Discernment Therapy vs. Marriage Counseling


Kim Bowen, CEO and founder of “The Marriage Place,” specializes in discernment therapy. Sounds foreign, I know, but it can be quite beneficial for those trying to improve the situation they are in. After a few bumps in her own relationship, Bowen found that marriage counseling was not as successful as it was deemed to be. 

“It was an awful experience and a lot of money and a lot of wasted time, which only builds up more hopelessness that your marriage can’t be saved.” Bowen understood that not all marriage counselors knew what they were doing, but gathered information to change this awkward, uncomfortable experience into something with more value. Hence, “The Marriage Place” came to be.

But where does discernment therapy come into play and what exactly is it?

According to Bowen, “With marriage counseling, hopefully, [it’s] two people who want to have the singular goal of working on the marriage, improving the marriage, getting past an affair, doing some healing, whatever. They share a common goal.” Discernment therapy is quite the opposite; this kind of counseling is two people who don’t have a common goal.

This may sound counter-productive, but we have to recognize that there are two types of individuals in the relationship. One we describe as, leaning in, which is the person who wants to save the marriage. The other is leaning out, and they are 99% sure that they don’t want to save the marriage or they really don’t know. By using discernment therapy, it prevents partners from making irrational decisions that are based heavily on emotion.

Jessica says she dealt with infidelity in her first marriage and already mentally excused herself from trying to resolve things before going to marriage counseling. She went out of respect for her husband and the fact that they’d been together for 18 years (between dating and marriage), but she knew she had already decided that cheating wasn’t something that she was willing to overlook, and she definitely wanted a divorce. Although you may carry plenty of resentment into therapy, it can still be a good way to understand your behaviors and patterns. 

Patterns repeat  

Within a fifteen minute conversation, Bowen is able to create and comprehend the kind of dynamic that’s going on in someone’s relationship. The same way some people are able to “read the room” as soon as they enter it, Bowen knows what kind of individuals she is working with, just based off of their behaviors.

But the process isn’t always perfectly clear to the participants. Some wonder, why deal with me when my partner was the one who was being unfaithful? Or why worry about my behaviors when I was always giving my 100% into the relationship? No matter what, you will carry your patterns, and what you learn from prior relationships, into future ones. “It’s so important to know what patterns that you’re engaging in that aren’t helping you be more relational,” Bowen explains.

During the first discernment therapy session, the focus is on you – what have you brought into the marriage and what you may continue in your life, that could bring you the same kinds of people. T.H. explains that in her marriage, cheating was the last straw- on top of everything else that was being built up. She not only worried about what he did, but her actions as well, “You go figure your own shit out, I’ll figure myself out but we have to work together to be on the same page.” By delving into these matters separately, it can be easier to isolate what behaviors or patterns are the real problem.

Bowen agrees, “It’s not blaming you for the marriage ending or your husband’s infidelity, but it is helping you get a good look at yourself.”

What is Discernment Therapy?

During these therapy sessions, “The Marriage Place” allows one to five sessions. The reason you cannot get infinite sessions is because what if one of the partners sincerely does not want to be there after the first session? This is usually what they call, “one foot out of the door.” These kind of individuals have one of three divorce narratives:

  1. Fantasization – you are imagining what life will look like without your partner. Within therapy, it is our job is make sure your fantasy is realistic.

We want you to know how it will affect you financially, emotionally, as well as your social environment – will it affect your friend group? Family?

  1. Relief – your partner is suffocating you, you are begging to try something new, to escape from it all, possibly. Maybe your spouse is controlling or even somewhat abusive. You just want to get away from all the pressure.
  2.  Reluctant – you thoroughly comprehend the consequences of a divorce. You understand how much of an upset this will be and still feel hopeless. You are convinced your spouse won’t change and the only option you have is to divorce.


In discernment therapy, we want to be able to come to one of these decisions:

  1.   Leave things the way they are now

Although many may feel like they cannot turn to this option, this can be good for some people. For example, if your spouse just cheated on you, you need time to process this. Bowen explains these individuals are emotionally exhausted, “If you’re not ready to open yourself up and be vulnerable to somebody you can’t trust, you’re not ready to work on it…you’re still in emotional turmoil.”

If this is the case, discernment therapy can assist you in developing good boundaries so that you don’t feel the immense amount of pressure and will eventually be able to heal your own wounds.

  1.   Move toward divorce

You will open all doors of divorce so you are able to understand what your options are. Will you lean towards mediation or collaborative divorce? Is litigation an option for you? Not only that, but you’ll discuss what types of divorce are the most child and co-parenting friendly.

You’ll also talk about how to get a divorce attorney; Bowen recommends using collaborative divorce, which is when both individuals have a lawyer resolved to an amicable process. In Bowen’s opinion, this is the best way to handle divorce because she believes it’s “the only healthy way to divorce where everybody’s not trying to get something over on somebody else.”

  1.   Work to save the marriage

Roll up your sleeves, it’s time to work. If this is where you and your partner are, you should plan to dedicate a six-month period with divorce out of the question. Most people don’t see this as a possibility, but usually, half the people choose this option. Out of the half, Bowen says about 45% of the marriages actually last.

Conflict isn’t always a bad thing

Look at politicians, EVERYTHING is about winning. It’s about hurting the person opposing you. If this is done in marriage, everything becomes worse.

Divorce does not have to happen, Bowen explains, “In some situations, they need to happen, and if they do, we can minimize the amount of pain and anguish and the hurt for everybody if we do this with some dignity in respect.” Conflict can be necessary but it does not have to be a vulgar takedown of the individuals involved.

Why does some marriage counseling feel ineffective?

80% of people that file for divorce never went to counseling. Is it because it feels like a waste of time when you might already have your mind made up?

Jessica understands why those who’ve faced cheating in their relationship may not want to follow through with marriage counseling. The therapist she and her first husband went to encouraged her husband to move back in (Jessica had told him to leave as soon as she found out about the affair) and said they should go on dates. Jessica is a big fan of dates, but the idea of dating her husband wasn’t really something that sat well with her. After maybe two “dates”, she knew she did not want to date her husband anymore. She also admits how uncomfortable it was for her to have her husband move back in after he was caught cheating, “I literally wanted to peel my skin off.”

Bowen discusses that certain circumstances are much harder to get past, especially when your marriage counselor is forcing your cheating spouse to move back home. If your marriage has one of the three As; abuse, affair, or addiction, a different approach is necessary, but many counselors like to use a “let’s play nice method.”

You’re feeling hurt, betrayed, devastated – why on Earth would you want to go on date nights with your partner? Live in the same space, or let alone have sex with them? This is why discernment therapy is important, we focus on the individuals separately and as a whole.

By doing so, your habits are more recognizable, Bowen explains, “It’s a humbling thing to do, but I had been in relationships after my separation, and I didn’t fully repeat, but I did a little repeat. I did a little to fix him, I can change him. I can make him who I think he’s going to be.” 

This is a hard habit to break, but also one that can be detrimental because we have to learn to love and accept people for who they are and present themselves to be, not who we want them to be. T.H. says that she’s done a lot of work since her divorce and is proud that she does not do this anymore. She knows that it’s not her responsibility to mend her partner to be the person that she wants them to be. 

So for anyone and everyone dealing with the difficult decisions that come with a troubled marriage, it’s important to know that discernment therapy is out there and might be a great option to determine what your future will be.

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