Discernment Counseling

On the Brink

Your marriage is in trouble. You can’t remember the last time you felt comfortable around each other, let alone felt attracted to him or happy to see him. All you seem to do is give while he takes.

Nothing you ever do seems to be enough for her—her two modes with you are either complete indifference or outright hostility, even though you’ve spent years jumping through her hoops to try to make her happy.

Your marriage was once a place that felt like home, it gave you joy and feelings of worth, and your spouse was a person that made you feel special. How did things go so wrong—and when? Was it a slow erosion, or a sudden trauma? Whose fault is it, and is it even possible to get back to that place when so much badness has happened between you?

You miss the “us” that you used to be. Nothing has worked—attempts at date nights feel forced, couples therapy helps for a while…until the problems return. Talking to trusted friends and family makes you feel supported, but you feel like a broken record complaining about your unhappiness and inability to “s**t or get off the pot”. Sometimes they get annoyed that you haven’t divorced yet—but leaving feels impossible, especially since you vowed never to raise your children in a broken home like your parents did.

Yet staying could seem even more impossible—“what kind of model of love and partnership are we teaching our children? Is it better to stay and have them hear us fight like we do, or worse—not talk at all? Can I live without sex for the rest of my life? Do I want to? Do I want too much? Does anyone have a happy marriage anyway, or is that a fairy tale? What the heck would that even look like? Did we ever truly love each other?

These questions may have overwhelmed you and caused you to freeze or to feel trapped. The mine field on which you live feels too treacherous to move in either direction. What is your next step?

You need a different kind of help to answer these questions, help that can hold both the hurt and the hope for making doable, lasting changes. It’s a process that can get to the root of the problem and not just put out recurring fires. It focuses not on fixing what is broken, but on discerning whether there is hope for creating a better way of being with each other, or a careful path out of the unhappiness. It’s a process that believes that how you decide is as important as what you decide, which is why Discernment Counseling is more effective than traditional couples therapy for this type of couple.

Discernment Counseling (DC) is an innovative, short-term intervention that seeks to help couples who are considering divorce get clarity and confidence in their decision-making about the future of their marriage. Its unique structure provides couples the opportunity to step out of the whirlwind of emotions to view their marital problems with clear eyes, determine what all the possibilities are for lasting resolution (exciting fact—there are more options than to just “stay unhappily married” or “get divorced”!), and begin to make those decisions with expert guidance and support.

You have lived too long in your state of frozen loneliness and worry. Investing in a brief course of DC can show you how marital solutions are already in your reach.

What is Discernment Counseling?

DC is a brief intervention that seeks to help couples who are considering divorce get unstuck by:

  • Identifying what each spouse brings to the problems – how their particular interactions have eroded their intimacy and friendship
  • Identifying all the possible paths forward, and their likely outcomes
  • Creating and maintaining a calm and inclusive space where logical decision-making can occur by structuring individual work in separate sessions and avoiding emotional battles
  • Guiding and supporting both spouses through the sensitive decision-making process, helping each spouse take the next steps while taking good care of themselves

DC is a marital assessment process akin to a complete medical workup, that identifies the type of condition a patient has, which areas are affected, how much damage has been done, and how possible it is to be restored to health. Providers give their objective status update (diagnosis), possible outcomes of each path (prognosis), and supports patients as they decide for themselves which path forward makes the most sense. Treatment is less likely to work until such a thorough assessment has been made – which is why DC is more effective than traditional couples therapy for this type of couple.

Who can use this service?

This service was designed for couples where at least one spouse is leaning out of the marriage AND doubts that couples therapy would help. This service meets each spouse where they are –  it helps the “leaning out” spouse answer the question, “Is it best to stay married?”, while it supports the “leaning in” spouse to maintain hope or ultimately accept a decision that is unfortunately out of his or her hands. This service aims to understand each individual’s position and achieve the goal of reaching sound decisions within a short time span.

How Does Discernment Counseling Work?

Couples come in together, but for the majority of the sessions they are separated, working with the counselor individually to understand each spouses’ marital concerns and viewpoints.

Counselors figure out what expectations, interpretations, and behaviors in each spouse are causing the problems. They work to determine the origin of these problems and likelihood of correction or improvement. Spouses are judged only on how effective their communications are to their partners; no one’s motives are ever villainized. Ever.

Counselors are responsible for creating and maintaining safety and generating hope for a solution where each spouse feels supported and heard, even if one ends up feeling disappointed in the outcome.

What Could a Path Forward Look Like?

  • Path 1 – Make no significant changes to your marital status right now. This path may include an intervention called a “therapeutic” separation, where the couple mutually agrees to a time-limited, low-expectations marital state designed to prevent further damage and create some breathing room as you continue to gain clarity on a decision.  This could be done with spouses physically separated or not, and is done with the help of the counselor.
  • Path 2 – Move towards separation or divorce.  Counselor will educate spouses on separation and divorce process options (especially non-adversarial ones) and provide treatment and referrals as needed.
  • Path 3 – Participate in one last course of therapy for 6 months with divorce off the table, implementing your new insights from DC on better ways to relate to one other.  This is not an attempt to rehab what is broken, rather, it is an all-out, committed attempt to create a new “us” based on each spouse adopting healthier, more realistic viewpoints, skills, and approaches.

Remember, your counselor is there to guide you and just because the paths to restoring your marriage aren’t visible to you (yet), it doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

If you’ve read this far, it might be time to get help thawing your frozen state of loneliness and confusion, answering your toughest questions, and moving towards resolution.

For more information on this innovative and helpful intervention, please visit:  https://moderncommitment.com/on-the-brink/

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"Your first marriage is over; would you like to create a second one together?"

- Esther Perel