DISCERNMENT COUNSELING FOR COUPLES ON THE BRINK
If you or your spouse are considering divorce, but are not completely sure that is the best path, then Discernment Counseling is designed for you. In just 1 to 5 sessions, our trained therapists can help you and your spouse gain clarity and confidence about a direction for your relationship. Discernment Counseling provides an innovative approach that is very different from traditional couples counseling. Rather than becoming mired in a discussion of marital problems, the goal in Discernment Counseling is to help you and your spouse decide whether to try to restore your marriage to health, move toward divorce, or maintain the status quo.
By resolving the indecision and looming threat of divorce, Discernment Counseling can help you and your spouse move forward with your lives – regardless of your ultimate decision. Discernment Counseling does not advocate for any particular outcome and our therapists do not take sides or have an agenda. Instead, Discernment Counseling acknowledges the reality that one spouse is often “leaning out” of the relationship (considering divorce and not sure that traditional couples therapy will help) while the other is “leaning in” (interested in rebuilding and working on the marriage). No matter how you are feeling about your marriage or the decision to divorce, our therapists will treat each of you with compassion and respect as we help you gain clarity and confidence about a direction for your relationship.
What is Discernment Counseling?
Discernment Counseling is an innovative short-term therapy that was developed by William J. Doherty, Ph.D., to treat couples where one spouse is “leaning out” of the relationship by considering divorce, while the other spouse is “leaning in” by wanting to work on the marriage, and helping those mixed-agenda couples gain clarity and confidence about a direction for their relationship.
What Is “Leaning Out” and “Leaning In?”
“Leaning Out” generally describes a spouse who is considering divorce or not willing to work on the marriage in traditional couples therapy, while “Leaning In” describes a spouse who wants to save the relationship and is willing to work on it.
What is a “Mixed-Agenda Couple?”
That is a couple where one spouse is “leaning out” of the relationship, while the other spouse is “leaning in.”
Why Should We Try Discernment Counseling?
According to Dr. Doherty, three common issues can arise for a mixed-agenda couple that engages in traditional couples counseling, rather than Discernment Counseling. First, the therapist and “leaning in” spouse may team up to pursue the “leaning out” spouse and try to convince him or her to engage in therapy. Predictably, the result is often to further push away the “leaning out” spouse. Second, everyone may choose to overlook the reluctance of the “leaning out” spouse and just launch into half-hearted couples therapy. Also predictably, the result is often that couples therapy is unsuccessful, because the “leaning in” spouse feels frustrated by his or her unreciprocated efforts while the “leaning out” spouse is no closer to wanting to work on the relationship. Third, the therapist may focus on the “leaning out” spouse’s reluctance and holdback meaningful therapy until both spouses want to engage.
What if My Spouse is Not Willing to Participate in Couples Counseling?
That should not be a problem, because Discernment Counseling is not couples counseling. In fact, it is specifically designed to be different from traditional couples counseling. For one thing, the focus will not be on discussing or attempting to resolve problems in your marriage. Instead, the goal of each session will be to help you and your spouse gain clarity and confidence about a direction for your relationship. Unlike traditional couples counseling, the treatment is also short-term, with a maximum of 5 sessions. Discernment Counseling also does not require commitment to any number or course of sessions; at the end of each session, you and your partner will decide whether you will be returning for another meeting.
What Are the Possible Outcomes?
As your therapist will go over in detail during your first session, the process of Discernment Counseling is intended to help you gain clarity, confidence, and understanding about your relationship, such that you and your spouse are able to choose one of three paths:
Path One – Stay on hold for now and maintain the status quo
Path Two – Move toward divorce
Path Three –Work to restore your marriage to health by transitioning into couples counseling
In a study of 100 consecutive discernment counseling cases: 48% chose path three, 42% path two, and 12% path one. About 40% of the total sample were still married two years after discernment counseling. (Ref. Doherty, Harris, & Wilde, 2016).
How are the Sessions Structured?
· Short term 1-5 sessions
· No commitment required; the couple makes a decision at the end of each session about whether to meet again
· Weekly sessions with both partners present
· 2 hour opening session, and 1.5 hour subsequent sessions
Flow of Each Session: First part with the couple, then separate conversations with each partner followed by a brief sharing of something learned during the individual time, and then couple together at the end.
· Couple Together with Therapist
· First Spouse Alone with Therapist
· Couple Together with Therapist for First Spouse’s Summary
· Second Spouse Alone with Therapist
· Couple Together with Therapist for Second Spouse’s Summary
Couple Together with Therapist for Recap, Conclusion, and Decision of Whether to Return