By Maria Lebron, March 2020
Deciding whether to separate or divorce is one of the most difficult decisions a person can make. When a couple is in distress, it can be difficult to determine what to do or discuss next steps. Couples therapy doesn’t work well when one or both partners are ambivalent about separation/divorce because the main focus in couples therapy is meant to help couples improve their relationship. If one or more partners are ambivalent and aren’t committed to wanting to work on the relationship, any half-hearted attempts at therapy will fail and the couple will believe they can’t be helped.
Who Benefits from Discernment Counseling?
Discernment Counseling works best with couples who haven’t let their relationship deteriorate past the point where they don’t feel there is anything worth saving in their marriage. Discernment Counseling is also not appropriate for relationships where there is domestic violence or abuse. Discernment Counseling is for couples where one or more of the partners are ambivalent about separation/divorce and are trying to gain clarity as to what they want to do about their relationship and what the best path forward is.
How Does Discernment Counseling Work?
Because Discernment Counseling is not couples therapy, the focus isn’t on working through the problems in the relationship. Discernment Counseling is a brief, solution-based, assessment process lasting usually 1-5 sessions and is designed to give a couple the information they need to evaluate their relationship and decide next steps. Should the couple need it, extra sessions can be added at the couple’s request; however, the sessions are limited as it is not intended to turn into couples therapy. The amount of sessions is always determined by the couple. Some couples will decide not to return after the first session or they may stop at any point. After each session, the therapist will always ask the couple whether they wish to continue.
Discernment Counseling combines individual and couple sessions. Most of the intense work in Discernment Counseling takes place in the individual sessions. The individual sessions offer the couple a safe, confidential place where they can explore their feelings. During the couple sessions, each person can share what they like regarding what they have learned in their individual sessions about themselves and the marriage.
The therapist’s role in the Discernment sessions is not to tell the couple what to do with their relationship, but rather to help them make a decision on whether there is something in the relationship worth saving. In the sessions, the therapist takes the couple through an honest, mindful investigation of what went wrong, how each person may have contributed to it, and what steps were taken to fix it. If the couple have children, the therapist will also explore with the couple how children might have factored into their decision making.
What Can Discernment Counseling Help With?
If one partner is distraught or blindsided by their partner considering divorce, the therapist will help the person work through those feelings. The therapist will help that person examine any actions they’re taking in an effort to keep their partner which in actuality may be pushing their partner further away. The therapist will also help the person who is leaning towards divorce to examine any behavior towards their partner, such as distancing themselves, etc., which is contributing to conflict and an inability to properly discuss their feelings.
Discernment Counseling a valuable process for ambivalent couples because it helps them feel more confident regarding their decision on next steps. What are the possible outcomes from Discernment Counseling? A very small number of couples decide on the status quo and leaving things as they are. Approximately half of the couples will decide to separate or divorce. Discernment Counseling often helps these couples have a more amicable break. Couples who have gone through Discernment Counseling find it helps them communicate and work through the divorce and parenting decisions, making the divorce process more amicable and cost efficient.
Approximately half of the couples going through Discernment Counseling decide to commit to working on their relationship. These couples will agree to at least six months of couples counseling where separation/divorce is off the table. After the six month period, the couple reexamines where their relationship is and revisits the question of whether to divorce. If the couple decides that divorce is inevitable, the goal is to have gained enough awareness of the problems in the relationship and what changes are needed so that the same issues do not arise in their next relationships.
Couples who go through Discernment Counseling will make more realistic and informed decisions regarding their relationship. If you feel this is something that would benefit you, please contact me for more information.