It started so differently. But here we are, looking at one another as though we are strangers. You might think, “My partner doesn’t know me — how can we continue like this? Is there hope for us to reconnect, or is divorce the only path forward?” Perhaps instead of growing apart, there’s been a betrayal and you’re unsure if you can come back from the injury. You ask yourself, “Can I trust my partner again? Is it possible to rebuild a good relationship together?” You might be contemplating divorce and if so, discernment counseling may be a good first step. 

How do you know whether your relationship is worth putting in the effort to save? How do you decide when you should let it go? Each relationship and set of circumstances are different. Discernment Counseling is a therapeutic process that helps you and your partner gain more clarity and confidence to decide the future of your relationship.

What is Discernment Counseling? 

First off, Discernment Counseling is not couples therapy. Discernment Counseling is an approach that helps couples slow down and look at the options they have for the future of their relationship. These options may include restoring your relationship to health, moving toward divorce, or taking a time out and deciding later. 

Discernment Counseling is often considered when one partner is “leaning out” and one partner is “leaning in” to the relationship. The leaning out partner is unsure whether marriage counseling would help and perhaps feels ambivalent about working on the relationship. The leaning in partner is interested in rebuilding the relationship and willing to jump into making it work. When partners are on separate paths, couples therapy tends to be less effective because they have mixed agendas. Discernment Counseling can be a helpful approach because it honors the positions of each individual in the partnership. This approach works to understand the various dilemmas or ambivalence without judgment or coercion. 

Do you identify more closely with the leaning in or leaning out partner? In either case, you’re in a tough spot and most likely looking for guidance on how to move forward. We’ve created a set of questions to help you think through key areas of your relationship – focusing on your motivations and reasons for staying or going, rather than continuing to ruminate on how stuck or unsatisfying you feel with your partner.  

Considering Divorce? 10-Question Guide to Discernment Counseling

If you or your partner are questioning the future of your relationship, use these questions as an initial guide. Before you begin, remind yourself that you do not have to make a decision right now about the future of your relationship. Cultivate curiosity as though you are an interviewer trying to get a better understanding of your situation. Individually ask yourself these questions — ideally when you are distraction-free.  

If you and your partner are willing to discuss these together without triggering an argument or escalating into conflict, give it a try! For instance, you could start by saying, “I’ve been feeling lonely and unhappy in our relationship for a while. I believe the way things are going is not healthy and sustainable for us. I know you have sensed my unhappiness and I can tell you are hurting too. I’m unsure as to what is the next best step because I care about you and love you, I can’t imagine life without you and yet, I’m also hurting and thinking about us living like this for another year feels deflating. Something has got to give. I found something called discernment counseling and perhaps that could help us figure out how to move from here to somewhere else. I’ve found questions to help me think through our relationship — would you be open to looking at them?”

If your partner is the leaning out partner, it might be too much for them to think through the questions and discuss their answers with you. It might feel like more work on the relationship, when they are already feeling more ambivalent about making things work. This is where Discernment Counseling could be a good structure for your relationship. It’s a non-judgemental approach to looking at your relationship and creating space and understanding for relationship ambivalence. 

  1. What are all of your reasons for staying? For separation or divorce?
  2. If you have children together, how much do they influence whether you stay or go? 
  3. What are the hardest parts of your relationship? 
  4. What individual contributions have you made to get your relationship to this point? Your partner’s contributions?
  5. How willing are you to work on your own contributions? How willing do you think your partner is?
  6. What are all the external stressors that challenge your relationship from being its healthiest? 
  7. What wiggle room do you have to change some of those stressors?
  8. Are there reasons that would make staying together unwise? List those. 
  9. What have you (and your partner) tried to do to strengthen your relationship?
  10. How willing are you (and your partner) to get your relationship professional support from a licensed couples therapist? 

Reflecting on your answers could be the beginning of gaining more clarity for yourself and what you’d like to envision your future to be. Lastly, these questions are meant to provide structure and should be used as a guide to create meaning of where you are, how you have contributed to where your relationship is currently, and whether you (and your partner) have motivation to work together on strengthening your relationship or how much ambivalence you (or your partner) have towards the health of your relationship. If one or both of you have taken time to ask yourselves these questions and are curious about what options your relationship has, seek support from a Discernment Counselor.

How a Discernment Counselor can help

It’s common for couples who have experienced distance or betrayal to question the sustainability and stability of their relationship. It is also common for each partner to have different desires about the future of their relationship. One partner may be “leaning in” and the other “leaning out.” Without a professionally guided conversation, a couple experiencing this mismatch can feel misunderstood or helpless.  

If you could use help getting clarity on which direction your relationship should go, a licensed couples therapist trained in Discernment Counseling can help. This therapist can guide you and your partner to discern whether to keep the status quo, move towards separation and divorce, or to put in an all-out effort with couples therapy. 

If you are ready to schedule an appointment and live in Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas, we can help. Contact us to get started. If you live in a state not listed, search this discernment counseling directory to find someone near you.

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