Top iTunes Marriage Podcast

13+ Million Downloads

hosted by Dr. Corey Allan

Discernment Counseling #485

On the Regular version of today’s show …

Dr Marni Feuerman joins me as we discuss the times when couples may need discernment counseling. What is it and how does it work?  

Learn more about Dr Marni at her site

On the Xtended version …

Dr Marni and I continue the conversation by talking about the things we see in couples seeking our help that will get in the way of successful therapy.

Enjoy the show!

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Speaker 1: You are listening to the regular version of Sexy Marriage Radio, You've turned on Sexy Marriage Radio, where the best sex happens in the marriage bed. Here's your host, Dr. Corey Allan.

Corey Allan: Welcome back to next-

Pam Allan: Easy for you to say. Right off the bat, we're getting tongue-tied.

Corey Allan: I'm going to leave that in there too.

Pam Allan: All right. Go for it.

Corey Allan: Because this is Sexy Marriage Radio, where this is real life that we talk about.

Pam Allan: Yes, it is.

Corey Allan: So even on the air, sometimes real life just bleeds through.

Pam Allan: Here we are.

Corey Allan: And words are hard.

Pam Allan: Sometimes.

Corey Allan: Apparently, saying welcome back to Sexy Marriage Radio is sometimes tough to say, but I'm so glad that the SMR Nation comes and spend some time with us each and every week. That they take time out and then they let us know what's going on in their mind or their marriage or their life. And they call us at (214) 702-9565 or they send in an email at, because that helps us chart the path of where we're heading next, because over the years, SMR has become listener-driven radio.

Pam Allan: It has. It has. We love that.

Corey Allan: And we count on the SMR Nation each and every week to not only tune in, but also to ask your questions. So, fire away.

Pam Allan: Yeah. That gives us the variety and spice and brings-

Corey Allan: It totally does. And then, we also ask of the SMR Nation to jump on to iTunes or iHeartRadio, Spotify, Google Play, however you listen, rate and review, leave a comment, help us spread the word because we think married sex is fantastic, but we also think marriage is fantastic. Those two suckers go hand in hand.

Pam Allan: They sure do.

Corey Allan: And we want everyone to experience what marriage can be. And a lot of times I think it just comes down to how do we look at what's going on and how do I view what's happening? Because that can change what I do.

Pam Allan: Right.

Corey Allan: Because marriage is about me being better not my spouse fixing their problems. It'd be a whole lot easier if you actually would though, babe.

Pam Allan: I'll try. Right? Okay. Whatever, whatever. I'll work on me, you work on you and-

Corey Allan: We'll meet in the middle.

Pam Allan: We'll meet in the middle somewhere.

Corey Allan: That's a good plan. Well, coming up on today's Sexy Marriage Radio is a conversation that I had with Dr. Marni Feuerman, that she is a MFT in Florida, that she has some training in discernment counseling.

Pam Allan: Okay. Some training or is that a specialty? Like that's what she spends most of her time on.

Corey Allan: So, that's an aspect of her practice. Obviously, if you're doing couples work, you going to cover a lot of different aspects of what involves marriage, what all of that entails. But one of the things that she is noted for is this idea of discernment counseling. And this is when couples come seeking help because one of them has said, "I'm out, but I'm not quite sure I'm out." But they're not willing to fully go through with it. There's a lot of things that happen because it's easy for couples when you get into this whole thing, and you've created a life together, and you've got a lot of things that are a value with each other. It's pretty easy for people to say, "I don't want this anymore, but I'm not going to leave." Right?

Pam Allan: Okay. Right.

Corey Allan: And so you get stuck in this limbo. And so, what she does with this training, in this specialty is she helps people walk through discerning, what do I do?

Pam Allan: I mean, that's... Discernment in any aspect of life is good to have, to have someone that can guide you through that.

Corey Allan: Yeah.

Pam Allan: Fabulous. I'm interested to hear what she has to say.

Corey Allan: Yeah. Because it's totally worth having a professional walk alongside you in this journey.

Pam Allan: Oh, definitely.

Corey Allan: And a lot of really good qualified therapists, and I'm going to put myself among them, do this in various ways, but she just has a little particular take and I think it was a fascinating conversation.

