Discernment Counseling: What to Consider if You’re the Partner “Leaning Out”

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All marriages and long-term relationships have turning points. Some turning points lead to a deeper and more committed connection.  Other turning points, however, might lead to separation or a break-up. This experience is usually neither easy nor pleasant.

The prospect of splitting up a long-term relationship is daunting. You may find it impossible to declare aloud that you’re leaning out.

What is “Leaning Out”?

In every relationship—romantic, family, friend, business, etc.—we have moments when we seriously question the long-term health of the connection. So, “leaning out” is not a fancy scientific term. It means what it sounds like it means. One partner is leaning out of the marriage, towards divorce, but has not yet made any final decision.

It’s very common, however, for the other partner to be leaning in. They may have doubts and concerns. But unlike their partner, they view the overall relationship as sustainable. This “mixed agenda” often leads such a couple to seek discernment counseling.

What is Discernment Counseling?

You might call it a form of screening. Discernment counseling is a short-term form of therapy assessment designed to help a couple decide what’s next. Usually, that means:

  • Start couples counseling


  • Start the divorce process

Broadly speaking, both partners will answer some form of this question: “Are you willing to work on exploring and changing the negative dynamics within your marriage?”

Someone leaning out may choose to not start a process they view as futile or too late. The leaning in partner will likely desire to begin couples counseling. Unless both partners are willing to work, couples has little chance of success, and the relationship is moving towards its end.

How Discernment Counseling Can Help

1. Communication

Healthy communication is the foundation for all personal interactions. Even when those interactions are heart-breaking and life-altering, we can navigate things if we communicate with trust and respect. Discernment counseling sessions help both partners keep sight of this. As stated in #4 below, acrimony is far from inevitable.

2. Save time, avoid struggles, focus on an objective

So much time and heartache and confusion can be bypassed when the truth is laid bare. A discernment counselor guides couples towards a shared objective. Without open discussion of our feelings, we run the risk of living a painful lie.

3. Mutual respect

If you think the truth can hurt, try dishonesty. Whether you lean in or out, you owe it to yourself and your loved one to be respectfully honest. Yes, it’s painful to learn that your partner is unhappy. But the alternative is a combination of dishonesty and mistrust. Discernment counseling can be where your bonds are both tested and deepened.

4. Maintaining a post-relationship connection

We’re taught that divorce is an ugly word and an ugly process. “My ex” is a phrase often dripping with contempt. But who said it has to be this way? If your connection was built on love, friendship, and respect, why must it be totally shattered? Couples can lose romantic compatibility while expanding upon their friendship compatibility. Discernment counseling makes this even more possible.

Taking That First Scary Step

If you’re leaning out but not speaking up, you can benefit from some professional help.

You may fear that first scary step of talking to your partner. Instead, take a less challenging step: reach out to a therapist who specializes in discernment counseling. With an experienced mediator added to the process, it becomes easier to speak uncomfortable truths and accept them.

In many cases, nothing will make a break-up “easier.” Working with a discernment counselor, however, smooths some of the bumps. Plus, as mentioned above, it may be the best choice to avoid losing the connection you’ve created with your partner for good.