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How Discernment Counseling Helps Couples Make Difficult Decisions

Couple wondering if they should divorce, separate or get discernment counseling

Couples often turn to marriage counseling when they feel that their relationship has started to fall apart and that divorce or separation is the only way out. If you’re considering marriage counseling, ask yourself if you want to try and salvage your relationship, or if you want help in deciding if your relationship is worth saving at all. Discernment counseling for couples can be just what you need to help make this decision, because it focuses on helping both partners decide together how they will move forward in their relationship, instead of focusing on how to fix the problems.


How is discernment counseling different from marriage counseling?

Discernment counseling is a type of counseling that helps couples decide if they should stay together or go their separate ways. This can be a very helpful service, but it’s important to recognize what makes discernment counseling different from more traditional forms of couples therapy.

Discernment counseling can be used to help couples decide if they should end their marriage or decide if they want to try and save it. This is often in times of crisis, where divorce is on one or both partners’ minds. Over several sessions, couples work through their issues, with guidance from a professional counselor. By looking at their own behavior and that of their partner, discernment counseling helps them get past their usual communication barriers so they can address issues on a deeper level and make an informed decision about whether to stay together or go separate ways.


The process of discernment counseling

Discernment counseling is a brief therapy model that consists of just a few sessions. The process involves exploring 3 different paths or options available for a couple.  The therapist walks you through each path to help you decide you’d like to stay married; it might also give both partners clarity on whether separation or divorce is really in your best interest.

PATH 1: Do nothing. Couples admit that the relationship isn’t what they want, and they aren’t happy, but they don’t want to do anything to change it. They don’t have the energy or desire to do marriage counseling, but they also aren’t in a position to leave for a variety of reasons.

PATH 2: Couples decide to separate or divorce. Separation is talked about not as a failure, but as an option. It’s common that one person will want this option and the other person won’t. The discernment counselor will help couples in this situation.

PATH 3: Couples commit to starting marriage counseling for a period of 6-ish months. The therapist does not ask for couples to commit to staying together, rather commit to the counseling process for a period of time.


5 Tips for success with discernment counseling

1. Be honest with yourself and your partner.

2. Set aside your pride and take accountability for your role in the problems.

3. Listen without defensiveness

4. Separate facts from feelings

5. Be open to new ideas and options


A word on empathy.

Try to see things from your partner’s perspective. Empathy is known to help couples feel understood and create a safe space in which they can talk about sensitive issues. If you can see where your partner is coming from—even if you don’t agree with him or her—you might find that it helps build rapport, which in turn leads to positive change.


How do I know if I’m ready to meet with a discernment counselor?

Every relationship is different, but here are some signs that you’re in need of discernment counseling:

1) You and your partner feel frustrated and stuck in your relationship;

2) You can’t decide if you should stay together or break up. You’re thinking or talking about these options.

3) You don’t know how to communicate with each other effectively and/or are experiencing one or more major communication breakdowns;

4) One or both of you feels resistant to starting couples counseling.


Knot Counseling for Couples, Individuals, and Families can help you with the discernment process. Our clinicians are trained to support relationships that are in the middle of making these difficult decisions. If you’re in Colorado, call today for a FREE CONSULTATION to determine if discernment counseling is a good fit for you.


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