Pam Allan: Very good.

Corey Allan: And coming up on the extended version of Sexy Marriage Radio, which is deeper, longer, and there are no ads, you can subscribe at She and I continue a conversation talking about the particulars of being a marriage therapist and what are the things that you see in clients and couples that come in that make us as professionals, and we start thinking, "Oh, this is going to be a struggle."

Pam Allan: It's going to be a tough one to be the counselor to walk through with them.

Corey Allan: Right. Or this is not going to work, that you can already see preconceived, "Oh, this is going to be a big problem."

Pam Allan: Okay. That'd be interesting to hear because having been someone who went through counseling with my spouse. Wow. Okay. Which of those puzzle pieces did we present when we walked in the door, right? Exactly.

Corey Allan: To find out, you got to listen to the extended content and all that's coming up on today's show. Well, joining me for today's session of Sexy Marriage Radio is a fellow colleague in the trenches, rolling up her sleeves, getting down and dirty in the nitty-gritty with couples, Dr. Marni Feuerman. And she's... Let's see, I'm trying to get this right. You're an LMFT but also a licensed social worker in the State of Florida, correct?

Dr. Marni Feuerman: Yeah. That's correct.

Corey Allan: Okay. And you got a PhD in clinical psychology. And so, you've got the alphabet soup after your name like I do. And it's this whole concept of what the real goal is, and from everything I'm reading about you and learning about you right away is just trying to go into the things that couples face the most and offer some help.

Dr. Marni Feuerman: Yes, exactly. It's great that this material is publicly available, that there's podcasts. There's lots of good stuff online. There's good work that people are doing, great research. And of course, working day in and day out, you can really... If we talk about marriage, you're marrying the research and the science with the clinical work and you're inaudible fighting it along the way, just when you learn more and things that are... More theory comes out, more outcome studies, and hopefully, you get better and better at it.

Corey Allan: Yeah. I think that's a theme of all of life, isn't it? That hopefully, as we go through and we learn new things, we can incorporate it and adapt to things and just be better, not only as clinicians, but as people, as married people. So, I'm curious Marni, because most of us probably go into the field of marriage and family therapy because we truly are wanting to help couples. We're wanting to help marriages, but then you have to dig deeper because I think this is where you land as well as I do in the sense that I'm trying to help couples, but I'm really trying to help the people within the couple, right?

Dr. Marni Feuerman: Yes.

Corey Allan: So, you have a specialty or a subsect, I guess you could say, and one of the focuses you have in your practice called discernment counseling. And so, discernment, people could hear this in the SMR Nation and go, "Okay. What does that mean?" And so, I would love to just... Let's go global and then let's drill down of what exactly is discernment counseling.

Dr. Marni Feuerman: Sure. Well, when you think of the word discernment, think about decision-making. Okay. And so, that's the focus of that form of counseling. And that was developed by a doctor Bill Doherty, and out of the Doherty Relationship Institute. He's a very progressive thinker about things and he's very passionate, certainly about marriage and family and all those really good values. And so, one of the things that he was noticing was that couples would show up for marriage therapy or they would request marriage or couples therapy. But what he was finding was that it wouldn't really gain a lot of traction if both people weren't aligned in their goals.
So by that, it means, the main goal we look for and you probably know is that two people come in and say, "We both want to save the marriage. We want to work on it. We're in distress. We want to figure this out. We want to communicate better." Whatever the typical things are that they tell us, but ultimately they want to stay together. Okay. And so then, you launch into helping them fix the marriage, but what was happening was, if somebody put divorce on the table or somebody was strongly considering leaving the marriage, they weren't sure they want to stay in it, right there, you have two different goals. And so, whereas one person wants to... And sometimes the two people are in that situation. They're both considering ending the marriage, that happens too. Okay.

Corey Allan: Yep. But more often than not, I think in your experience, what you're describing as a similar thing I see is where one person is the one that's more, "Yeah. I don't think so." And the other's oftentimes, comes across from what I experience is a little desperation of "No, no, no, no, no. I will... What do I have to do to save this thing?"

