We assume you may be nervous at the idea of entering the “counseling about divorce” arena.
By the end of this article, we hope you’ll see how you can have BOTH a “marriage preserver” brand AND offer Discernment Counseling, without contradiction felt by your referral network and web visitors.
To state the obvious, if someone is leaning out of the marriage, and but are fully committed to doing heavy marital work, that is wonderful. You may be attracting these couples now, which feels good and rewarding because it is!
Those couples are not Discernment Counseling cases. They are couples therapy cases because the person pondering divorce still has serious energy to commit to couples therapy.
You have possibly made a reputation for yourself as the rescuer of these downtrodden marriages.
What we’re adding to the field is a big gap between these motivated leaning-out spouses (they are often discouraged but want to avoid divorce) and leaning-out spouses who have little no motivation and hope that couples therapy could make their marriage a good place to live in.
These leaning-out spouses (more often women but men as well) are at their wits end with their spouse and the marriage. Many have already tried marriage counseling and found it unhelpful (or worse). Retrying couples therapy seems like a futile waste of time, energy and money.
They are barely hanging on, wondering how much they have left in their emotional tank, with a spouse who isn’t making the changes they may have promised.
These couples, in other words, aren’t showing up to your office for couples therapy.
The leaning-out spouse won’t buy your optimistic, marriage-saving reputation – or anyone else’s – because they have a strong narrative about why their marriage is doomed.
Let's pause for a minute.
Why would they be attracted to Discernment Counseling if they are so down about their marriage?
There is another under-discussed gap in our field between a person set on divorce, waiting out logistics to start divorce proceedings, and the person who still has nagging doubts.
The doubt part is where they keep spinning. They’re clear, usually, on their unhappiness in the marriage. But they hesitate on whether the permanent decision of divorce is the right option, given the consequences to everyone involved. They have a bit of hope left (even if it’s just 5%), but not enough to motivate them do the hard work of couples therapy. Meanwhile, the leaning-in spouse, who is eager to get help, may be getting more desperate, further compounding the stress in the relationship.
This is where Discernment Counseling comes in.
It offers a holding environment to learn about what has happened to the marriage and to consider options and next steps. The leaning-out spouse is not pressured to work on the marriage, and the leaning-in spouse is not pressured to accept divorce as inevitable.
With thousands of couples served across many hundreds of our therapists, it’s clear this is a beacon of hope service. It is the “rest stop” idea where you don’t have to know what you want.
The leaning-out spouse gets to process their doubts with a trained professional who gets the full picture from both of the partners about what’s happened to get to this point, and then they get some alone time to go deeper on their ambivalence, while their leaning-in partner gets some much needed support from the same therapist.
This combination of together time and individual time (with summaries to the other on what they’re learning about themselves during the individual time) is the unique magic of Discernment Counseling. With a maximum of five sessions agreed in advance, revelations about self and the relationship come out in an atmosphere that has both intensity and safety.
Discernment Counseling assumes that both partners are missing some deeper understandings of why things have gotten so bad, and both partners may not have done a good enough job understanding and expressing their mistakes, regrets, or any ways they have contributed to the current state of affairs.
These learnings are fodder for the brief sharing each spouse does with the other after the individual time. This focused sharing about self, coached beforehand by the therapist, and without the other spouse responding, is a powerful process, usually for both spouses. New insights can happen as well as a new felt sense of vulnerability and openness can occur between the spouses.
If they ultimately decide to do couples therapy, you can offer to work with them as their therapist in whatever modality you use. You then switch from discernment work to the work of healing their marriage, with both of them on board for the journey.
If you believe in marriage and you know that most distressed marriages can be repaired,
Discernment Counseling is a great addition to your practice.
Discernment Counseling meets these couples on the brink exactly where they are, not ready for divorce and not ready for therapy, with one leaning out and one leaning in. Couples therapy often fails these couples because one of them is not motivated for therapy. What they need at the moment is a discernment process.
Offering this service isn’t counter to your brand. It’s being real with your skills. It’s saying, "I help people who are ready for the work and I help people when their doubts are currently louder than their energy for the work."