If you or your partner are seriously considering divorce, I urge you to first explore the focused assessment process known as Discernment Counseling to help you make an informed decision about the future viability of your marriage. As a Certified Discernment Counselor, I have been trained in the structured and focused assessment protocol of working with couples on the brink of divorce.
When a marriage is in distress, the partners may disagree about the causes of the problems and/or the solutions to the dilemma. Each person is often over-focused on the negative contributions of the other, expects that person to change in order to restore the marriage to health, and is defensive and/or blind to their own contributions. The marriage then becomes "stuck" where neither party can or is willing to take action toward change.
When one partner is "leaning out of the marriage", they are often resistent to pursuing marriage counseling, fearing that they will be dragged back into a marriage that is fraught with pain and unmet needs. Discernement Counseling is not treatment - it is not marriage therapy. Discernment Counseling is focused on assessment and the development of clear action options. At the end of the process, each partner will have additional information and greater clarity to make an informed decision about the future of the marriage.
Couples going through this assessment process can expect to gain
- A deeper understanding of what has happened in the marriage that has brought them to the brink of divorce
- Identification and understanding of each person's own contributions to the relational distress
- Clarity and confidence about next steps for the future of the marriage
What does Discernment Counseling involve?
When a couple finds themselves at a crossroads in their marital commitment, they are facing three paths into the future, three possible "treatment options".
- Path 1 - Do nothing - continue in marital distress and avoidance of confronting the underlying issues
- Path 2 - End the marriage through divorce - an often traumatic change and expensive choice for all involved
- Path 3 - Pursue a strategy of change through a 6 month commitment to couples counseling with a clear agenda for change by both partners. The decision to divorce or fully commit to the marriage is deferred until the end of this period, after which the partners will have greater knowledge and clarity to make a decision with confidence.
The Discernment assessment process begins by meeting together in the first session, but then moves to a series of primarily individual sessions with each partner, limited to five meetings each, designed to
- Deepen understanding and empathy for the specific relational wounds experienced by self and partner.
- Identify the individual's contributions to the problems and their willingness to learn, change and grow. Accurately understanding one’s own contributions to the problems and their effects is crucially important to the success of this marriage or any other future relationship. "Wherever you go, there you are."
- Look into the future by exploring each of the three paths, identifying fears and concerns as well as reality testing of assumptions.
Discernment assessment is considered successful when partners more fully understand what has happened to their relationship and when they have clarity and confidence to make an informed decision about the future of their marriage.
Discernment Counseling Website
Huffington Post article on Discernment Counseling, Sept 2015, featuring my conversation with Karen Covy