Dr. Marni Feuerman: Yeah. That's a majority of people where one person wants to work on it and the other person isn't sure. And so, the person who isn't sure, their agenda is to figure out whether or not they want to commit to this reconciliation process. So, they're more in that decision making mode. And so, we have two different goals, they're not completely aligned. Certainly, as a marriage therapist, we're marriage friendly, we value keeping families and couples together.
So if anything, there might be a little bit of a bias that I usually just put right out there and say, "Look, you're coming to me. My passion is to keep people together. But at the same time, I recognize where you're both at. And I honor that. You're not a good person or a bad person for thinking about this. Thinking about ending your marriage. I'm sure there's a lot of things that brought you to this place." And we want to look at everything. We want to leave no stone unturned. We want to explore everything that's happened. Everything people have done to try to fix it, perhaps on their own. Sometimes, even with help. Sometimes, with not so good help, we end up learning. They went to a general therapist who well-intentioned, but they didn't have the specialized training.

Corey Allan: Yeah. Not completely trained in that specialty or just working with a couple because two people in the room with you as a therapist is drastically different than one person in the room as with a therapist.

Dr. Marni Feuerman: Yes. I cannot emphasize that enough. Absolutely. It requires a very different skillset. So, we just want to start exactly where they're at. We want to say, we get, we validate where they're at, what they're feeling and we slow it down. We push pause, that's what I usually tell people, we're pausing to gain clarity about the marriage and get you to a place where you feel confident in the next decision. And the decisions are three basic paths. The first path is to stay the same and do nothing. So, just keep things the way they are. Most people want to take that off the table right away, which I don't blame them. Path two would be movement towards separation and or divorce. And path three would be reconciliation with an all out effort in marriage therapy. And we prefer that they commit to a certain length of time. Usually, we say at least six months, because we know that change is not linear. I tell people, it looks like the stock market, the overall trajectory is in a positive direction, but you're going to have slide backs. You're going to have some-

Corey Allan: Yeah. There's gains and losses all the way through this journey. Absolutely.

Dr. Marni Feuerman: Yeah. And we want time to work on that. We want time to say, "Okay. We had a slide back. Let's see what happens." Without someone throwing out the D-card once again in the middle of a fight.

Corey Allan: Yep. Just because things regressed a little bit. It's like sometimes usually, it can be a reactionary response of like, "Okay. That's it. Nothing's changed." And in reality, maybe something has changed. If you've listened to Sexy Marriage Radio for a length of time, you've heard us talk about how marriage has struggles. Life has struggles, but you're not alone. If something's interfering with your well-being or preventing you from achieving your goals, help is available. I've had the help of a great therapist at several different points in my life. And I would not be experiencing the life, marriage or family I have today without them. This is where our sponsor BetterHelp comes into play for you. BetterHelp will assess your needs and match you with your own licensed professional therapist. And in many cases, you can start communicating in under 24 hours. It's not a crisis line, it's not self-help, it's professional counseling done securely online.
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So, if I was to characterize one of the issues that wreaks the most havoc in our marriage, it would be mealtime. Would you agree with that, Pam?

Pam Allan: I would totally agree with that.

Corey Allan: It's because I'm married to a woman that enjoys much more variety, much more healthy options and much more adventure when it comes to meals. Whereas, I am a get the job done and move along guy. Well, we want to tell you about our sponsor today HelloFresh, which I think you made the comment at one point, it didn't save our marriage because we weren't necessarily precarious, but it has definitely-

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You made a comment that you encourage, hopefully, the ballpark target is six months if they're going the reconciliation route with therapy, of helping with that process. Do you have a timeframe or a ballpark when you're talking about let's just push pause? Is there a timeframe associated with that as well?

Dr. Marni Feuerman: Yeah. Good question. Yeah. We usually like to have... If we're doing the discernment counseling sessions, we try to cap it around five. Five of those sessions before decision is made. And that's not a hard and fast rule. It's more of the general rule. So that we're setting up an expectation that we're not going to linger in no man's land for too long.

Corey Allan: Right. But you're also not going to force it and make a decision, have to be done real quick and knee-jerk.

