Why Some Couples Need Discernment Counseling Before the Divorce Ink Is Dry

There’s one last stop on the road to divorce that all couples should know about. It’s called discernment counseling. The purpose of discernment counseling isn’t to talk anybody out of anything. Its purpose is to ensure that both parties are given the tools and opportunity to achieve full clarity about the decision to separate before making a final choice. At the end of the therapy experience, couples can choose to:

  • Go forward with the divorce.
  • Attempt reconciliation using therapy.
  • Keep the marriage in its current state without making changes.

For couples who do decide to proceed with a divorce following discernment therapy, the experience can help to shape how they handle co-parenting and post-divorce interactions. It can also help them to fully close the chapter without risks for an on-again, off-again scenario.

I think there is one specific circumstance where discernment therapy can be particularly useful for helping couples to make an informed choice. Divorce ambivalence is a common thing that few people talk about. It describes a scenario where one half of the marriage has emotionally “checked out.” Their ambivalence causes them to lack any strong feelings regarding either getting divorced or staying in the marriage. While they are checked out, they haven’t necessarily leaned out yet. Meanwhile, the other spouse is still fully committed. They would love to lean back into the marriage using therapy, communication tools, and anything else it takes to stop constantly questioning the relationship.

What Couples Get From Discernment Therapy

I should state again that the purpose of discernment therapy isn’t to talk anyone out of doing anything. Its role is to help a couple on the brink of divorce clarify the true direction of their relationship. In some cases, the truths that are revealed will confirm that divorce is the answer. In other cases, the couple may finally be able to communicate about how both parties are contributing to marital issues in a way that creates a path for reconciliation.

The newness of discernment therapy means that therapists don’t have a ton of research on its outcomes. However, one 2021 study done on the impact of discernment counseling on individuals who decide to divorce found that couples who underwent the process largely felt that it provided them with the clarity and honesty needed to make a decision. Another common theme that participants reported was that discernment counseling provided them with the sense of resolution and acceptance they needed to move forward with their decisions.

I’m excited about the growing popularity of discernment therapy because it provides a space for couples to say things that have never been said before in their marriages. While it can potentially “save” some marriages, the biggest benefit is that it saves couples from the grief of unsaid and unresolved things that often accompanies divorce. This can be especially important in marriages where ambivalence is clouding the decision-making process.