What is Discernment Counseling?

Discernment counseling is a specialized form of therapy designed to help couples facing marital difficulties make informed decisions about their future together.

Unlike traditional marital therapy that aims to resolve issues and improve relationships, discernment counseling focuses on helping each partner clarify their feelings and decide whether they want to work on the marriage or move toward separation.

Legal considerations play a role here as well, as Colorado’s laws may influence decisions regarding separation and divorce. The process respects individual values and circumstances, providing a structured environment where couples can explore their options with clarity and confidence.

Principles Guiding Discernment Counseling

Discernment counseling is built on several key principles that ensure the process is respectful, open, and unbiased. First and foremost, it acknowledges that one or both partners may be uncertain about staying in the marriage. This “mixed-agenda” couple is common, and the counseling environment is designed to support both perspectives equally.

Principle of Clarity: The main objective is to help partners gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their marital issues. This clarity can lead to informed decision-making about the future.

Principle of Choice: Couples are guided but not pressured towards a decision. The counselor facilitates discussions that help each individual reflect on their choices and the potential outcomes of those choices.

Principle of Confidence: By the end of the process, partners should feel more confident in their decision, whether that’s to work on the marriage, proceed with a divorce, or take a temporary break to reassess their feelings.

These principles ensure that discernment counseling serves as a compassionate and practical approach for couples at a crossroads, particularly those in Denver navigating the complexities of their relationships within the unique context of local legal frameworks.

Effective Techniques for Clarity and Decision-Making

A man and woman packing moving boxes

Discernment counseling uses several techniques that are designed to help partners gain a clearer understanding of what their future together might hold. A primary method involves deep, reflective individual conversations. These sessions allow each partner to explore their personal concerns and aspirations in a space that’s free from immediate emotional reactions, which can lead to a greater understanding of each other’s perspectives.

For instance, consider the story of a couple, John and Lisa, who entered discernment counseling unsure about whether to pursue a divorce after years of communication breakdowns. During individual sessions, John realized that his fear of expressing vulnerability had created a barrier between them. This revelation came through a guided reflection task where he had to document moments he felt misunderstood by Lisa. Through this, he began to see how his own actions contributed to their struggles.

Counselors also use relationship assignments that challenge couples to engage in activities or discussions outside of therapy sessions. These tasks are not intended to solve their problems outright but to help them see their interactions in a new light. For John and Lisa, their counselor assigned them to plan a simple evening out, focusing on sharing small, positive observations about each other throughout the night. This exercise, seemingly simple, allowed them to reconnect with the positive aspects of their relationship, which had been overshadowed by conflict.

Another important technique is the structured decision-making framework introduced by counselors. It helps couples outline their choices clearly: stay in the marriage as is, part ways, or commit to a set period of intensive marriage therapy. For John and Lisa, visualizing these options helped them move from feeling trapped by indecision to being proactive about their marital future.

These techniques collectively aim to create a pathway out of marital limbo, offering couples like John and Lisa the clarity needed to make informed decisions about their relationship’s direction.

Ambivalence in Couples Considering Divorce

Discernment counseling shines when it comes to helping couples where one or both partners are ambivalent about divorce. For these couples, the counseling sessions are a chance to explore their mixed feelings in a supportive and neutral environment.

The process emphasizes the importance of each partner having the space to reflect on their personal feelings and the overall dynamics of the relationship. The counselor’s role is to facilitate this exploration without pushing the couple toward a specific outcome, which helps maintain a balance between possible reconciliation and the practicality of separation.

Ultimately, the goal is to guide the couple towards a decision that they feel confident about—whether that’s giving their marriage another shot or parting ways amicably. By the end of the process, the hope is that both individuals feel resolved about the direction they are taking, having considered all their options thoroughly.

The Limits of Discernment Counseling

While discernment counseling can provide significant benefits, it’s important to recognize its limitations. It is not a long-term solution for marital problems nor is it designed to force a reconciliation. Instead, its primary goal is to assist couples in making a decision about their relationship’s future based on a deeper understanding of their marital dynamics and personal desires.

The process is also time-limited, typically consisting of five to seven sessions. This framework encourages couples to engage deeply and make decisions efficiently, but it may not be sufficient for all couples to resolve complex issues affecting their relationship.

Moreover, the effectiveness of discernment counseling largely depends on the genuine engagement of both partners in the process. If one partner is already firm in their decision to divorce, the counseling might only confirm this decision rather than open new pathways for reconciliation.

After It’s All Said and Done

Discernment counseling offers a structured and respectful way for couples at a crossroads to explore their options. It helps partners get a helpful and guided look through their relationship so they can make decisions about their future. Couples interested in discernment counseling should seek a trained professional who can tailor the process to their specific needs, ensuring the best possible outcome for their relationship.