Should You Stay or Should You Go?

Can Discernment Counseling Help You and Your Spouse?

Help with the Divorce Decision

Should you stay or should you go?  In many cases, clients come to couple’s therapy with that question in mind.  Often, one person wants to continue in the relationship while the other one is ready to move on.  Can couples therapy be effective for these kinds of clients?  Yes, it can. There is a specific type of couple’s therapy that deals with this common situation.   It is called discernment therapy.

Discernment therapy helps clients decide whether to proceed with couple’s therapy or to terminate the relationship.  One of the unique aspects of this kind of therapy is that each partner has his or her own agenda.  One person is trying to repair the relationship while the other partner is leaning toward moving on.  As a therapist, I work with both agendas at the same time.  In my counseling with one person we may discuss what can be done to repair some of the damage to the relationship.  In the discussions with his or her partner, we may discuss what is causing the sense of hopelessness regarding the relationship.  In this kind of therapy, I often spend more time individually with each client than in my typical couples’ cases.   When I have both parties in the room, we are working on communication and understanding, skills that are needed whatever the couple decides to do with the marriage.

One of the major goals of discernment therapy is to see if there is enough energy and commitment to work on the marriage.   Does each person understand the problem and acknowledge their role in the current situation?  A discernment therapist is not working on solving relationship problems.  He or she is helping the couple find out if there is enough motivation and interest in solving these problems.  This therapy is short term, often involving one to five sessions.  The ultimate goal is to answer the question “How are we going to move forward?”  Will we move toward divorce, will we make a commitment to work on the relationship for a set period of time or will we work on the relationship and make a decision about it in the future?    Ultimately, the goal is to have both parties committed to the path they have chosen together.  Couple’s therapy is greatly enhanced when both parties are committed to the process and are giving their full efforts to it.   Even if the couple decisions to end the marriage, the understanding they gain from this therapy should make co-parenting easier.  What they learn in these sessions may help future relationships, as well.


Paula Levy, MA, LMFT, Imago therapist is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and mediator with over 17 years working with individuals, couples and families.  She is a relationship expert and high conflict couple’s therapist.  She is a popular speaker and writer on relationship issues.  For further information, please contact her at or 203-803-9387.


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