When one spouse is considering divorce (“leaning out”) while the other wants to save the marriage (“leaning in”), discernment counseling can help them decide whether to try marriage counseling or see collaborative divorce attorneys. These mixed agenda couples are common among individuals having marital problems. The goal of discernment counseling is to help the couple decide jointly if they want to work on their marriage or get a divorce.
1. What is Discernment Counseling?
Discernment counseling is an assessment process rather than marital counseling. It’s designed to help couples decide if they want to divorce or try to fix their marriage. When one partner wants to save the marriage and the other is considering divorce, traditional marital counseling rarely works. In fact, counseling mixed agenda couples often creates frustration, withdrawal, and dejection rather than reconciliation because only one spouse is committed to working on their problems while the other partner just wants out. Discernment counseling reduces the conflict and confusion between spouses by clarifying their options. A discernment counselor works to understand each spouse’s goals in the marriage and their reasons for wanting to end or save the relationship.
2. Four Basic Questions.
During the initial session, a discernment counselor tries to answer four questions: What caused the marriage problems? What has each spouse done to fix their problems? How do the children factor into the decision to stay married or divorce? And, what was the best time in the relationship? These questions uncover whether the couple agrees about what caused their problem, clarify whether they are committed to working on their marriage, indicate how children influence their decision, and explore the shared dreams that brought them together in the first place.
3. The Partner Who’s Leaning Out.
During the initial session, a discernment counselor clarifies how the leaning out partner feels. Among mixed agenda college educated couples considering divorce, around 90% of the time it’s the wife who wants to end the marriage. If the leaning out partner has already decided she wants a divorce, the discernment counselor will explore the reasons and find out if she will consider marital counseling. Next, the counselor will explore the leaning out partner’s insight and contribution to the marital dynamic, and determine if the wife believes both spouses contribute to the marital problems or whether she believes it’s all his fault that the marriage isn’t working.
4. The Partner Who’s Leaning In.
The counselor will clarify why the leaning in partner wants to save the marriage and what he’s willing to change to stay married. The discernment counselor will also share information from his partner about why she wants to end the marriage. Sometimes the leaning in spouse will be in denial about his marital problems. The counselor may suggest it’s counterproductive to threaten, withdraw, criticize, or beg his spouse to stay married. Instead, the counselor will focus on self-awareness and what needs to change in the relationship if it’s to survive.
5. Discernment Counseling Clarifies Issues.
Discernment counseling is not a waste of time if one partner has definitely decided she wants a divorce and there is no way she will consider marital counseling. In this case, the counselor can help the leaning in spouse, who wants to save the marriage, understand the situation he faces and help him move from denial to a more realistic approach to divorce. In cases where the couple decides to work on their marriage, the counselor will ask each spouse to list the changes they are willing to make to salvage their relationship. Then, the counselor will either begin marital counseling or refer the couple to a marital counselor. If the couple decides to divorce, the discernment counselor will suggest behaviors for making the divorce more constructive, such as putting the children’s needs first, being respectful of each other, and engaging collaborative divorce attorneys.
Studies suggest that couples who participate in discernment counseling split approximately equally between those who attempt to reconcile and those who opt for divorce. Among the 50% of couples in discernment counseling who try to fix their marriage, an additional 15% eventually divorce. This means that about 35% of couples who enter discernment counseling stay married while the other 65% divorce.
If you would like a referral to a discernment counselor in the San Antonio area, please call me at (210) 776-7707 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be delighted to discuss the process with you and recommend a competent discernment counselor to help you decide if you need a divorce.