Discernment Counseling for Couples

Discernment Counseling is emergency room work.
– Dr. Bill Doherty


Phone Consultation

We offer a complementary 20 minute phone consultation with one of our therapists or counselors Call 623-680-3486 or text 623-688-5115.

Discernment Counseling for Couples

Are you married or in a relationship and find yourself or your spouse/partner leaning out or ambivalent about staying together.  Maybe things have been rocky for a long time. Or, maybe you just feel like you and your spouse/partner have grown apart and are more disconnected than connected. Perhaps you are leaning in and want to continue the marriage or relationship, but your spouse/partner is leaning out and not sure about it. This dynamic is often referred to as a mixed agenda couple or an ambivalent couple.  Couples that find themselves in this situation realize how painful it can be. If any of these scenarios sound familiar, you and your spouse/partner might benefit from Discernment Counseling.

Let’s take a closer look at what this type of counseling really is, and how it can benefit you and your relationship.

Is Your Relationship at Risk?

Is Your Relationship At Risk?

Take the interactive quiz to learn more.

What is Your Attachment Style

What’s Your Attachment Style?

Take the interactive quiz to learn more.

Discernment Counseling Helps Couples Find Clarity, Confidence, Understanding, and Direction

Discernment Counseling is a type of short-term couples intervention (typically 1-4 sessions) designed to help those who aren’t sure whether they should continue their relationship or marriage.  When one member or both members in the relationship are not sure about staying together it is referred to as a mixed agenda couple or an ambivalent couple.  If both you and your partner are on the fence about staying together or even committing to the process of couples counseling then Discernment Counseling may be the best option.

It’s important to understand that even though the intervention is called Discernment Counseling it is more of an intervention than it is counseling.  Marriage counseling and couples therapy are utilized when both members in the relationship are united in the goal to stay together and work on relational dynamics.  In Discernment Counseling, the Discernment Counselor is not providing the same types of interventions that would be utilized in traditional couples therapy.  An analogy to help make the distinction more clear is how in couples therapy the couple is receiving the medicine.  In contrast, in Discernment Counseling the couple is in the process of deciding if they want to receive the medicine.  The goals are to help both the leaning in partner and the leaning out partner to gain a better understanding of their story and how they have arrived to their current destination.  It is also the help both the leaning in and leaning out partner to determine if they should stay and take the medicine or leave the relationship.  The Discernment Counselor works to bring about clarity, understanding and direction.  When there is greater clarity and understanding there can be a shift to focusing on what direction to take next.  You and your spouse/partner will talk about next steps.

What Are the Options At the Conclusion of Discernment Counseling?

In the process of Discernment Counseling the goal is to bring about greater clarity, confidence, understanding, and direction.  It is a short term approach typically lasting 3-6 sessions but can also be delivered in a 2 day intensive format.  It is a combination of both individual sessions and sessions with both you and your spouse/partner participating together.

At the conclusion of the discernment process the you and your spouse/partner aren’t given an endless list of options to make things more confusing. Essentially, you have three choices: maintaining the status quo, committing to take the medicine meaning a whole hearted effort usually involving weekly individual and couples therapy sessions for a period of 6 months to learn if you can save the marriage/relationship, or moving to dissolve the relationship and to do so in the most amicable way possible.

As you consider those possible outcomes, your Discernment Counselor will meet with you both separately and together. You’ll cover negative patterns that might be contributing to your relationship issues. Your Discernment Counselor might ask what you’ve already done to try to save the relationship. You will be asked and challenged to not only focus on your spouse/partner but to also examine the ways you have contributed to the relational dynamics.  You might also be asked to think about happier times, identify strengths, and what was going on when your relationship felt strong and healthy.

After meeting individually with your Discernment Counselor, you’ll come together at the end of each session. It’s up to you if you want to continue. This type of therapy typically works on a session-by-session basis. Most couples complete anywhere from 1–6 sessions.

What to Expect From Discernment Counseling

This type of couples intervention  isn’t meant to solve the problems in your relationship. Rather, it’s designed to help you figure out if those problems can be solved.

