For the most part, people think of couple counseling and marriage counseling as a means to save their relationship when they have come to the end of their rope.
Either both partners realize they need to make the effort and commit to counseling; or, it’s one spouse’s desperate, last-ditch attempt to convince the other to hold it together.
Few think of getting marriage counseling when they both believe this is the end of the line for their relationship.
However, counseling helps in either case—if you want to repair your marriage, or if you want to call it quits.
Discernment Counseling – Helping You to Decide What to Do
How do you decide what to do when problems in your marriage have grown to a point where you simply don’t know if you can repair your relationship or not?
If you’re about ready to put one foot out the door, how do you determine whether you should stay or go?
How do you know you’ll make the right decision for everybody—including your children?
Those are some of the most difficult questions to answer.
Deciding on the fate of your marriage is a complex matter. It’s not something you should do at the drop of a hat. It calls for thorough consideration.
Discernment counseling can help you. It’s a form of marriage counseling that doesn’t focus on saving your marriage, it focuses on helping you choose what you want to do with your relationship.
At times, the conclusion is—yes—divorce.
Sad as it may be, when you come to that decision with the help of discernment counseling, at least you know you’ve explored every option, you’ve looked at the situation from all angles, and you’re making a choice that is neither haphazard nor rash.
What Discernment Counseling Is
It’s a structured process to help you assess the situation and evaluate your relationship. It will either lead to you pursuing a divorce or committing to a set number of months of in-depth marital therapy.
Your counselor will help you answer questions like:
- Could you just be in the middle of a rough patch right now?
- Which parts of your marriage may be good and worth saving? Are there any?
- Are you willing to make changes to your contribution to the marriage?
- Do you realize that you may only carry your own problems over to another partner after a divorce?
- Are you even willing to work as a team, putting the “me” on the sideline?
- What will leaving or staying mean for your children?
No matter if you’re both undecided or just one of you is unsure, this evaluation can give you a clear picture of the state of your marriage and how you individually feel about your relationship. That will set the tone of your interaction during counseling and reduce emotional conflict.
If you decide to make an effort to save your marriage, the in-depth assessment you’ve made during discernment counseling has already helped you to identify the core areas that both of you need to work on individually. This can help you to smoothly transition into couples therapy and commit to an intense push to repair your marriage.
But what if you decide to call it quits?
Even if you ultimately decide you want to pursue a divorce, discernment counseling can still help you.
First and foremost, it can make the process of divorce much smoother. As you both move down the path, you probably won’t be exactly at pace with each other. One of you may be willing to accept certain facts easier than the other. Or, one may be able to adjust their life faster.
Discernment counseling can help you keep a positive tone, create a holding environment to allow each of you to catch up with the process, and give you a place where you can not only review your marital history, but also see each other’s concerns for the future. Being constructive and reasonable is especially important if you have children that you’ll continue parenting together.
If you decided to get divorced after going through several months of marital therapy, you will also take away the skills you’ve learned. Even if they didn’t help you to stay together, you can utilize them as you co-parent or in any future romantic relationship.
What Discernment Counseling Is Not
It’s not a miraculous game-changer. No matter how much you may wish it, it can’t force your spouse to change their mind if they’ve already resolved to pursue a divorce. Neither can it make your partner agree to try couples therapy before they make a final decision. They may simply be at that point of no-return.
Discernment counseling definitively provides clarity about where you both stand.
The decision what to do with that information is in your hands. If you understand the purpose of discernment counseling and use it accordingly, you can move forward with confidence in whatever choice you make—repairing your relationship or calling it quits.
Ellen Rohr is a licensed professional counselor intern at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. She works with couples of all ages and life stages, helping them to move forward in their relationships with improved communication and relationship awareness. Contact her at 512-270-4883, ext. 103, or schedule an appointment with her on RCC Austin's Scheduling page.