Discernment Counseling: Gaining Clarity for Couples on the Brink of Divorce

discernment counselingDiscernment Counseling is a new approach to helping couples make the difficult decision of whether to continue in a distressed relationship or marriage.

Discernment Counseling helps couples decide whether to restore your relationship to health, move toward break-up or divorce or take a time out and decide later. In this process, you can slow down, take a breath and look at more informed options for your relationship.

Often, when couples are asking, “Should we get a divorce?, one partner may want to try to work on the relationship and is uncertain whether couples counseling could help. The other may be leaning toward ending the relationship because so many issues have not been able to be resolved.

In Discernment Counseling, our goal is not to solve the problems in the marriage or relationship. Rather, we take time to see whether the issues can be solvable. 

First, some reassurance: Whatever your thoughts and feelings, each of you will be treated with compassion and respect. There are no “bad guys” or “good guys.”

The Strengths of Discernment Counseling

The goal of Discernment Counseling is to help couples acquire greater clarity and confidence about the direction they want to take. This is achieved — gently — through helping each partner gain a deeper understanding of the issues in the relationship and their own contributions to the problems they have been experiencing as a couple.

In Discernment Counseling:

  • You will arrive as a couple, but then meet with me individually. 
  • At the end of the individual sessions, the three of us will convene together in structured sessions. Each of you can share with your partner what you have discovered. I am there to support you both and to guide the conversations..
  • A maximum of five counseling sessions are typically held. The first session is typically two hours, and the subsequent ones are one-and-a-half to two hours. You can end the process at any time.

Too often, couples may decide to separate or divorce at the height of relationship distress. Here, you have a unique opportunity to be more thoughtful, to take the time to develop greater personal insight and to have the guidance of an experienced therapist.

Understanding the “Dance” of Your Relationship

discernment counselingAs part of Discernment Counseling, couples learn about the pattern that occurs in their interactions. That pattern can include how you talk about problems, the ways that you engage when you argue and how you attempt to make your needs known. 

One of the most eye-opening components of this approach is that couples are not aware of these dances that occur in their marriage or relationship. As the positions of each partner in their interactions are clarified in the individual sessions, you can begin to see how you may unintentionally contribute to the dissention you are experiencing.

Each partner often gains new awareness into his or her own behaviors and actions. They begin to make sense of their own personal struggles as they seek closeness or as they may create greater distance and disconnection.

Becoming aware — often for the first time — of this dance of interaction can be a source of both realization and relief. Each partner learns that their responses to problems in their connection are not so extraordinary and that shifts can be made, either in this relationship or in a future one.

Going Forward — Thoughtfully

Three paths are typically taken during or following Discernment Counseling:

  1. To continue the marriage or relationship as it now is
  2. To start the divorce process
  3. To transition from Discernment Counseling to couples therapy to work on improving the relationship and resolving the problems that have been causing distress

The key difference is that the couple now takes the chosen path with new information, greater understanding of themselves and with the potential for peace of mind that the choice is made after careful consideration.

When deciding to continue the relationship without further plan of change, the couple decides to stay together and there can be greater acceptance of the situation as “good enough.”

In starting the divorce process, the work achieved in Discernment Counseling can be helpful in going forward in a more conscious way: Choosing to put the needs of children as a priority, couples can move toward a “peaceful” divorce with greater certainty that the path was decided upon with clarity and forethought.

Importantly, each partner can move forward with  new self-discovery, as well as a chance to change a behavior that can subtly undermine success in new partnerships.

When the couple decides to begin couples therapy, they begin with greater personal awareness as well as an understanding of their role in the dance. When they proceed with Emotionally Focused Therapy, they’ll build on that new learning with the most-successful approach to helping couples rebuild and reconnect.

A Better Path for Parents

discernment counselingBy developing a better understanding of the decline of the relationship and by moving more slowly in choosing the best possible path, the impact on children can be given a greater level of consideration. 

Regardless of kids’ ages, each child will be impacted in his or her own unique way. By taking time in Discernment Counseling to consider the best decision, the needs of everyone in the family can come to the fore. 

I am available to discuss in a scheduled phone call whether Discernment Counseling could be appropriate for you. You’ll also have an opportunity to ask any questions via email at