DISCERNMENT COUNSELING: THE NEW APPROACH FOR COUPLES ON THE BRINK
As a Certified Discernment Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist I often work with married couples who feel very confused about divorcing. They are not sure if they should work to put their relationship back together or to proceed down the path to divorce. They need help and guidance around this very important issue.
Enter Discernment Counseling…
a new protocol that enables couples to look at their options before making a final decision about divorce. It is most appropriate for couples where one partner wants to preserve and repair the relationship and the other is leaning towards ending it. Research shows that this kind of “mixed agenda” is common among couples approaching divorce, and there is a dearth of special services for them. It’s also a common (and difficult) presentation in couples counseling. Discernment counseling is NOT couples therapy and differs from regular marriage therapy in three important ways: a) the goal is not to solve problems in the relationship, but to figure out whether the problems can be solved; b) the process involves mainly individual conversations with each partner, since they each have different needs and agendas, and c) it is always short term.
Surveys find that up to 40% of divorced people have regrets about their divorce decision, often because they feel they (and their partner) did not try hard enough to make the marriage work.
Couples who go through Discernment Counseling most often come out the other end more settled and confident about their next steps, whether to make one, last, all-out effort in couples therapy to restore their marriage to health, or to move forward with divorce. Our research shows that about half of couples choose the reconciliation path in couples therapy, and most of the other half proceed directly to divorce after having carefully considered their options. Divorce lawyers tell us these couples are calmer and the divorce process is smoother because of the work done in discernment counseling.
We hope you consider this new service for couples like you, on the brink. You may end up with a realistic plan to restore your marriage to health. Or you may end up with a decision to divorce that you will be less likely to regret in years to come, and with learnings about yourself that you can carry with you into new relationships.
WHAT CAN COUPLES EXPECT TO GAIN FROM DISCERNMENT COUNSELING?
• Clarity and confidence about next steps for their relationship
• A deeper understanding of what has happened to their relationship and each person’s contributions to the problems
WHAT DOES DISCERNMENT COUNSELING INVOLVE?
The counseling focuses on three paths: ending the relationship via separation or divorce, carving out a six-month period of time to for an all-out effort in couples counseling (and sometimes other services) to preserve the marriage/relationship, or staying the course and deciding later. The sessions involve mostly individual conversations with the discernment counselor, along with sharing about what each partner is learning in these conversations. The counselor respects the reasons for ending the relationship while opening up the possibility of restoring the relationship to health.
The counselor helps both partners see their individual contributions to the problems and the possible solutions. Understanding one’s own contributions to the problems can be important to the success of future relationships even if this one ends.
Discernment counseling is considered successful when people have clarity and confidence in their decision, and when they more fully understand what’s happened to their relationship.
HOW MANY SESSIONS ARE THERE?
Discernment counseling can be as brief as one session and as long as five sessions. You decide each time whether to come back for a subsequent session. The sessions are usually 1.5- 2 hours.
Discernment counseling is NOT suitable when:
• One partner has made an final decision to end the relationship and only wants counseling to encourage the other spouse accept that decision
• One partner is coercing the other to participate via threats of any kind
• There is a danger of domestic violence
• When there is an Order of Protection from a court.
copy abstracted from discernmentcounseling.com and couplestherapyinc.com.