What is Discernment Counseling?
January 24, 2020

The reality is, try as we might, sometimes a marriage does not work out.  Some are destined to fail from the start and some break down over time.  I have been practicing Family Law for 40 years and have seen all sorts of scenarios that lead to a relationship coming to an end even though everyone thought it would last until “death do us part”. There are signs that can alert you that your marriage is in trouble.  Some subtle and some not so subtle.

The more obvious flags –

  • Your partner changes all of the passwords on his or her cell phone and computer.
  • Evening and late-night absences that go unexplained.
  • Money missing, again, without explanations.
  • Charges on the credit card for gifts of which you were not the recipient.

And the list goes on and most partners recognize these more obvious signs.  But there are more subtle changes and signs that can be overlooked or excused, sometimes because of the fear of recognizing them for what they are or might be – a sign that your marriage is, at best, heading into trouble or, at worst, over.

Examples – you and your partner have the same argument repeatedly;  the things you have in common and enjoy doing together get fewer and fewer as time passes; you keep things to yourself rather than talking them over with your partner; in your mind, the “bad” in the relationship more often than not outweighs the “good”;  you feel more like roommates than lovers.

Even if you recognize the signs and realize that the marriage may be over, it is difficult to know what to do about the situation.  You may be reluctant to act hoping things will change.  After all, a lot of time and effort have been invested in the relationship and it is hard to give up on it.  But the delay and indecision can weigh heavy and if left to fester will impact your life in many areas.  You may lose focus and your job can suffer.  Your relationship with your children may be impacted.  The stress of indecision can impact on your health.

At some point, you will have to deal realistically with the situation and decide what step is next.  Should we stay together and try to make the marriage work or is it time to end the relationship.  There may be help available to assist couples in making this decision.  Discernment counseling.  This may have been around for a long time – I am not certain.  It was only while reading articles on signs your marriage is in trouble that I saw this term.  However, my colleagues were aware of the concept and spoke favorably about it.

What is Discernment Counseling?

Discernment counseling is not geared to saving the marriage.  Rather, it is counseling, brief in nature, designed for couples who are uncertain whether they want to continue their relationship.   It can be used in situations where one party is taking the position that the relationship is over and he/she wants out or in situations where both are questioning whether they want to stay and work on the relationship or move on.

The goal of discernment counseling is not to solve relationship issues but rather the objective of discernment counseling is to determine whether any of the relationship problems can be solved.  The process is brief in nature, typically requiring between one and five sessions.  For individuals on the edge of making the move to separation or divorce, discernment counseling helps to clarify whether the relationship can be fixed.

The counselor helps to identify how each partner is contributing to the conflict and offer potential solutions.   The goal is to give each partner a better understanding of what went wrong and how they want to move forward.

Discernment counseling is not recommended if one partner has truly made the decision that the relationship is over and is only using the counseling to get the other party to accept the inevitable and it is not recommended for relationships that have a domestic violence component. However, it has apparently been an effective tool for those couples who are just not sure which way to turn.  What is best for his or her particular situation.

As I noted above, this approach is new to me.  But if you find yourself in this dilemma, it is worth researching to see if it might be right for you.

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