- The Divorce Remedy by Michele Weiner Davis
- Should I Try to Work It Out? by Alan J Hawkins, Ph.D., Tamara A. Fackrell, Ph.D., J.D., and Steven M. Harris, Ph.D., LMFT
- Discernment Counseling JMFT
Because divorce is generally a permanent solution to problems in the marriage, I recommend that care is taken to make sure it is definitely the right choice before filing. Discernment counseling helps the couple determine which of three possible paths seems to be the best choice given their situation. Path One is essentially maintaining the status quo, or doing nothing different. Path Two is separation or divorce. Path Three is taking divorce off the table for 6 months with a whole hearted commitment from both individuals toward working on the relationship.
It is important to note that Discernment Counseling is basically decision making counseling. If a decision to end the marriage has already been made (even if it’s not been clearly stated to the leaning in partner), then it is not an appropriate process as it gives false hope to the leaning in partner.
Why do Discernment Counseling? As a long term marriage counselor, I have learned that when a couple comes in to marriage counseling with a mixed agenda, the leaning out partner tends not to be fully invested in the process because he or she is not fully decided on whether to stay in the marriage. The problem with that is half hearted involvement in therapy tends to create a less than optimal outcome and then the leaning out partner tends to feel “Well, I’ve tried counseling and even THAT didn’t work”. Couples who enter into marriage counseling after actively choosing Path Three through Discernment Counseling tend to do much better than couples who come into marriage counseling with a mixed agenda.
Discernment Counseling was developed through the Minnesota Couples on the Brink project, through the University of Minnesota Family Social Scienes Program under the direction of Dr. Bill Doherty. Initiailly only a few therapists provided discernment counseling through this program, but a beginning training was first offered to practicing marriage and family therapists in June 2011. Beginning in the fall of 2012, a small group of experienced therapists started a 10-month advanced training to be well versed on the process. I am one of the advanced trained therapists.
What does discernment counseling look like? First, it is NOT marriage counseling. The decision is made on a session by session basis whether to continue with discernment counseling, to make no decision, or to choose one of the 3 paths. The first session is 2 hours long. The first half hour is with both partners and a series of specific questions are asked about the relationship history. Then one partner stays in the therapy room while the other partner waits in the waiting area for the next half hour after which they switch places. The final half hour is with both partners back in the room to discuss what has been learned in the individual time. Any subsequent sessions will be 90 minutes long and will look similar to the first except the check in with both partners will be much more brief. The focus in these sessions will be to help the leaning out person make a decision on a path and to assist the leaning in person with the challenges of waiting for a decision to be made. Generally we will also try to increase the understanding of what each person brings to the problems in the marriage to better assist both people for future regardless of which path is chosen.
To learn more, please visit the Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project.