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Discernment Counseling

Are you the fence as to if you even want to try and save your relationship?

If this is the case, you owe it to yourself to read this article. 

It’s not about convincing you to fix things

It’s about helping you decide if you want to fix things.

Discernment Counseling

If you would like to know more, there is a link at the bottom of this page for videos and a quiz.

Relationships as well as couples counseling is often doomed from the start due to a faulty foundation or starting point.  Strong, well conducted research into the science of couplehood and relationships has taught us much about the phases of falling in love and parts that limerence, trust and commitment play.  Commitment being an all-important load bearing wall that I would like to discuss with you here.

In a relationship, limerence is a phase we don’t control much, if at all.  In fact, limerence tends to control us.  It is responsible for that chemical cocktail in the brain that make us really stupid at times when we meet that special person.  Trust is built in small moments, and requires a foundation, but commitment is a bit different.  Commitment is the cognitive part of a relationship.  It’s a choice.  Like Alice in Wonderland, when the rabbit falls down the hole, Alice doesn’t waiver.  She doesn’t lament, thinking to herself, “Oooh.  There’s some weird stuff down there.  There’s some cools stuff, but there’s some weird stuff too.  There’s the queen that cuts your head off.  On the other hand, there’s the cat the runs around saying, ‘I’m late, I’m late, I’m terribly late.’  Maybe next week another rabbit will come along.  Maybe a better rabbit will come along!  Maybe even one with lop ears.”  No.  When the rabbit falls down the hole, what does Alice do?  A swan dive, right into the hole with the attitude of, “This is my journey.”  Will there be fun? Maybe.  Will there be challenges?  Most assuredly, but this is her journey.

This is an area where couples tend to go off the tracks, and sadly one where many counselors often allow work on the relationship to be doomed from the start by going down one of three lost rabbit trails with the couple.  To understand these disaster-prone paths, we first have to look at the all too common Mixed Agenda Couple.

In a Mixed Agenda Couple, what we will all too often see in the office is one partner who is on the fence.  They’re experiencing ambivalence toward coming to counseling.  There have been too many, one more chances.  Perhaps there is someone else waiting in wings, or their friends have gotten divorces and the lure of the single life with their friends sounds enticing.  We refer to this as the “Leaning Out” partner.  Then we have the partner who is now in what I often refer to as drowning man mode, grasping to anything they can grab and trying to keep the relationship from slipping away.  This is the “Leaning In” partner.

The doomed path reference above is when a counselor while well meaning, makes one of three all too common mistakes.

  • Pursuing the Leaning Out partner to try and convince them to give counseling a try.
  • Launching half-hearted couples therapy. Saying, well let’s just give it a try and test the waters.
  • Holding back meaningful help unless they the both want counseling.

Discernment Counseling isn’t about fixing the relationship.  It’s a short, focused protocol that is about helping you decide if you want to fix it.  The goals of Discernment Counseling are to help you achieve clarity, confidence, and understanding about your relationship based on a deeper understanding of what has happened and each person’s contributions to the problems.  We focus on how you got to this place where you are today, and help you confidently make a decision about your future. By doing this, if you choose to work toward repairing the relationship, you can do so with the commitment that is needed to make that happen. Because without commitment, it just will not work.  If, however, you decide that path isn't the right choice for you, and you do break up, then at least you will both have a deeper understanding of why you broke up which can only benefit you in future relationships.

Discernment Counseling works best in a double-session format when scheduling allows.  In such a case, we tend to limit the process to five sessions.  There is also no commitment to multiple sessions.  At the end of each session, the counselor will ask if based on where you are now, if you would like to schedule one more session.  During each session the counselor will work briefly with you as a couple, but primarily working with each of you individually.

Along the way, you will gain clarity on your choice of three paths, because in a relationship that is experiencing challenges, we really only have three choices, and those are to continue things as they are, end it, or fix it. We like to refer to these choices as paths as each one of them is a journey of its own.

  • Path One is to maintain the status quo. You keep doing what you have been doing, and continue the relationship as you have with neither therapy nor divorce.
  • Path Two is the choice to not work on things and it's the path of separation and divorce.
  • Path Three. If you choose Path Three, you're both agreeing to 100% commitment. For the next six months you will give it your all, be in weekly counseling sessions, do your homework, and there will be no mention of separation, divorce, threats of leaving, etc. You are saying, at least for the next six months, "This is my journey" and you are both demonstrating commitment.  Path Three, it's not a path of, "Well we're testing the waters of therapy." It's not that you're 60% committed. It's that you're 100% committed until there is a reason that you are not.

Without this clarity, it can be very hard to declare that type of commitment, and the far too often untold truth is that without it, relationships and couples counseling are likely doomed.

Dr. Carpenter is a certified by the Doherty Relationship Institute as a Certified Discernment Counselor and has helped numerous couples achieve the clarity necessary to move forward with confidence and commitment.  If you or someone you know is experiencing ambivalence over their relationship, contact us online or call the office at 469-225-9040 for an appointment.

Certified Discernment Counselor


Click HERE for Videos on Discernment Counseling & to Take the Discernment Counseling Quiz