Discernment Counseling: Make it or Break it.
Home/  Blog/ Discernment Counseling: Make it or Break it.

Discernment Counseling: Make it or Break it.

Couples contemplating divorce find themselves at a critical crossroads. They grapple with the decision to continue or part ways, weighing the impact on their lives and possibly their children’s. This juncture demands introspection, communication, and, often, professional guidance to determine the best path forward for their relationship. This article discusses Discernment Counseling, a type of service that assists couples considering breakup or divorce.




Table of Contents

(click on a question to be directed quickly)

What Is Discernment Counseling?

Discernment Counseling Helps You Decide Between 3 Paths

How Long Does Discernment Counseling Last?

What Happens In A Path 3?

When Do I Know A Path 2 Is Best For Me?

How Do I Begin Discernment Counseling?






What Is Discernment Counseling?


Discernment counseling is a form of brief couples therapy designed to help couples who are considering divorce or separation make a thoughtful and informed decision about the future of their relationship. It was developed by Dr. William Doherty and his colleagues.


The main goal of discernment counseling is to provide a structured and supportive environment for couples to explore their options and decide whether to continue working on their relationship, move toward separation, or pursue divorce. This type of counseling is typically short-term and can last for just a few sessions.


Key features of discernment counseling include:

Assessment of the relationship: The counselor helps the couple assess the current state of their relationship and the factors contributing to their uncertainty about the future.


Individual focus: Unlike traditional couples therapy, where the focus is on improving the relationship, discernment counseling emphasizes individual exploration. Each partner is encouraged to understand their own feelings, needs, and goals.


Clarification of options: The counselor helps the couple clarify their options, including the possibility of reconciliation and the steps required to make it work, the option of separating for a trial period, or the possibility of pursuing divorce.


Decision-making process: The primary aim is to help the couple reach a decision regarding the future of their relationship, even if that decision is to separate or divorce. It’s about making a well-informed choice, rather than pressuring the couple to stay together.


A non-biased, non-judgmental approach: The counselor remains neutral and doesn’t advocate for one particular outcome. They provide a safe and non-judgmental space for couples to explore their feelings and options.


Discernment counseling can be particularly useful for couples facing ambivalence or significant uncertainty about their relationship’s future. It provides a structured process for decision-making that can ultimately lead to greater clarity and, in some cases, a path forward for the couple, whether that means working on their relationship or parting ways amicably.



Discernment Counseling

Photo by RDNE Stock project



Discernment Counseling Helps You Decide Between 3 Paths


Path 1: Status Quo

This path is chosen by those couples that, despite time and effort, they still are not in the place to confidently decide the future of their marriage.


Perhaps they are approaching a difficult and busy family time and need to focus on other things. Perhaps they want to begin individual therapy and see how they feel after focused counselling. Perhaps one partner needs to go to Addiction Treatment and they will decide after treatment is completed. There are many ways to do Status Quo that still is focused on future change.


One way or another, they couple is not ready to decide. Sometimes couples in this position will do a long-term marital separation (3+ months or longer). 10% of all couples that complete Discernment Counseling choose Path 1 according to a 2015 article.


Path 2: Divorce

60% of Couples that complete Discernment Counseling choose Path 2. That statistic speaks to the dire nature these couples find themselves in when doing Discernment Counseling. If a person decides to divorce, regardless of the reason(s), we hope that the person is doing so entirely confident that the marriage is irreconcilable.


The reason that being confident that the marriage is irreconcilable is so important is that up to 50% of divorcing couples later regret their decision.


If someone chooses to divorce, and does so with confidence, then it is the role of the Discernment Counselor to honor that decision. The Discernment Counselor is not to try to talk one out of their decision as that would be unfair to the person who has made such a difficult decision. Path 3 may still start with an initial separation if that is best for the couple.


Path 3: All Out Effort


If a couple chooses this path, they are committing themselves to an intensive effort, over at least 6 months, to see if their marriage can be repaired. Note that Path 3 is not the decision to stay married forever. Instead, it is a decision to commit to a process to determine if this marriage is reconcilable. This is important because someone may feel comfortable doing a Path 3 but not comfortable agreeing to be married without changes.


A Path 3 typically involves individual counseling, couples counselling, and other forms of self improvement. This could also include drug/alcohol counseling, financial coaching, medication consultations, family counseling or counseling for children, sex therapy, or other programs designed to create change.



How Long Does Discernment Counseling Last?


Discernment Counseling is a short-term decision making process, lasting anywhere between 1-5 sessions. This is not extensive therapy. This is purposefully limited to avoid someone lingering in a position of indecisiveness.


Most people that begin Discernment Counseling will complete their process in 3-4 sessions, but some come to a confident decision in the first hour.



What Happens In A Path 3?



A Primary and central component to a Path 3 is for the couple to commit to 6 months of couples counselling. Couples counseling, often referred to as couples therapy or marriage counseling, is a therapeutic process that provides a supportive and structured environment for couples to address and resolve issues within their relationship. During these sessions, a trained therapist guides couples through a series of conversations and exercises aimed at improving their connection, communication, and problem-solving skills.


