Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Can – or Should – This Marriage Be Saved?
The ultimate quest of discernment counseling is condensed in the question: “Should I stay or should I go?” The phrase is used in many contexts and, for some of us, willinitially evoke memories of an old song bearing the same title popularized by The Clash in 1982. For the purpose of discernment counseling, the question is relevant to couples trying to decide whether to stay together and work on an unhappy marriage or begin the process of separation and divorce.
IT’S NOT AN EASY QUESTION TO ANSWER!
Making the decision to leave a marriage or any long-term committed relationship can be heart-wrenching, especially when one partner is leaning in toward staying and the other partner is leaning out toward leaving. These partners are what William J. Doherty, the founder of Discernment Counseling, refers to as a “mixed-agenda” couple. It’s very hard to go from “I’m almost out of here,” to “I’m out of here forever.” This agonizing decision can take months, if not years, to make.
HOW DOES PROCESS WORK?
IS IT AN APPROPRIATE CHOICE FOR YOU?
Discernment counseling is a decision-making process. It is not therapy. In fact, it is designed to avoid half-hearted marriage therapy where there is no firm commitment by both parties to put in the work to repair the relationship. At the conclusion of discernment counseling, couples may choose to take one of three paths:
1) Remain in the marriage as it is. This is rarely a viable option. Couples who seek counseling are looking for resolution to an unsatisfying relationship.
2) Choose to separate and proceed toward divorce. The advantage to making this decision after engaging in discernment counseling is that the partners reach a better understanding and acceptance of the end of their time together as a committed couple.
3) Decide to take separation/divorce off the table and commit to a specified period of marital counseling (usually a few months) with an all-out genuine effort by both partners to make the marriage work. After the specified period of time, they re-evaluate the relationship and make a decision about their long-term future
Discernment counseling is short-term, usually between four to seven sessions. The initial session is with the couple together. In subsequent sessions, the couple meets with the therapist for 10 minutes, followed by a 20-minute session with each individual, wrapping up with another 10 minutes with both partners . Weekly sessions are recommended whenever possible.
Again, discernment counseling is not therapy; it is a process that is facilitated by professional counselor who is skilled in the decision-making process. The goal is to develop a deeper clarity about the future of the relationship.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What if we both know the marriage is over,
but neither of us wants to make the final decision?
Then you might want to consider “closure counseling,” which is directed at helping both of you accept the end of the marriage. From there, you can move into divorce counseling to make the process as smooth and amicable as possible, especially in situations that involve children and a need for effective co-parenting. Discernment Counseling is for couples who have not yet made a final decision and still want to consider all options available to them.
What if we come in for several sessions and still can’t reach a decision?
This rarely happens, but in some cases, couples decide to put everything on hold for a few weeks as they absorb and consider what they learn in discernment counseling about their relationship and the work each partner would need to engage in.
Why not just go directly to marriage/couple therapy to see if problems can be resolved and the relationship restored to health?
Marriage or couples therapy is rarely successful when one partner is not fully committed to the process or unwilling to consider their own role in relationship problems. Discernment counseling avoids the time and expense, plus the frustration, of a failed effort to rescue the marriage.
DON’T CONTINUE THE PAIN OF BEING IN LIMBO
I can offer you a safe, non-judgmental space to explore your options with professional guidance. If you would like to schedule an appointment, visit my contact page here. If you still have questions or reservations, I’m happy to schedule a free 15-minute phone consult or, if you prefer, you may send your questions to me via e-mail.