Have You Heard of Discernment Counseling?

Discernment Counseling started with Bill Doherty, Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota and his Couples on the Brink Project. He devised a model to help couples who are ‘stuck’ choose an end in mind—one of 3 paths: stay stuck, divorce or commit to working on the relationship with repair in mind.

Is Discernment Counseling for You?

If you are considering divorce but are not quite there yet, if you maintain a bit ambivalence as to making that final decision to begin the process (or are even amidst), then discernment counseling is for you. Couples who love each other, have long histories together, have grown a family of children, pets and objects together can often benefit to take a good look inside at themselves and see how they traveled down their relationship path-how they got where they are and how they can get back on the path to reconstruct their relationship.

In couple’s therapy, we reconstruct. In couple’s therapy, we often end the current relationship and find a new one that is better, healthier and more satisfying. In this way,  couples learn new patterns or a new dance that works better and more effectively to move them towards intimacy. That is not what is done in discernment counseling. However, you can’t do couples therapy with one party leaning-in and one party leaning-out. Both parties have to be aligned with an end in mind, a landing pad, even in light of the obscurity as to how they are going to get there.

If you have been connected, if there were ‘best times’ you are capable of doing the work in discernment therapy and then in couple’s therapy, that is, if you choose path 3.

How Does Discernment Counseling Work?

Taking a look at how you got there, what repair attempts you have had can help you make meaning of your relationships and your role in the relationship, not just their role or their wrongdoings, but what you did to contribute to what got you stuck.  Unless you see your piece, there is no getting unstuck or the opportunity for movement.

Each person has to decide what they can live within a relationship as they have to decide on what is important and what they value for themselves and their lifestyle (how they live their life with meaning). They need to set values on what are deal breakers or high-priority and low-priority concerns, as not everything needs to be worked on. In fact, according to John Gottman, Ph.D., 67% of couples’ issues are managed, not changed, so not everything is changeable but a lot can change with working on the self.

Why Wait to Seek Help?

Many couples have lived with low relationship satisfaction for a long time, not just days or months, as many couples come in who haven’t had sex in a decade or more. There is repair and if you are willing to examine yourself-the hardest and most challenging part. Think about this-1-5 sessions of discernment counseling and 6 months of marriage counseling (or more).

And, if a couple chooses path 2 (divorce) they can get to a place of a respectful collaborative divorce, that his limited negative impact on both the children, the finances and of course the relationship. The latter is important for one’s mental health and even more important when their connection will never be completely severed (that is, when there are children or other permanent or semi-permanent ties or attachments.)

To ‘discern’ is, per dictionary.com, to “distinguish or discriminate . . . with . . . acuteness of judgment and understanding”. So rather than react, make a decision lacking in both emotional and intellectual understanding, try discernment counseling. Remember, you take yourself with you into your next relationship(s) and unless you change you, that relationship is highly likely to be a repeat of your current dance.

Esther Perel, psychotherapist and best-selling author, says that “the quality of your life is determined by the quality of your relationships”. Work on them. Learn from them. There is always room for improvement.

There is no time like the present and nothing better to invest in than your mental health and your relationship.