Discernment is defined as the ability to judge well. This is a beautiful and simple definition of an elegant term. It is clear and precise. It is impossible to be confused about what it means to use discernment with a definition like this. However, when your marriage or partnership is on the rocks, you will feel anything but clear and precise about the unspoken decisions you need to make.
UNRELENTING THOUGHTS ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP
A million questions invade your conscious and subconscious thoughts. Do I stay and fight for my marriage? Do I walk away and cut my losses? Is she/he the one? Is this normal? What if I die alone? What about my career and our mutual friends? Can I afford to be single? Can we work this out? Would counseling help? Why doesn’t he love me? How did we end up like this? Do I deserve this? Why didn’t anyone tell me this would be so hard? I could go on and on but you get the point.
During the day you are exhausted yet, at night, you are unable to sleep. Concentration is nearly impossible, your thoughts are racing, your career is suffering, and your head hurts. Your relationship has taken a very sharp left turn. Maybe you saw it coming or maybe it hit you out of the blue. Either way, it is extremely difficult and painful. Your heart literally hurts. You now fully understand the term ‘heartache’.
DID YOU MISS SOME RED FLAGS?
There have been some indicators along the way that you and your partner are heading into difficult terrain. Perhaps fighting has increased, or worse yet, you stop talking and now rely on the silent treatment. Perhaps you attempt to spend as much time out of the home as possible to avoid conflict. Maybe you have started sleeping in separate bedrooms and spending more time at the gym under the false pretense that you need to ‘find yourself’. Maybe you have started stashing some cash aside ‘just in case’.
Preceding these red flags, you have probably noticed that your marriage was more like living with a messy, distant, roommate than a soulmate. You may have noticed that when you are actually speaking to your spouse, you are only pointing out their flaws. Or, perhaps, they only fixate on your quirks and annoyances; those very things that once attracted them to you. Compliments, laughter, gentle touch, and inside jokes are long gone. You and your spouse barely know each other anymore. And, worse yet, you barely know yourself.
The question still remains. Do I stay or do I go? You will wonder if separation is your only option. Back to discernment; the ability to judge well. How do you make a judgment on such a complex subject?
HIT PAUSE FOR YOUR MARRIAGE
Discernment calls us to take a step back. It begs us to pause; breath; reflect. Discernment is not fast, impulsive, nor greedy. Discernment is slow, thoughtful, and knowing. Discernment requires a deep reflection of self. To do this, consider some of the questions below. Sit in quiet contemplation. Journal, write, pray. Talk to trusted friends and wise mentors. Read books. Sit some more. Do not react to every emotion. Be proactive. Consider these powerful questions for a long while. There is no award for hastiness. Be intentional, curious, and open-minded. This is how you begin to discern if you should stay or go.
MAKE TIME FOR SELF EVALUATION
– What are my values?
– What are my dreams?
– What do I stand for and what I am willing to sacrifice for my beliefs?
– Am I safe here and what is safety to me?
– What are my flaws?
– What are my boundaries and what is totally unacceptable behavior from myself or others?
– Where am I not seeing clearly?
– Where am I seeing clearly but ignoring my intuition?
– What is my contribution to this current predicament?
– Where could I extend mercy instead of judgment?
– What can I do to repair myself and my relationship?
– Is there an opportunity for me to forgive, make amends, or correct a past wrong?
– Am I willing to extend forgiveness to my partner?
– What am I willing to change for the good of my marriage and family?
– Does this decision align with my culture, my family, and my faith? Does this matter to me?
– What will I gain by leaving?
– What will I gain by staying?
– Am I showing respect? Am I respected?
– How can I see this differently?
– How is this relationship impacting my physical health, mental health, and spiritual life?
– What am I to learn from this?
– Am I repeating a pattern of maladaptive behavior?
– Is fear or love driving my decision?
– What is love and how I do express and receive it?
– What can I do today to make a change for the better?
This is how we use discernment when we are faced with the agonizing decision about divorce. After we aimlessly throw money and worry at the problem; after we have endured countless sleepless nights; after we ruin our credit by spending frivolously; after we chase external happiness, we must lean into this dilemma. This is an internal dilemma that requires the mind, body, heart, and soul to work in unison. When we are finally ready to face our reality and even accept where we are on this journey of life, then, and only then, can we move towards discernment.
IS DIVORCE THE ANSWER?
It is my hope that you treat this decision with the care and consideration it deserves. While divorce rates are lowering in the US, they are still astonishingly high. Research indicates there are many negative impacts of divorce on our children and our own physical health and mental wellbeing. But yet, still, we divorce. Commitment to yourself that you will seek discernment, first.
Research indicates that January, March, and August are amongst the top months when we seek divorce. The first Monday in January is the most popular day to google the term divorce, according to research. And, by March, your new year’s optimism has probably waned and Valentine’s Day was a disaster. You are feeling hopeless. By August, you are tired of burying your head in the sand and thought of celebrating another lack luster anniversary together is causing unprecedented anxiety, insomnia and weight-gain. Add to all of this, COVID19, homeschooling, working from home, lack of personal space and the volcano is about to erupt. If your partnership was already being tested, this environment could easily push to react hastily. You can run but you can’t hide. It’s time to seek your truth.
GET TO KNOW YOURSELF AGAIN
Lean into discernment. Hit Pause. Get to know yourself again. This decision can wait until you have a crystal clear, objective, perspective on the situation. Seek guidance from those you trust. Learn to trust yourself again, too.
WHAT ABOUT ABUSIVE OR TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS?
As a caveat, I want to directly and very clearly speak to those of you involved in abusive relationships. Abuse can be emotional, physical, or sexual; and it is never okay. Being manipulated, physically struck, restricted in your movements, isolated from friends, threatened (whether carried out or not), and forced into sexual relationships against your deepest desires is abuse.
If this resonates with you, I understand that you are scared, alone, and feeling hopeless. Please reach out to any of the resources listed in the footnotes to get access to the help you need. When you are engaged in an abusive relationship, time is of the essence. While self-reflection and discernment will be part of your healing journey, your safety is the top priority. If you think this cannot possibly be you, just know that according to RAINN, nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime and, on average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States. It could very easily be you or someone you know.
If something written here resonates with you or strikes a deep emotion, you can reach out to me. I would be happy to guide you through the steps necessary to live a value-aligned life, even in the face of a difficult marriage. Psychotherapy will help you learn to trust yourself, become more peaceful, and process past hurts and trauma. You will learn empowerment techniques free of guilt, shame, or anxiety. You can call me at 443.951.3986 to book a free consultation.
Carrie Mead, MS, LCPC is a professional counselor licensed in the state of Maryland. Carrie offers psychotherapy to adults suffering from anxiety, depression, chronic stress, and trauma. Carrie utilizes a center-person holistic approach to healing and she honors the client as the expert of their own lives. Carrie earned her Master’s Degree in Counselor Education from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD where she resides with her family. When not working, Carrie can be found seeking the warmth of the sun in her garden where she grows vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers. For more information, visit www.marylandtherapycarrie.com