When marriage counseling isn’t working

If you or your spouse are considering divorce but are not completely sure that’s the best path, you’re in a tough spot. And Discernment Counseling is designed for you. It’s a chance to slow down, take a breath, and look at your options for your marriage.

Discernment Counseling helps couples where one person is “leaning out” of the relationship—and not sure that regular marriage counseling would help–and the other is “leaning in”—that is, interested in rebuilding the marriage. Nicole will help you decide whether to try to restore your marriage to health, move toward divorce, or take a time out and decide later.

The goal is for you to gain clarity and confidence about a direction, based on a deeper understanding of your relationship and its possibilities for the future. The goal is not to solve your marital problems, but to see if they are solvable. You will each be treated with compassion and respect no matter how you are feeling about your marriage at the moment. No bad guys and good guys.

You will come in as a couple, but the most important work occurs in the one-to-one conversations with Nicole. Why? Because you are starting out in different places. Nicole respects your reasons for divorce while trying to open up the possibility of restoring the marriage to health. She emphasizes the importance of each of you seeing your own contributions to the problems and the possible solutions. This will be useful in future relationships even if this one ends.

Discernment takes a maximum of five counseling sessions. The first session is usually two hours and the subsequent are 1.5 or 2 hours. The process is NOT suited for these situations:

  • When one spouse has already made a final decision to divorce
  • When one spouse is coercing the other to participate
  • When there is danger of domestic violence

Discernment Counseling FAQ

This depends on which choice you make. If you choose Path 1, to keep things the same, I do recommend scheduling a check-in session after a few months (usually 3-6) to avoid remaining in limbo forever.

If you choose path 2, toward separation, I can provide referrals to family lawyers that have the best interest of the family at heart. We can also have sessions to help you process the emotions of the decision.

If you choose path 3, toward saving the marriage, we sign an agreement to pursue reconciliation, come up with some goals, and transition to traditional couples counseling.

We limit Discernment Counseling to five sessions to avoid a situation where couples remain in limbo indefinitely. However, if it’s just not possible for you at this time, there is always the choice of Path 1, keeping things the same.

When couples choose this path (about 10% of the time) it is still an active choice rather than something they’re defaulting to out of fear of the unknown. Couples often choose this when there are extenuating circumstances that require more of their attention, such as sickness in the family or other major life adjustments. When those circumstances calm down, they often try discernment again, or move to their decision.

Nope! Choosing Path 3 means you’re committing to six months of traditional couples therapy with divorce/separation off the table. If after that time you still aren’t seeing the change you need, of course it’s reasonable to re-evaluate.

Short version: yes!
Bill Doherty, the founder of DC, tracked the outcomes of his discernment clients and found that about 40% of them were staying together, about another 40% moved toward separation, and approximately another 10% were remaining in limbo. This shows that there is a real decision process going on within this couples. It’s not just a funnel to couples counseling or a last ditch effort before divorce.

Here is a whole blog post as well on the research that’s been done on divorce ambivalence.

Counseling for couples on the brink of divorce

Ready to start Discernment Counseling?