In recent years a new marriage counseling specialty has emerged, referred to as "Discernment Counseling". Often, there is a significant difference in the level of motivation between two partners relative to saving their marriage. One partner is desperately committed to doing whatever it takes to save their marriage, while the other one wants out of the marriage or at the very least has “one foot in the marriage and the other out.”
In a traditional marriage counseling format, the one who is turning away from the partner is likely to feel that their partner has found a therapist who will ally with them against the partner leaving and push for them to do whatever it takes to stay married. This partner doesn't want to “feel ganged up on and pushed.”
On the face of things, a person might think that pushing to save the marriage is a good idea because marriage is so important and breaking the marriage often has really serious repercussions for years to come. This is particularly true of people who see marriage as a sacred commitment in the presence of God and family.
However, discernment counseling enables both parties to work with the marriage specialist who understands what it feels like to be the partner on either side of this dilemma. In this case, the partner who is turning away from the marriage will feel equally understood and supported emotionally as the one who is fighting to keep the marriage intact.
Interestingly, just the fact that the partner who wants out of the relationship or is ambivalent about staying in the relationship feels understood and empathized with, helps them to feel like the process is more fair and even handed. They begin to relax, become less defensive and believe that they will get a fair shake in the process. Taking the pressure off this partner and really listening to them can do a lot to loosen things up and offer more opportunity for productive dialogue between them.
Also, within this counseling approach is the possibility of doing some individual therapy with one or both of the partners with the permission of the other to talk very candidly about their feelings and needs, so that the therapist gets a very full and complete understanding of what is going on relationally between them. With the permission of both partners, this additional information can be shared with them together in a skillful, professional way that could produce a breakthrough in their relationship deadlock.
For example, the same behavior can be viewed as loving or unloving, depending on one’s perspective. When the partner who is upset by behavior they perceive to be unloving finds that their partner was actually loving them and trying to protect them, the offended partner’s feelings can change dramatically. These kinds of possibilities in marriage counseling would likely never happen outside of the structure of “Discernment Counseling.”
In his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriages Work, John Gottman states, "most marital problems are based on misunderstandings." Commonly, within a few years after divorce couples realize that their divorce was initiated by one or more serious misunderstandings that could’ve been understood and processed, keeping them from getting divorced if they had done Discernment Counseling, before filing for divorce.
For all of the above reasons, a growing percentage of couples are signing up for Discernment Counseling before turning to the final option …divorce.
Contact me today to see how I can help.