Discernment Counseling



              By Rev. Ronald W. Lehenbauer, LMFT, LCC Pastoral Counselor

When a couple stands at an altar together before God and speak their marriage vows to one another, most are feeling a wonderful love for one another and ready to make a commitment to spend their life together “as long as we both shall live.”

Most of us have probably heard the sad reality that about 50% of marriages these days end in separation and divorce.  The good news is that the divorce rate peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s and has been declining for the three decades since.  Nevertheless, the divorce rate is still very high.

There can be all kinds of things that happen in a marriage that can bring couples to this point of considering divorce, anything from “growing apart” or “communication” problems to some form of infidelity.  Whatever the reason, it is often a very difficult time of traumatic stress for couples who are going through this experience.  “What can we do?  What do I want to do?  What does my partner want to do?  Should we separate?  Should we get a divorce?  Should we try counseling?  What’s the best way to go?”  There are often children involved who must also be taken into consideration when their parents are trying to make such an important life-changing decision.

Frequently also in this situation, both partners do not feel the same way about their future.  One may be more inclined to try saving the marriage.  Another may be close to giving up and think it’s best to divorce.  We call these “mixed agenda” couples, one leaning in, one leaning out of the marriage relationship.

DISCERNMENT COUNSELING (program and training created by The Doherty Relationship Institute, St. Paul, Minnesota) has been developed to help couples like this.  It is different from regular couple therapy.  It is intended for couples where at least one person is not sure they want to stay together or work on the marriage.

The goal of DISCERNMENT COUNSELING is to help couples gain clarity and confidence in deciding whether to try to preserve their marriage and make it better, or to take another path, such as separation or divorce.  This type of counseling is time-limited and usually takes one to five sessions.  In other words, the goal of DISCERNMENT COUNSELING is not to try to solve the problems in the relationship, but to figure out whether the couple might be able to solve them together.

As a married Lutheran pastor, I believe that healthy, life-long marriage, established by God, has a unique value for individuals, families and our society.  In the context of today’s throwaway culture, a life-long commitment can be difficult.  While divorce might be a necessity in certain circumstances, I suspect that divorce is too often an attempt to solve a problem that people think can’t be solved in any other way.  Marriage vows include a commitment and obligation to work on a troubled marriage before giving up. Several therapists at the Lutheran Counseling Center are receiving special training in DISCERNMENT COUNSELING for couples on the brink of separation and divorce.  If you are interested in learning more or setting an initial appointment, contact us at LCC.

Rev. Ronald W. Lehenbauer, LMFT, received his Doctorate of Ministry degree from NY Theological Seminary and holds Master of Divinity and Master of Sacred Theology degrees from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Mo. Dr. Lehenbauer completed certification in pastoral counseling at the Post-graduate Center for Mental Health in New York, NY and is certified as an Imago Relationship Therapist. He counsels couples and individual adults at LCC’s Mineola and Woodside sites.


468 ad