationship again. I do encourage my clients to bring their questions into session and usually the question asker, which is nine times out of ten, the person who felt betrayed by the infidelity. I’ll encourage them to ask me the questions because I really wanna figure out what is it that they wanna know? And most of times what they really wanna know is what did this affair mean to you and do I matter to you? And when we can focus on that, when we can get that answered, nothing else really matters. It doesn’t matter positions or location. It doesn’t matter, you know, did you see a future with this person? I tend to think affairs are based off of fantasy so of course fantasized about –

Jaime Davis: Right.

Caroline Landen: – a future. I mean, how wonderful. You don’t have to raise children, pay the bills, go to work with this person.

Jaime Davis: All the fun and none of the work.

Caroline Landen: Absolutely, so why wouldn’t you imagine a lifetime? Um, I don’t think those fantasy feelings take away from the relationship at all, and the fantasy feelings are more hurtful than anything else. Sometimes I’ll tell couples it’s a given that theses fantasy questions were present, or why would there be a risk of an affair?

Jaime Davis: Right.

Caroline Landen: Mm hmm. So, the other piece we wanna kind of put a stop to early on is that feeling of what we talked about earlier, the four horsemen, is so oftentimes one of the partners will take on one of those four symptoms. Oftentimes, you’ll see one partner go to contempt or stonewalling, and when that partner goes to contempt and they’re frustrated, they’re angry, they’re irritable about everything their partner says, there’s no healing in that. And, I find that’s when a lot of couples feel like their only option is to just throw in the towel, and sometimes for some couples that is the best option, but without having a place to explore that, I find, and I don’t know if you ever see this back at your office, I find 5, 10, 15 years from then, couples are wondering if they could have made it work.

Jaime Davis: Maybe, you know, I don’t know that I usually get that perspective, but I don’t get to see what happens after the divorce is, is final.

Caroline Landen: Mm hmm.

Jaime Davis: And so, maybe.

Caroline Landen: But it’s interesting. It’s not every couple, but when I work, so oftentimes when I work with a couple who’s decided to divorce after engaging in therapy, their big question before making that decision is, have we tried? Did we do enough? Did we give this the best chance to work that we could of? And, you know, I tend to believe that if clients engage in therapy, they’re part of the process. They did the best they could.

Jaime Davis: Right.

Caroline Landen: You know, there’s a fantastic quote, I believe it’s Esther Perel. I know she says this a lot, but at anytime in our life we’ll have four or five different marriages. They may or may not be to the same person.

Jaime Davis: Really? What does that mean?

Caroline Landen: It means that, just like we change, our relationships have to change. And the big kind of cornerstone, especially working with infidelity, is when we turn the corner and we’re no longer in the crisis of the infidelity. I often say to my clients, okay, now we have to mourn your former relationship. That marriage is dead. It is gone, for better or worse, right? There’s some really good pieces and parts to it, but there were some really toxic parts as well, and so we have to choose to have a different marriage. And often time in that choosing, is choosing connection. Choosing things that make us feel resilient and vulnerable all at the same time. Oftentimes those marriages after that were focused more on our relational patterns. It doesn’t mean that we’re not gonna pursue in distance. We all pursue in distance. I tell my clients all the time, here’s an example of me pursuing. Here’s an example of my husband distancing. And that’s, there’s a normal piece to that, but it’s normal when you can see it and not get overwhelmed by it.

Jaime Davis: Right, it seems like it would be almost impossible to have any relationship where you didn’t have times of pursuing –

Caroline Landen: Mm hmm.

Jaime Davis: – and distancing. It just seems like that’s part of living and being involved with another human.

