There are a short list of phrases we (me, Far, others have found useful - ESPECIALLY in conflict and/or counseling). But they ONLY WORK if you remain calm and in control of your own emotions:
1. I'm sorry you feel that way
2. I don't see it that way
3. I'm not ok with that
Two and three - may produce a challenge - which can be good.
For instance - the response to (2) might be: What do you mean?
My reaction is solely based on - M2's affect. If she has moved into an adversarial stance, which she rarely does anymore: I say. I am not willing to debate this - this isn't a contest to me. If you seek comprehension, I will speak, if instead you wish to compete, to win, I don't believe you will be able to hear me. And then I shut the heck up and wait until she decides what she's trying to achieve. Connection or conquest.
Watch what happens if she doubles down: Well if you refuse to explain yourself we aren't going to get anywhere. (Which is code for - I want to fight - so man the **** up and get in the ring).
And my response to that is: Let's revisit this when it feels like the focus is on comprehension, not conquest.
(3) Is easier. If asked: What does that mean? The answer is simple: That pattern is pushing me away.
Any resistance on this point - manipulation - pokes - insults is met with the following: For just a moment here, we are talking about me. About what matters to ME. I cannot stop you from doing X. Not even going to try. Just telling you that it is pushing me away. You don't get to decide now I 'should' react anymore than I get to do that in reverse.
Z - sometimes your biggest issue is a lack of planning - you need to create a plan for the session. A plan - a message.
Probably best to start with the truth - in summary: which is that the marriage is sick, and on a bad trajectory
Good counselor will ask why?
Your plan could have two parts but not three. Part one is what you believe your individual contribution to the bad state of the marriage is and what you plan to do about it. And part two could be what your combined dynamic is, how it isn't working.
I wouldn't suggest how to fix that at this stage. Just lay out what is broken between the two of you.
At this point, Z2 is going to be asked to contribute. No matter what she says - don't interrupt. Worst case - take notes and write down what you disagree with. Don't speak unless calm and if that means saying - I need a minute - don't hesitate to say so.
You definitely want to describe your financial dynamic as tense and toxic. You do NOT want to say that Z2 is bad with money and pretends she has no student debt.
You bring up the dynamic - let the counselor ask why - and then you ask Z2 to speak FIRST. DO not turn this into a point scoring activity or Z2 will hate you. She is already going to feel embarrassed.
You gotta be supportive emotionally while firm on the mechanics of dealing with it.
Example: It feels bad when we have debt I don't know about. It scares me, and that makes me angry. And it has eroded my trust in her. I wish I made more money, and that Z2 had taken on less student debt. But - for now - we have to deal with what we have.
Avoid: Harsh, disrespectful judgements like: Z2 has lied to me repeatedly about spending money and has selfishly blown off her creditors. I don't trust her any more.
I definitely like reading, I'm always picking books up from the library. I've been looking at some hobbies to start at home, at least that will get my mind off things. Like I said earlier, I'm starting to detach from wanting to spend time with her. I am starting to spend more time with the younger two and sometimes even the older one. I think I'm pretty much done with trying to figure things out, I'm just going to let whatever happens, happen. After seeing some things this evening, I've finally realized she doesn't have it in her to change...