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.
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? Why did I marry him anyway? Is this normal? What if I die alone? How will I manage on my own? Can we work this out? Would counseling help? Why doesn’t he love me? How did we end up like this? Am I worthy of more? 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 head hurts, and you have not eaten well in weeks. 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’.
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 his flaws. Or, perhaps, she is only fixated on your quirks and annoying habits; those very things that once attracted her 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?
Discernment calls us to take a step back. It begs us to pause; breathe; 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.
- What are my values?
- What are my dreams?
- What do I stand for and what I am willing to sacrifice for my beliefs?
- Who am I?
- 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 judgement?
- 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?
- What will I lose by going?
- How is this relationship impacting my physical health, mental health & 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 which 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.
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.
This March, make a decision to seek discernment. Research indicates that January, March, and August are amongst the top months when we seek divorce. The holidays are over, nothing has improved, and your credit card debt is mounting. Valentine’s Day was a joke and you cannot bear to face another hopeless anniversary. This particular March, March 2020, we are also faced with a failing economy, travel bans, and job losses due to COVID-19. Stress is high. If your partnership was already being tested, this environment could easily push to react hastily.
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.
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 involved 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 accoring to RAINN, nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner at some point 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 could be suffering in silence.
If something written here resonates with you or strikes a deep emotion (negative or positive), 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 failing marriage. I can teach you how to trust yourself, become more mindful, more peaceful, and more loving in the face of adversity. I can empower you to care for yourself without guilt, shame, or anxiety. Schedule your free consultation today.
Carrie Mead, MS is a Professional Life Coach, Psychotherapist, and Reiki practitioner based in Maryland. Carrie created Curiosity Life Coaching to help men and women successfully navigate major life transitions such as retirement, divorce, career changes, and loss. Carrie provides guidance, support and empowering exercises to help her clients redefine and enact on their life’s mission following a major life transition. Connecting authentically and compassionately forms the basis of all of Carrie’s personal and professional relationships. Carrie holds a Master’s Degree in Counseling from McDaniel College and a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Gettysburg College. Learn more by visiting www.curiositylifecoaching.com
Footnotes and Resources for Intimate Partner Abuse