Dr. Marni Feuerman: Exactly. Exactly. We're slowing down. We're taking the time to do this. We're all doing it together. I spend some time both with the couples together. I also spend some time one on one with each of them. I tell each of them that whatever we talk about is... And I get their permission for it to be fully confidential so that people feel free to share everything even if it's something like an affair. Let's say there's affair going on. I want them to know that they can tell me so that I can help them with everything, with all the information. And that I'm not going to necessarily disclose anything to their partner.

Corey Allan: I got you.

Dr. Marni Feuerman: I might offer advice about it if they decide to do marriage therapy later. But I let them know that we can, at least for the length of time of that discernment counseling, if there are secrets, I will keep their secret for them.

Corey Allan: Okay. And so, in essence, someone comes to you because typically, the one that doesn't want the thing to end is the one that reaches out, sets everything up because-

Dr. Marni Feuerman: Yeah. I would say about 90% of the cases I get a panic call from... Yeah.

Corey Allan: Yep. I totally get it. I have those phone calls and emails as well. Typically, those... If it's an email, it's coming in at 2:00 in the morning and I just look at it. And I get it because they're searching for help. And I love the fact that there is a lot of good help out there, that's available that you can find. So, they come in, you're basically saying, "All right. Let's just push some pause time. Let's unpack this a little bit, how did we get here?" Then, it's almost an individual course going on simultaneously with each person in the relationship of where are you? What do you want? And what's your goal? So, you can at least find out if it's an alignment or not.
And then, at some point, a decision is made by one of them, because that's the whole thing is, I mean, the truism I believe in is, it takes two people to have a relationship and only one to end it. And that's a struggle because the one that doesn't want to end it, feels completely powerless, but you know what, in reality, you've been powerless all along, we just don't acknowledge that. So, they work through that pause. They do some time of just, I don't know, soul searching. What's the long term? What's the short term? And then, they make a decision and that's... From there, you make the shift of where are we heading then? It's almost like you've just reevaluate the goal and then head down that road?

Dr. Marni Feuerman: Yes, exactly. I feel like I am certainly... I'm playing a little bit more of the detective role, let's say, because I'm trying to listen for certainly, negative communication patterns, cycles and patterns they get stuck in that they may not be aware of. So, how they're co-creating things, but I'm also searching for what we call more the hard reasons for divorce. And these are usually affairs, addiction, abuse. Sometimes, people just dreams for their future, their philosophy of life is very misaligned. But we'll see-

Corey Allan: Sure. This would be under the category of the deal breakers, right?

Dr. Marni Feuerman: Yeah.

Corey Allan: These are the things that... Some of them, we have preconceived coming in. There is that element of, "Hey, if this happens, this will be the result." And I think we all have that to a degree, but then what's fascinating to me, Marni, and I'm assuming this bears out in the way you see it and have lived life and had things unfold personally too, probably. The whole... The deal breakers I had coming in, if when they occurred, they're not so hard and fast on, I'm just ready to chuck it all after I've invested and created a life for a decade or two or three, because it's one of those... If somebody, all of a sudden has an affair, 26 years into a 30-year marriage, that's not always as easy just to say, "I'm out and just walk away."

Dr. Marni Feuerman: Oh yes. Yes, definitely. There's a lot of these considerations to look for. I also want to know when did problems start? I want to know if they have this really good, solid foundation or baseline that I have to draw upon. We know there's a difference between a marriage that... I've had cases where it was almost wrong from the start type marriage. Someone got pregnant. They decided, "Okay, let's just get married. Let's just see if we can wing it and do this." But then they realized, "Well, we were dating for three months. She got pregnant, we got married. We didn't really know each other." That's different than, "We dated for a year. We were madly in love. We got engaged. We were very deliberate about moving in and getting married." And then, they had kids and that's when the trouble started.
So, those are very different scenarios. So, I'm looking for things like that. When did trouble start? What happened? And poking around with those things. And I'm also wanting to know from the person who is really, what we call leaning out. They're the ones seriously considering divorce. Often, they have a complaint that's been falling on deaf ears for a really long time. So, wanting to of course, validate the pain and the hurt around that and wanting to know what has your spouse not heard? What have they not taken in and responded to? A typical thing I hear is... It's often with the wife in this case where they not did not... All the time, but something that I think is a little bit of a theme is a wife, not feeling like she is a priority. She's not important. She's not heard. She's not being treated romantically anymore. She's feeling taken for granted.
Just to give you an idea of something typical I hear. But we're looking for anything like, where are these problems and certainly, what have they done to try to solve it? And if they're thinking about divorce, I also want to know about the kids, how they factor into it? How they're seeing these impacts on the children? And sometimes, you hear, "If I didn't have kids forget it, I would be go long ago." Unfortunately, we hear that.

