Discernment Counseling is a means of conversation, understanding and decision-making for couples on the brink of divorce. It offers partners in marriage crisis short-term counseling – 5 meetings or less – for the sole purpose of helping them weigh options and create well-thought-out decisions regarding the future of their marriage, all while being guided by a highly trained and experienced therapist.Discernment Counseling was created by researcher and Marriage and Family Therapist, Bill Doherty, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota, who saw a need for something therapists could offer to help couples whose marriages were so deep into crisis and breakdown that marriage counseling involving repair and reconciliation was not an option. Why? In the typical scenario, one spouse is leaning way out of the marriage and not wanting closeness or reconciliation; while the other desperately wants to save the marriage, and marriage counseling needs two motivated partners. We call these couples “mixed agenda” couples.
Discernment Counseling offers a specialized protocol for mixed agenda couples to make a well-thought out decision regarding their immediate future. Through conversation with each partner separately and then together, Discernment Counselors help partners reach a decision to take one of three paths:
- Status quo – Stay together in the relationship as it has been.
- Separation that will ultimately lead to divorce.
- A six-month commitment to couples therapy, after which a decision will be made to stay together or get divorced.
If you feel you and your partner may be interested in Discernment Counseling, you may set it up with Doctor Becky Whetstone, the Marriage Crisis Manager, who has a doctorate in Marriage & Family Therapy, is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Texas and Arkansas, and has received training by the Doherty Institute in Discernment Counseling.
Discernment Counseling can take place over the telephone, through video conferencing methods such as Skype and FaceTime, or in person (though the initial session is always done on the telephone).
Here is the protocol you will be asked to commit to:
- Intake phone calls. Each partner schedules a 20-minute phone call with Doctor Becky. If both agree to Discernment Counseling, we proceed to step 2. Cost for 20-minute phone calls: $88 each.
- One 35-40 minute session together, and one 35-minute session each with each individual, final 10-minute session together. Cost: $375.
- Subsequent 1.5-hour sessions – no more than three total. Involves talking to the couple together and separately. In the last meeting, the decision as to which path the couple will take is made. If path three is chosen, the couple’s final Discernment Counseling session will be devoted to transitioning to marriage therapy – either with Doctor Becky or the marriage therapist of your choice. Cost for subsequent sessions and transition session: $375 each
More Helpful Information on Discernment Counseling
For partners who are leaning out of the marriage:
You’ve probably told your husband or wife that you are deeply unhappy in your marriage and you may even have brought up divorce. This is an extremely difficult time in your marriage, to say the least!
Whether or not you have started the divorce process, you’re not certain it’s the right step. That’s why we suggest Discernment Counseling … it’s designed to help you make the best decision about the future of your marriage.
If you have been talking with friends or family members about your decision, you’ve probably found they take sides: saying either that you should move on from your marriage now or that you should keep trying to make it work. It’s hard to know where to get an objective perspective. That’s something a Discernment Counselor can give you.
Your spouse may be making things worse by reacting strongly, even panicky, to your feelings about ending the marriage. This is normal—most of us are not our best selves when feeling threatened with rejection and such an enormous loss. We know that their reactions—anger, sadness, clinging, promising to totally change—may tempt you to give up on the marriage prematurely in order to escape something that right now you cannot fathom. Discernment Counseling calms these waters and gives each of you a voice about your distress and your hopes.
Here’s what Discernment Counseling offers you:
- More clarity and confidence in a decision about the future of your marriage
- More understanding of what has happened to your marriage and the part each of you has played in the problems
- A game plan for change if you decide to work on the marriage
- A set of things you’ll learn that you can carry with you into this or future relationships, and a better chance to be good co-parents if you have children.
Surveys find that up to 40% of divorced people have regrets about their divorce decision, often because they feel they (and their partner) did not try hard enough to see make the marriage work. Are there rocks not turned over and looked under in your marriage, thoughts and feelings not expressed, mistakes not acknowledged, help not sought?
In this brief counseling service (a maximum of five session, and often briefer), you will be supported, honored for where you are, and asked to look at what you would need to change in yourself to have a healthy relationship —whether in this marriage or in a future one. You can’t divorce yourself.
Couples who go through Discernment Counseling most often come out the other end more settled and confident about their next steps, whether to make one, last, all-out effort in couples therapy to restore their marriage to health, or to move forward with divorce. Research shows that about half of couples choose the reconciliation path in couples therapy, and most of the other half proceed directly to divorce after having carefully considered their options. Divorce lawyers tell us these couples are calmer and the divorce process is smoother because of the work done in discernment counseling.
We hope you consider this new service for couples like you, on the brink. You may end up with a realistic plan to restore your marriage to health. Or you may end up with a decision to divorce that you will be less likely to regret in years to come, and with new learning and awareness about yourself that you can carry with you into new relationships.
For partners who are leaning into the marriage
You may be on this page because your spouse has put divorce on the table or even started the divorce process. Since the time you were hit with this possibility, you may have gone through a wide range of emotions such anger, denial, fear, and sadness. You may be trying to change your spouses’ mind, or you may be distancing yourself and hoping for the best. In other words, this has been a very tough time, and we’d like to help.
The process of Discernment Counseling will honor your desire to save your marriage and will help you bring best self to this crisis. You can’t directly change your spouse’s mind about working on the marriage, but you can ask if your spouse will consider doing discernment counseling with you—not to fix the marriage but to see if it is fixable.
If you have any questions please contact us or call 501-416-7899.