It started so differently. But here you are, looking at your partner like they are a stranger. 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?” Regardless of the reason for your disconnect, you may be contemplating divorce, and if so, discernment counseling may be a thoughtful 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 is 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 explore options. These options may include restoring your relationship to health, moving toward divorce, or taking a time out and deciding later. 

Unlike couples therapy, discernment counseling is limited to one to five therapeutic sessions. You and your partner will meet with your therapist to clarify your relationship’s future. Your therapist will help you and your partner assess needs, desires, and concerns regarding reconciliation or separation.

When is discernment counseling most helpful?

Discernment counseling is often considered when one partner is “leaning out,” and one 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. 

Couples therapy tends to be less effective when partners are on separate paths 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 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 critical areas of your relationship. These discernment questions will help you focus on your motivations and reasons for staying or going rather than ruminating on feelings of frustration or uncertainty. 

10-question guide for discernment counseling 

If you or your partner are questioning the future of your relationship, use these questions as an initial guide. The questions provided are designed to offer a framework that will help you gain insight into where you stand in your relationship, your role in getting to this point, and whether you and your partner are willing to work together to improve your relationship. They will also help you determine the level of uncertainty or commitment you and your partner have toward the health of your relationship. 

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 understand your situation better. Individually ask yourself these questions — ideally when you are distraction-free. 

Download and fill out your free discernment worksheet. 

  1. What are all my reasons for staying? For separation or divorce?
  2. If you have children together, how much do they influence whether I stay or go? 
  3. What are the hardest parts of our 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 any reasons that would make staying together unwise?
  9. What have we tried to strengthen your relationship?
  10.  How willing am I to work with 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 in your future.

If one or both of you have asked yourselves these questions and are curious about your relationship’s options, seek support from a discernment counselor.

How discernment counseling 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.  

A licensed couples therapist trained in discernment counseling can help you find clarity. This therapist can guide you and your partner to discern whether to keep the status quo, move towards separation and divorce, or put in an all-out effort with couples therapy. 

Our practice offers in-person appointments in Charlotte, NC, and Carefree, AZ. We also have virtual sessions available for those who live in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas. Contact us to get started. 

If you live in a state where we do not currently offer support, search this discernment counseling directory to find someone near you.