One of the initial steps in couples counseling involves understanding the couple’s background and the history of their relationship. The therapist seeks to gain insight into how they met, the dynamics of their relationship, and the specific issues or conflicts that have led them to seek therapy.


A significant focus of couples counseling is on communication skills. The therapist helps the couple develop effective ways of expressing their feelings, listening actively, and engaging in constructive dialogue. Conflict resolution is another central aspect, as the therapist provides tools and strategies to help the couple manage disagreements and reach mutually satisfying solutions.


Moreover, couples counseling encourages the exploration of emotions, needs, and desires, as well as the identification of negative behavioral patterns that contribute to relationship problems. The therapist may also address individual issues that impact the relationship and work with the couple to establish clear, achievable goals for therapy.


Throughout the counseling process, progress is evaluated, and adjustments may be made to the treatment plan as needed. Ultimately, the goal of couples counseling is to help couples build a stronger, more satisfying relationship by addressing issues, improving communication, and fostering a deeper emotional connection.


When Do I Know A Path 2 Is Best For Me?


Deciding whether to divorce is a deeply personal and complex decision, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. It’s a choice that can have significant emotional, financial, and social implications. Here are some factors and considerations to help you determine if divorce is the right decision for you:


  • Communication: Evaluate the quality of communication in your marriage. Are you and your spouse able to have open, honest, and constructive conversations? If communication has broken down to the point where you can’t resolve issues or misunderstandings, it may be a sign that the marriage is in trouble.


  • Emotional Well-being: Consider your emotional well-being. Are you consistently unhappy, anxious, or stressed in the marriage? Do you feel unfulfilled or unsupported? If the marriage is causing ongoing emotional distress, it might be a sign that a divorce is worth considering.


  • Abuse or Safety: If there is physical or emotional abuse in your relationship, your safety should be the top priority. Seek help and consider a divorce if necessary to protect yourself and any dependents.


  • Compatibility: Assess your compatibility and long-term goals. Are you and your spouse growing apart? Do you have different values, priorities, or life goals that are irreconcilable? Sometimes, people change over time, and what was once a compatible partnership no longer works.


  • Infidelity: Infidelity can be a challenging issue to address in a marriage. Consider whether you and your spouse can rebuild trust and work through the aftermath of infidelity, or if it has irreparably damaged the relationship.


  • Financial Considerations: Review your financial situation. Divorce can have significant financial implications, and you’ll need to consider how assets, debts, and financial responsibilities will be divided.


  • Children: If you have children, their well-being and best interests should be a top priority. Consider the impact of divorce on them and whether the marriage can be maintained in a way that supports their needs.


  • Professional Help: Seeking the assistance of a marriage counselor or therapist can be valuable in exploring these issues and helping you make an informed decision. Couples therapy may help you work through issues and determine if the marriage can be saved.


  • Legal Advice: Consult with an attorney to understand the legal aspects of divorce in your jurisdiction. This includes property division, child custody, and support arrangements. Understanding your rights and obligations can be crucial in making the decision.


  • Time and Effort: Before making a final decision, consider whether you’ve put in the time and effort to address issues in the marriage. Sometimes, counseling and concerted effort can lead to positive changes.


Ultimately, deciding to divorce is a significant life choice that should be made after careful consideration, often involving discussions with professionals and close friends or family. It’s important to remember that there is no universally “right” or “wrong” answer, as every situation is unique. What’s most important is that the decision aligns with your well-being and future happiness.



How Do I Begin Discernment Counseling?


Finding someone trained in Discernment Counseling can be difficult as it is relatively new. Further, there are counselors that have not been formally trained in Discernment Counseling but slap together their own version of it with inconclusive results. Unfortunately, given the high-stakes nature of the context of a couple considering divorce, it is wise to work with a counselor that has completed a training or certification in Discernment Counseling.


You may find a list of such trained therapists here: https://discernmentcounselors.com/


A great method to consider is participating in a Deep Dive which is a premium, structured program allowing couples to address complex problems and find solutions faster than traditional therapy.





Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Kyle Zrenchik, PhD, LMFT

Published : 10/29/2023



Disclaimer: ALL IN Therapy Clinic aims to improve people’s lives. We do this through providing effective mental health counseling by passionate professionals. Inspired by this, we write content for your own education. Also, our content is researched, cited, reviewed, and edited by licensed mental health professionals.  However, the information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  Additionally, it should not be used in place of the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.






Written and reviewed by

Dr Kyle Zrenchik, PhD, ACS, LMFT

Dr. Kyle Zrenchik is the Co-Founder of ALL IN, the Creator of the Couples Erotic Flow model for treating sexual issues in individuals and couples, Designer of the Deep Dive programs at ALL IN, and is one of the most well-respected couples counselors in the Twin Cities.

Need Help ?