As a couple therapist, I’d like to say that all my couples stay together and live happily ever after. However, the truth is couple therapists should not be the heroes of all marriages, nor should they become the advocates for all divorces. The reality is, whether couples stay together or they don’t, it’s up to them.
I previously wrote a couple of blogs which might interest you before you go any further (10 signs that marriages may be over, as well as how to prepare for couples counselling ) if you decide to go that route. In today’s blog, I will talk to you about another form of counselling for couples who are undecided about their commitment to the relationship, but would like to understand it a bit better.
If this is you and you’re ambivalent about what you want, where your head’s at, and/or unsure as to how committed your partner is, discernment counselling might be for your couple.
According to discernmentcounselling.com, sometimes partners are confused as to whether they want to stay married, and/or whether couples counselling is even what they want. For these partners, relationship therapy can actually be quite stressful and counterproductive.
Interestingly, in the last 12 months, I have seen an increase in couples presenting to my clinic where one of the partners is really keen to work on the relationship while the other is non committal. The difficulty lies in the fact that very often the partner who is unsure of their relationship commitment (the leaning out partner) is most likely holding off on expressing their thoughts for fear of hurting the other partner (the leaning in partner) or may simply resist the couple therapy process because, deep down, they’re not sure this is what they want.
Basically, rather than waste time trying to actually convince a member of a couple that they want to engage in couple therapy, discernment counselling takes a different approach that looks like this;
1- Couple session where both partners, with my help, discuss their history, concerns, and ambivalence
2- Individual sessions for partners to discuss their agenda, thoughts, feelings, as well as get to a resolution as to whether they are keen/ready/willing to engage in couple therapy
3- Final couple session where both partners, again with support, express how they feel about their relationship until they’re both clear as to their intent and where they’re headed moving forward.
This process should last between 3 to 5 sessions max (2 x couple sessions, and 1 or 2 individual sessions each). In the end, discernment counselling leads to one of three outcomes.
a) The couple chooses to work on their relationship and commit to couple therapy
b) The couple accepts that divorce/break up is the path they will take
c) The couple chooses to remain within their status quo but not explore couple therapy
In short, discernment counselling avoids starting half-hearted couples therapy with couples who have differing agendas. It accepts ambivalence rather than trying to work around it or overcome it, and unlike couple therapy that looks at the couple as the client, in discernment counselling, each partner is the client separately with their own agenda and right to privacy etc. The goal of this therapy is to allow each partner to find clarity as to where they want to head in the marriage.
SO….. If you believe that you need support with your relationship, but you’re not convinced (yet) that you want to remain in the marriage, discernment counselling may help you and your partner in getting to a common decision, or at least an open discussion on whether you wish to remain partnered to them or not.