/, marriage, marriage counseling/Discernment Counseling – What Is It?

The divorce rate in America is falling according to the National Survey of Family Growth. That’s great news. I believe that marriages can be saved. Since 2012 when 50% of marriages ended in divorce, the rate has fallen to around 30%.

If you’re struggling with your marriage to the point where divorce is being discussed, don’t be hasty. There is still a chance to save your marriage.

There’s a type of couples therapy called Discernment Counseling. Couples who go to this type of therapy may be at odds in their desire to remain in the relationship or pursue separation or divorce. In some cases, divorce has been discussed and one of the parties feels that it is the best or only alternative. An objective third party may be able to help in determining if this is the right option. Consider seeing a couples counselor who utilizes discernment counseling as an approach before making that un-retractable step of filing for divorce. There is a clear model that therapists can use for helping you make such a monumental and difficult decision.

The benefits of having discernment counseling:

  • More clarity and confidence in a decision about the future of your marriage
  • More understanding of what has happened to your marriage and the part each of you has played in the problems
  • A game plan for change if you decide to work on the marriage
  • A set of learnings that you can carry with you into future relationships if you end this one, and a better chance to be good co-parents if you have children.

Up to 40% of divorced couples surveyed state they have regrets about their divorce decision. Sometimes it’s because they feel that one or both of them had not tried hard enough to make the marriage work. The reality is, so often we’re not clear with ourselves or our partners on what is causing us to feel so unhappy in the relationship. What is clear is that the most painful place to be in the relationship is when one of the partners is unsure about whether to stay in the marriage. When you are waiting for your partner to tell you one way or the other, that limbo state is the most painful place of all.

What’s exciting about discernment counseling is that we finally have some tools that can identify very clearly the things that are going on that says to each person, “What is making you unhappy?” The therapist’s role is to help you identify these things specifically and to learn how to communicate that to your partner. What we hope to do is to identify what is leading to the unhappiness.

Our attachment needs are so important in our lives. We need to know that we have someone in our lives that makes us feel loved. We want to know that the person that we’re in a relationship with has the same needs as us. If our attachment needs are too different it’s not going to work. So what happens in discernment counseling is that the therapist helps you identify those things that are making you unhappy. What issues have come up in the marriage that make you feel lonely, alienated and unhappy? We then share those with the partner. The purpose of this is to show that there are very clear reasons why the marriage is not working. These reasons are the things that are keeping you pulled apart. Together we have an opportunity to share with the partners whether you are in a place where you are willing to work on the relationship. If the answer to the questions is that you are not desiring or willing to do the work that‘s necessary for you both to feel close and connected, then you know you are clear on your reasons for the decisions.

The therapist helps each person talk about the marriage in vulnerable way so it’s clear that everyone has thought through the issues and are now making the decision either to pursue a joint venture of working toward trying to resolve those differences, or that one or the other has decided clearly that one that the only alternative for them is divorce. Once that decision is reached, the therapist can do marriage counseling to help them work through their differences, or work on helping the couple to cause each other the least amount of pain necessary through the process of terminating the union.

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About the Author:

Stuart Fensterheim, LCSW helps couples to overcome the disconnection in their relationships. As an author, blogger and podcaster, Stuart has helped couples around the world to experience a unique relationship in which they can feel special and important, confident in knowing they are loved deeply and that their presence matters. The Couples Expert Podcast consists of weekly provocative conversations offering the perspectives and insight of experts from a variety of relationship related fields. Stuart also offers daily relationship video tips on The Couples Expert YouTube channel and by subscription in Stuart's Daily Notes. Stuart is happily married and a devoted father of 2 daughters. His office practice serves the greater Phoenix, Arizona area including the cities of Scottsdale, Chandler, Tempe, and Mesa.

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