Discernment Counseling

She loves him… She loves him not.

Mia* sits down at her desk to make a list. At the top of the page, she writes two headings: pros and cons. Her head is filled with ambivalence and confusion; she needs to make sense of it all.

Some days, she’s had it – she’s reached the end of her rope – maybe they should just get a divorce. Their problems are just too big, too complicated, too much to handle.

But her heart is torn.

Other days, things are not bad. They’ve been blessed with two beautiful children – and a divorce would crush them. The mere thought of not seeing her kids every day fills her heart with dread and despair.

And, if she’s honest with herself, she knows she’ll miss him, as well.

But, damn! He drives her crazy. He leaves his dishes out like it’s her job to do them. Practically addicted to his phone, he barely notices her anymore.

Most days, she wakes up and falls asleep feeling alone and hurt. That one is definitely going under the cons.

And yet, it wasn’t always like this…

She taps her pen against her lips while considering the pros column. “Hmmm, pros, pros…”

Her mind wanders back to how it used to be – in the beginning. A smile forms at the corner of her mouth as, one by one, the memories roll by. Skinny dipping in the summer. Making out in the park, not caring who saw. Staying up all night without the slightest hint of exhaustion – actually energized by the mere thought of him.

She would have done anything for him back then. Now, though, her heart hardened by almost continual resentment, she wonders if it’s even possible for them to save their marriage.

If only someone could just tell her what to do. If only someone could help her figure out the right next step.

So, Mia heads to Google.

She types in “how to know when you should get a divorce.”

Her search yields a few unhelpful articles – they all make it seem like a simple decision.

Some even tell her to make a pros and cons list. She rolls her eyes. “Thanks for the genius tip.”

But then, she notices it – Discernment Counseling. “What’s this?” she thinks. Mia doesn’t know it yet, but she’s just stumbled across her perfect solution.

Discernment Counseling – What is it?

Discernment Counseling follows a particular process to help people determine whether they should leave their marriage – or stay and work on it. Instead of helping the couple solve their problems (as they would in traditional couples counseling), it helps the couple answer the ultimate question first: should they stay, or should they go?

It focuses on helping the couple gain the clarity needed to make a solid decision and to feel confident they have chosen well.

Who is it for?

Discernment Counseling is for people uncertain about what to do with their relationship. Sometimes, one person in the relationship is unsure – sometimes, both.

It’s also for people either leaning in or leaning out of the marriage. Someone sure he or she wants to stay married is leaning into the marriage. Someone who wants to leave the relationship is leaning out of the marriage.

Discernment Counseling is designed for all these couples, the unsure, the fairly sure, or the indecisive.

What does it look like?

This is a very structured process – one best done by someone who has both training and a great deal of experience in discernment counseling (me) to follow the structure to best help the couple closely.

The first session is two hours. While that may seem like a long time, it flies by. It’s actually hard not to exceed that time. Your relationship is complex – and we have a lot to talk about.

Starting Together

We’ll break the time into two different sections. I will meet with both of you during the first 30-45 minutes.

During this time, I will walk through a list of specific questions that will encourage you both to take a bird’s-eye view of your relationship – where it started, what’s happened along the way, and where it is now.

One-on-One

Then, I send one of you out of the room and meet one-on-one with the other person. During this time, we do a ‘deep dive’ into your experience in the relationship. We focus on taking accountability for their role in where your marriage is currently. By focusing on yourself, you gain clarity. This usually takes about 30-45 minutes.

Saying What You Need to Say

At the end of our one-on-one time, we create a statement to share with your spouse. This part is hard to explain – because it’s different for everyone.

Sometimes, the statement shares what you’ve learned, what you want to do, what you think your spouse wants to hear from you, or what you’re thinking about.

Concluding Together

We bring your spouse back into the room, and with my support – and sometimes guidance – you share.

Then, you and your spouse switch places, and I do a ‘deep dive’ with the other person in the same way. For the last 15-20 minutes, we wrap up the session by summarizing what you’ve learned and what you’ve decided.

How long does it take?

Discernment Counseling is a short-term process. Most couples make their decision between 1-5 sessions.

I know what you’re thinking, “How many sessions do people usually do?” Although the average is 2-3 sessions, many of my couples can decide after one session.

What else do we need to know?

If you’re thinking you want to do couples counseling, but sometimes either of you questions getting a divorce, discernment counseling is a great tool. It can help spring-board success for marriage therapy by going through this assessment process and then recommitting to the marriage.

So, whatever happened to Mia?

Mia found my website and called me.

She told me what was happening, and I confirmed that discernment counseling is the best next step. I asked her to have her husband Simon* call me to understand how the discernment counseling process differs from marriage counseling.

During their appointment, Mia and Simon discovered how much they still love each other. Simon owned up to checking out of the relationship and prioritizing work ahead of Mia. Mia took accountability for not telling Simon how she felt until she exploded and instigated a fight.

They agreed they needed to learn how to communicate more effectively, have a strategy for fighting, and re-prioritize their marriage. At the end of their session, relief and clarity rolled off them in palpable waves. Their relationship had taken on new and exciting energy.

With this renewed passion for tackling the issues they knew they should have addressed years ago, they started couples counseling. I can report that their relationship is better than ever.

One final note: Why I love Discernment Counseling.

Discernment Counseling is one of my favorite types of work because I have seen couples on the brink of divorce turn their relationships around. I’ve facilitated couples who have had their divorce papers filed, couples living separately, and couples who haven’t had sex in years.

Helping them figure out what has happened to their relationship and make the right decision for them is one of my greatest joys. Sometimes, a marriage ends, too. Even in those situations, they have gained clarity and confidence in their decision and get unstuck.

If anything you have read here resonates with you, call me at
(763) 412-6983. It’s time to take control of your situation, and I’ll happily talk with you about your options.

*Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality.