If you’re considering divorce, it’s worth visiting a couples therapist to evaluate your decision. We call these decision-making sessions discernment counseling.
Unlike traditional couples or marital counseling, both of which assume the couple wants to work on the relationship, discernment counseling is short-term and helps a couple decide whether they want to work things out or move on from the relationship. This is also different from individual counseling, where we focus solely on the individual’s perspective because the discernment counselor works to understand both you and your partner, even if you see things differently.
Couples break up for many reasons. One of the most common is that they have not learned to manage each other's differences very well. However, both people can learn to adapt to change and improve their communication skills so that the relationship is not so contentious.
Before choosing to divorce, have you:
If you answered no to these questions, discernment counseling could be very beneficial before deciding on breaking up. This will allow you to take one more look at your relationship before making a permanent decision. Your counselor is an unbiased and objective professional who can help you agree on next steps and allow you to go through the process with dignity.
Visit a counselor before you decide to separate because counseling teaches you relationship skills that help you understand yourself, your partner, and become a better communicator. You may learn that both you and your partner want to make something work, but you just need the right tools.
You can read more about these ideas from Dr. William Doherty’s Couples on the Brink project at the University of Minnesota.
What can I expect in a discernment counseling session?
A discernment counselor helps individuals and couples decide whether to work on the marriage, end the relationship, or hit pause and decide later.
Sessions include conversations with the couple together and individually. Although we respect reasons for separation and divorce, as couples counselors, we also want to explore what opportunities exist for restoring a relationship.
In discernment counseling, you gain perspective on how you and your partner see each other, how each of you may contribute to the challenges of the relationship, and how you both fit into potential solutions. The skills and clarity gained in discernment counseling are helpful in future relationships, even if this one ends.
We consider discernment counseling successful when you and your spouse feel clear and confident about your decision. Then, based on your decision, your counselor can help you build out a relationship reconciliation plan or, in the event of divorce, draft a constructive separation agreement.
What are the benefits of discernment counseling?
How many sessions can I expect?
Discernment counseling involves a maximum of five counseling sessions. The first session usually runs two hours and subsequent sessions are one-and-a-half to two hours.
Who is discernment counseling for?
Discernment Counseling is for couples considering breaking up or filing, but are not completely sure if it is the right path for them. It is also for individuals or couples who want to think through the process of separation, and are interested in talking to an unbiased and objective professional.
If you are interested in discernment counseling, but your spouse is not, you should come to individual counseling for help.
When is discernment counseling not appropriate?
When couples decide to end their relationship, they may need help navigating the difficult road ahead. Getting divorced is a process, not an act, and requires forethought, planning, and a cool head.
We know it’s difficult to go through this process alone and, because friends or relatives may be inclined to take sides, it’s not always helpful or possible to discuss details with them. Our therapists at Couples Counseling Associates can help you navigate the process of during and after the end of the relationship.
What is the best legal approach?
When couples decide to break up, they have to choose their legal options: The collaborative approach, the mediation approach or litigation. Most couples who decide to get divorced don't know how to choose the right path for their situation. Dissolving a relationship with dignity and creativity increases the chances of ending the relationship emotionally intact instead of emotionally destroyed, preventing couples from feeling mutually victimized or like the pawns of the legal system. Some of the choices can result in mutually destructive outcomes, other paths can be catalysts for building strength, wisdom and awareness. Working with a couples counselor can give couples more control over the outcome, manage their anxiety and feel less mutually victimized.
What are the stages of divorce?
There are lat least five stages in the process of ending a relationship: pre-divorce, initial, middle, end and post. Each partner may be at a different stage or move back and forth between the stages. The more out of sync the couple is, the more challenging the process can be. Each stage presents couples with different challenges. Couples counseling can help manage anxiety and reactivity when couples are out of sync and help them get to the same stage.
What actually happens in during couples counseling sessions?
The counselor will propose individual and joint sessions. During the individual sessions, counselors help clients address their fears, concerns and worse-case scenarios. In joint sessions, couples counselors can facilitate difficult conversations in a safe environment to create a vision of the kind of divorce the couple wants to have. Together, the couple can create a platform for finding solutions as a team, design rituals, write personal manifestos and more.
Even after a marriage ends, counseling can be helpful because the lives of the couple (and their children) change. New challenges arise as the family confronts changes or comes to terms with new dynamics.
Legally drafted co-parenting agreements alone are often not enough to help reduce stress and build resilience. Stages in the aftermath of a dissolution exist too, shifting according to inclusion or exclusion of family members or the ages of the children. In joint and individual sessions, couples counseling can help reduce legal fees and help with negotiation of household arrangements involving children, conflicting loyalties, inclusion of new romantic partners, establishing rituals and boundaries between spouses.
You may want to initiate personal growth through individual counseling or simply improve communication with your ex to navigate new family roles and relationships. Regardless of the reason, counseling after the dissolution of a relationship can help reduce stress and develop relationship and communication skills that are beneficial for a lifetime.
Listen to Couples Counseling associate, Katerina Fager, talk about ex-spouse communication and co-parenting on the Let’s Talk Divorce podcast.
Our experienced associates can help you when faced with divorce or separation:
And, if you do decide on divorce, one of our expert associates will help you navigate:
In our efforts to bring value to your life, or if you are not in the Chicago area, Couples Counseling Associates has developed a series of lessons that could have a major impact on effectively improving your relationship. We encourage you to dive into the series and discover how these resources can benefit you and your partner.
Remember, it's the positive habits we develop that guarantee us success in all areas of our lives. Discover the seven healthy habits that improve relationships or get in touch with us to learn more about Couples Counseling Associates.
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Also in Arlington Heights
Associated Therapist Giulia Casani MA,LMFT
Kate Engler, LMFT, LPC
All the mental health professionals practicing at 737 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 2130, Chicago, IL 60611 or any other locations, are individually licensed by the State of Illinois and practice independently and separately. They have no legal relationship to the practices of each other and do not incur in liability for services of one another or to Dr. Sara Schwarzbaum.