Considering Divorce?


Discernment Counseling

 Discernment Counseling is an effective  approach when one or both partners in a relationship are contemplating ending their relationship or marriage but are not completely confident it is the right decision. 


Consider Discernment Counseling if....


  1. You want to take one last look at the marriage before making a decision to divorce
  2. You’ve lost emotional or physical connection to your partner that you want to try to regain 
  3. One partner is “leaning out” (considering divorce) and the other partner is “leaning in” (wants to work on the marriage)
  4. Both partners are unsure if they want to stay together
  5. You want further clarity and confidence about what steps to take next in your marriage
  6. Couples want to understand if their marriage or relationship can be saved (repairable)
  7. You want help making an informed decision about whether or not to move toward divorce and if so, to begin talking about what the divorce path looks like
  8. An affair has been uncovered and the couple or one partner is unsure if they want to try to repair their marriage versus dissolve their relationship


History of Discernment Counseling

 Discernment counseling was developed by Bill Doherty, as part of his work at the University of Minnesota. While it is common for couples to go to therapy with one partner leaning toward breakup or divorce and the other hoping to stay together, there have been few techniques specifically designed for such couples. Discernment counseling was developed specifically to help people in these types of relationships, who are often referred to as “mixed agenda” couples. 

What's Is Discernment Counseling?

Theory of Discernment Counseling


While not considered a treatment, discernment counseling can be seen as an assessment process that helps partners determine the next steps in their relationship. In discernment counseling, couples consider three possible options: ending the relationship, establishing a 6-month period in which both partners commit to making the maximum effort to save the relationship (often while participating in couples therapy), or postponing the decision. 

There are four core questions that are asked of couples during the initial session: 

  • What happened in the relationship that caused the partners to consider ending it?
  • What has been done to try to fix the relationship?
  • How do children factor into the decision to end the relationship?
  • What were the best times each partner experienced in the relationship?

The therapist/coach meets individually with each partner to discuss their feelings and agenda. Afterward, the couple meets jointly with the therapist again for the conclusion of the session, and the therapist/coach summarizes and arranges another session if both partners want one. 

Discernment counseling differs from other types of couples counseling in a few important ways. First, the goal of this type of counseling is not to solve relationship issues or concerns but to determine whether any problems are able to solved. To help couples make a decision, a discernment counselor/coach may spend more time individually with each partner rather than meeting with both at once, as is typical in couples therapy. 

An additional difference between discernment counseling and other types of couples therapy is that discernment counseling is often brief: it typically lasts from one and five sessions.