Caroline Landen: Mm hmm. My favorite example, and I throw my husband under the bus and he’s wonderful for letting me do this, is one morning, it was recent ’cause it was springtime. We were talking about getting our yard ready and I made the statement of, ‘Gosh, I really wanna overhaul our backyard this year.’ And I go to the window and I start talking and I turn around and there is no blood left in his face. He is completely pale. And if I hadn’t checked in with our relational pattern, I probably would have kept talking. I probably would have started pursing more and try to explain all the things that I wanted to do, but luckily that morning I had my coffee. I was on my A game. I said to him, ‘What did you just hear me say?’ And he said, ‘Well, I heard that you, you wanna redo the walkway and you wanna do a patio and we’ve gotta do grass and we gotta do this and, and we gotta do a playground.’ And, I said, ‘Woah, woah, woah’. Sorry, I miscommunicated. I meant I’d like green grass.’ And as soon as we kind of repaired that communication, the blood came back to his face. He said ‘Oh yeah, me too’. So it was nice because we were on the same page, but our different relational patterns, our different communication styles would have gotten us stuck. I would have gone on with the rest of my day feeling fantastic that I got all these thoughts out. He would have been stressed by it all day. He would have held it in. He probably would have come home from work that day a little bit late and a little bit frustrated at me. And that’s why it’s important to see that relational pattern. Even in the small details because it’s very easy to fix or do something different in that moment.

Jaime Davis: And he was just picturing himself in the backyard, um, with the lawnmower and the rake and all of your projects going on around him.

Caroline Landen: Uh huh. That, he said he saw his summer flash before his eyes doing yard work and it felt miserable.

Jaime Davis: And all you wanted was a pretty, pretty yard of grass.

Caroline Landen: All I wanted was green grass. Uh huh.

Jaime Davis: Have you ever been in a situation where you have been doing therapy with a couple and one of the spouses tells you that he or she wants to end the marriage and they want to tell the spouse in, other spouse in the context of the therapy session?

Caroline Landen: That’s happened several times, and therapy can be a fantastic place. **** I say fantastic; there’s no fantastic place to talk about ending your marriage or ending your relationship.

Jaime Davis: Right.

Caroline Landen: Therapy can be a safe place to do that and I always want to talk to my client who’s come to me individually and ask them why therapy. And if they tell me because it doesn’t feel safe at home, they don’t know how their partner’s gonna react, they’re worried they’re not gonna be able to explain themselves. It’s a safety concern. It’s a child concern. Then we work together. We make a plan and we may present it in therapy. Now if they are kind of the constant distancer, right? And they say to me, ‘You know, we’ve tried this therapy thing. It’s not really working. Next session, could you tell my wife that I just don’t wanna be with her anymore?’ In that moment I sit with them and I work with them on, okay, so this is difficult for you to say. And it would feel easier if someone else held onto that anxiety for you. And in that case, I would encourage them to have that conversation at home. I would also encourage them to have a couple’s session right afterwards, shortly afterwards, or even a couple’s session right before to talk about what’s changed and what’s different.

Jaime Davis: And so, for those folks where they make that decision that they’re going to divorce, do you ever continue therapy with both of them?

Caroline Landen: Um, it depends if they make the decision that they wanna divorce, I have continued couple’s therapy with the couple through the divorce process.

Jaime Davis: Oh, wow. And so, what is the purpose of that type of therapy?

Caroline Landen: Communication.

Jaime Davis: Okay.

Caroline Landen: How to talk about what’s going on. What are they struggling with in the process? You know, what’s important to them because sometimes they’ll get bogged down. I spent a whole therapy session once talking about china.

Jaime Davis: Oh, wow.

Caroline Landen: And, why for this one partner, their wedding china meant something to her and was important to her and then he was saying the same things and it actually turned out that was, that contempt behavior, right? And we were able to sit in the therapy room, talk about what it meant for both of them, really process through that and at the end, he was able to see that it meant something pretty fantastic to her and that he would probably just keep it in a cabinet and that would be another marital injury even though they were dissolving their marriage. So, in session one was able to decide that she wanted the china and he wanted, I don’t know what it was, it was something else that kind of reminded him of a positive piece of their relationship. So, then they took that back to mediation, I believe, and talked about it a little bit more.

Jaime Davis: Yeah, I was gonna say, I mean, that type of therapy would be so helpful to what I do –

Caroline Landen: Mm hmm.

Jaime Davis: – in working with clients who are going through a separation. If they could work through some of these more emotional issues through couple’s therapy –

Caroline Landen: Mm hmm.