Corey Allan: Right. Because that's where... I mean, this is interesting to me Marni, and I love this approach because I think in our field, I can't speak for every therapist out there, and for sure can't speak for every marriage therapist out there, but enough of the ones I've come across via the show or just colleagues in my area and schooling and conferences and the different workshops that you go to as part of this field, it is interesting to me because there is this element of any time a couple comes in and there truly is a misalignment of what is our goal? One wants out, one doesn't. It almost seems like it's possible, maybe not likely, but it's very possible, the therapist freaks out and gets reaction.
Doesn't slow it way down like you're describing, because that's really what you're describing is, "Okay. Let's just slow this process down and let this process of you doing work with me, actually be slow." I love the judgment of that because it's not like the problem they're facing is new. Most of the time, you're talking about, it's been a chronic something for so long, because even if it's discovery of an affair, there's still a chronic something that was there prior to the affair being sought, most of the time, right? And so, you're talking about, "Let's just slow this down. Let's give it its due. Let's honor it. Let's be respectful about who are you? What are you wanting? Who's your spouse? What are they wanting? And we don't have to rush to a decision right away, but we do have to make a decision at some point."

Dr. Marni Feuerman: Yeah. It is a very respectful process.

Corey Allan: That's good.

Dr. Marni Feuerman: And I do like that and people don't feel judged. And like you owe your role for thinking about this. I mean, it is almost a denial of reality if we want to look at it that way. People do think about divorce. Sometimes, it's just a fantasy that's there. They had a bad fight and they're mad. And sometimes, let's leave it at that.

Corey Allan: This is the dark side of us that you're describing. But I think every single one of us has been married in a length of time, when you utter or think the words, "I don't know how much longer I can handle this or put up with this." That's saying I want out, it's not actually an action. It's just... It's leaning towards that. And I think that's the reality in which we exist as people.

Dr. Marni Feuerman: Yeah. Yeah. It's like making it not taboo. You can mention this, you can talk about it, we openly discuss it. It's not the elephant in the room which a lot of times, it can be an elephant in the room when you were doing regular errors, because somebody is almost afraid to even say it, but they are thinking about it.

Corey Allan: They don't want to give them permission. It's almost like if I speak it into existence as if it wasn't already there.

Dr. Marni Feuerman: Right. And there's some other good research that I think even in the creation of this process that was considered... Which is that when people... By the time they utter the words. So, by the time they actually say that I want a divorce or say they're thinking about it. They have often thought about it in their head for a long time. And when they're thinking about it, sometimes they're planning a slow, gradual exit strategy. They're grieving the marriage already. So, that process starts, their clock starts ticking, something... They get into a place where they can finally say to their spouse, "Okay. I want a divorce now. Last kid just left the house. I want a divorce." And that's when the spouse sometimes says, "What? I'm blindsided.' They don't realize it. So, if the partner's keeping it a secret, we know that's not helpful either. It's something that they should bring up and bring up earlier perhaps rather than later, because maybe there is something, there is some intervention or treatment that can be done to salvage the marriage, but they are keeping it to themselves unfortunately.

Corey Allan: Yeah. And do you have the same thought process? I want to end this segment with this idea, with this thought of, do you have the thought process that when a spouse is blindsided, do you, as a professional think they really are? Because I don't. I mean-

Dr. Marni Feuerman: I think it's very, very rare. I think most cases, it's not, it's just that they were either not paying attention or in denial or... And the other piece of this that I think is good to emphasize is when we do discernment counseling, we want people to think about their role and what's gotten the marriage to the place that it's gotten to. What's their contribution? What behavior do they have that have brought it to this place? And so sometimes, it is a spouse that isn't assertive, that isn't communicating or isn't saying how they feel, or isn't expressing their needs really well. And so, those people, sometimes, they're not saying it, they're not saying, "I'm really in pain here, this marriage is awful to me."