Jaime Davis: – and figure out that they really don’t want that wedding china, they really just want it because their spouse wants it, um, that’s gonna make dividing the marital property so much easier.

Caroline Landen: Uh huh. Well, even having the conversations with the legal team, right? To teach them to help, I say teach but it’s really to show them that we all have the tools. We all have the roadmap to communicate like human beings and, you know, share feelings of mattering with the other person. One experience I remember that was so powerful is I had a couple come in for a couple’s session prior to, uh, a lawyer meeting, I can’t remember if it was mediation or what it was, but they talked about how difficult it was gonna be for them. You know, and there had been too many injuries to mattering and too many attachment injuries for them to continue on with the marriage, but they sat in therapy. They both were very emotional about ending their relationship and what that meant and they were able to share their fears, and then they were able to go into the session with their lawyers and hash it out in a very reasonable manner. And they both felt like, after that, they could be better people in their next relationships and that being said, sometimes when couple therapy ends, I’ll have a part of the couple, one of the members of the, the former couple, will ask me to continue to do individual therapy. And sometimes I’ll agree to it as long as the other partner knows that this will end the couple’s therapy.

Jaime Davis: Right. So that part of the process is over?

Caroline Landen: And that they cannot come back to see me. Um, because once we take off that couple’s therapist hat and we put on that individual therapist hat, it’s difficult to go back to the couple’s therapist hat. There has to be a process of unbalancing of relationship and that’s really difficult and there’s a lot of fantastic therapists out there.

Jaime Davis: Right. It just makes more sense to go to someone else.

Caroline Landen: Uh huh, and if it’s been a really tumultuous couple’s therapy and the couple’s therapy, the room that we met in, the process that we went through was really difficult, sometimes I’ll recommend both parties go and find a different therapist. And I’ll consult with that therapist. I’ll share it with that therapist with my clients’ permission, what we worked on, where the struggle is, what, you know, what I see their need is as a therapist moving forward. So, it kind of depends on a case-by-case basis.

Jaime Davis: Well, I think this has been a wonderful discussion and has been very helpful. Thank you again for agreeing to talk to us today. If any of our listeners want to get in touch with you, what is the best way for them to contact you?

Caroline Landen: So, the best way to get in touch with me is to go to our web site,, I believe, um, you can also type in, Awakenings love and sex. Um, if you type in Awakenings or even couple’s and sex therapy in Raleigh, our whole web site’s gonna come up which has a lot of different resources and there are several therapists in our office. We try to make sure we have someone on staff to meet everyone’s needs. All of us are well trained in couple’s therapy and we take about the similar approach. We all do attachment work. Um, so that’s generally the best way.

Jaime Davis: Well, great, thank you again. I hope you all enjoyed this episode of a Year and a Day. If you have any suggestions for future episodes, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at If you like what you heard today, please leave us a review on iTunes. As a reminder while in my role as a lawyer, my job is to give folks legal advice. The purpose of this podcast is not to do that. This podcast is for general informational purposes only, should not be used as legal advice and is specific to the law in North Carolina. If you have questions before you take any action, you should consult with a lawyer who is licensed in your state.

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gailor hunt attorney
'A Year and a Day: Divorce Without Destruction' is a law podcast produced by Gailor Hunt Davis Taylor & Gibbs, PLLC partner Jaime Davis. You can learn more about Jaime's experience and expertise on her bio page. If you have a question about the podcast, you can email Jaime at Please note, the purpose of this podcast is not to give legal advice. This podcast is for general, informational purposes only and should not be used as legal advice. The information discussed in this podcast is specific to the laws in North Carolina. Before you take any legal action you should consult with a lawyer who is licensed in your state.
caroline byrd landen podcast guest
The guest on this episode of our podcast is Caroline Landen, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in Couples and Sex therapy with the Awakenings Center for Intimacy and Sexuality in Raleigh, North Carolina. You can learn more about Caroline's experience and expertise on her bio page. If you have a question about anything discussed in the podcast, you can call Caroline's office at 919-845-5400.

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