Corey Allan: I got you. Because that's the thing I think that it's like, we have these... When you get the sense something's going wrong, something's not quite aligning, there's this gut sense to it. And sometimes, we can't label it. And that's where I think there's the distinction of it is a blind side, because I didn't know it was this severe, but I did know there was some unhappiness or some uncertainty or some disconnect. In that regards, it's not all a shocker.

Dr. Marni Feuerman: Right. And I want to say to your listeners that if one person in the relationship has a problem or thinks something's wrong, then that has to... When there's something wrong, you have to look at that. Don't just say, "Oh well, I'm happy. I'm okay. Things are fine for me." Sorry, there's-

Corey Allan: Good luck with yourself.

Dr. Marni Feuerman: Right. If they're not fighting for your partner, then you're going to want to address that.

Corey Allan: Yeah. I came across a fellow blogger when I first entered into the online world with blogging and then eventually podcasting. A fellow blogger made the statement of when one partner in a marriage has a problem, the marriage has a problem. And that's a great way to think of it because it does. And then, it's just, on each person then to bring that forward as cleanly and as clearly as you can, with as little of it being a manipulative. I'm trying to make sure you do this to make it my way and all the other undercurrents of what we do as humans. Just because man, we can be... Yeah. Yeah. We know. So Marni, thank you so much for the work and the willingness to get into the depth with some of the couples in the tough spots that they are in. It happens in far too many relationships. So, for the people that are in the SMR Nation that want to know more about you, can you... How do they find you? Just give them a quick little... Where's your home in the sense of the online world to find more?

Dr. Marni Feuerman: Sure. See, I have two websites. One for my software to psychotherapy practices, So, it's all one word, thetalkingsolution. And then, I have an my online services through Dr. Marni Online. D-R-M-A-R-N-I-O-N-L-I-N-E.

Corey Allan: Perfect. And I'll put both those in the show notes. If you're listening, as we always say to the SMR Nation, if you're listening while driving, don't try to write these things down, just come back to the page. It's all going to be there for you to find. So Marni, I've loved this conversation thus far, and I'm looking forward to be in therapy geeks for a little bit in the extended content as we continue our conversation in just a moment. So, thanks again.
There are things that I absolutely love about the diversity of the mental health field and the marriage couples counseling field and the fact that there are people out there that are doing good work. They see it through a slightly different lens, but the goals are largely all the same.

Pam Allan: Right. Well, and that fits for different people. I mean, I just think of different ways we all can phrase a sentence that we're trying to get across the same point, but we say it differently and we hear it differently. And it's the same way of trying to attack problems. You name it, having different perspectives one way works for one person.

Corey Allan: And that's, that's what I love about SMR as well, is that almost nine years into this thing. Congratulations for helping make this thing happen with me baby.

Pam Allan: Oh men, this is you baby.

Corey Allan: That there are topics that we are circling back to at times, but we could come at it from a slightly different standpoint or a little bit of a different take. And it can open up a whole different possibility in horizon to where you start to realize, "Oh, hold on. I hadn't thought of it that way." Or-

Pam Allan: Or it makes it hit a new person totally different that previously, it didn't trigger anything for him before.

Corey Allan: Yeah. And one of the things I love is one of the mastermind groups that I just got off the call before we were recording, both the two men in that group we're talking about, there's been times in the history of SMR that they've been listening and they're yelling at me because they're just tired of whatever it is I was spinning at that point. And like, "Dude, you don't know the whole story." And they're just getting on me. And I'm like, "Fine. Bring it. Let's go."

Pam Allan: Tell me the whole story.

Corey Allan: That's where you call us at (214) 702-9565 or So, we can fill in those gaps and go where you need it to go.

Pam Allan: Right. Well, this been Sexy Marriage Radio. Thanks again for taking time out with us. We'll see you again next time.