Unlike traditional couples therapy or marriage counseling, you’ll likely spend more one-on-one time with the Discernment Counselor.  These individual sessions in the process of Discernment Counseling helps to develop a clearer picture of both partners’ mindsets before everyone comes together to talk about a decision.

There is no pressure from the Discernment Counselor on the individual or the couple.  The Discernment Counselor’s primary role is to be a guide in the process and to come to a decision based on the newly accessed clarity and understanding.  Most couples who participate in the process do not select to keep things status quo.  This is because neither spouse/partner is happy or content with the way things are. Those that do, however, typically are motivated by factors such as children in the home and other important factors.

Most couples choose between options two and three.  Either they commit to the process of 6 months of working to learn if healing and reconciliation are possible or they decide to end the marriage/relationship.

If the couple chooses the second option, they both agree to take the medicine, the Discernment Counselor can provide referrals to marriage therapists and couples counselors along with sharing information for continuity in care.  In some instances, the Discernment Counselor can transition into the role of the couples or marriage therapist for the 6 month commitment.

If the choice is to end the marriage/relationship, the Discernment Counselor can provide resources to the couple to help them do this in the most amicable and cost effective way.

Discernment Counseling was developed by Dr. Bill Doherty and is the best intervention when couples find themselves in a place of ambivalence or in those situations where there is a mixed agenda couple meaning one spouse/partner is leaning in and the other is leaning out.

Dr. Doherty is the creator of The Doherty Relationship Institute.  Many of the principles for Discernment Counseling as outlined on their web are shared by the counselors at Crossroads.  They are:

Principles about Marriage:

Life-long commitment is especially difficult in today’s throwaway culture.
Children have an important stake in the health and endurance of their parents’ marriage.
Marital commitment brings obligations to work on a troubled marriage before giving up.

Principles about Healing in Therapy:

Because most troubled marriages can be restored to health if both partners dedicate themselves vigorously to make that happen, the first stance of therapists should be to help couples see if the path of healing is possible for them.
Because marriages have other stakeholders, especially children, it is important for therapists to help couples to see how others are affected by the decisions they make about the future of their marriage.
Because love and fairness must go hand in hand, healing a marriage must not come at the expense of one of the spouses.

Principles on Divorce:

Some divorces are necessary in order to prevent further harm in a destructive relationship.
Some divorces are unavoidable because one party chooses the divorce path against the wishes of their spouse.
However, many of today’s divorces could be prevented if both parties took steps to work on their marriage before it was too late.
When clients choose divorce, therapists have a responsibility to make them aware of additional resources, including divorce professionals who can facilitate a fair and healing divorce process.

the connected marriage

Download Free Report

But, You Still May Have Questions Or Concerns…


What if my spouse/partner will not attend?

Discernment Counseling requires both partners to attend.  If your spouse/partner does not want to attend you may want to consider seeking out the help of a professional for yourself.  Couples Counseling for One is for these types of situations.  Working on yourself regardless if your relationship moves forward or ends can help you the complexity of emotions associated with a breakup or divorce and with the grieving process.

I’m nervous about what may come as a result of engaging in a process of discernment.

Being nervous and anxious about engaging in the Discernment process is completely normal.  Many couples continue to “kick the can down the road” for many different reasons.  We encourage you to talk to one of our therapists about the anxiety related with engaging in the process.  The anxiety can be different for the leaning in partner and for the leaning out partner.  The therapist’s goal is to not try and convince anyone to do something they do not want to do or they are not ready to do.  The therapist can help clarify the process and answer any questions you may have.

Can’t we just figure this out on our own?  Why do we need the help of a professional?

There are many couples and many situations that resolve on their own whether that means there is reconciliation or a dissolving of the relationship without the intervention of a couples therapist.  However, there are also many situations where the dynamics in the relationship do not resolve on their own continuing to fester causing serious distress for everyone involved.  If this is your situation, we encourage you to seek out the help of a trained professional who can help in the process of increasing clarity, understanding, and direction.

We are a Christian couple and divorce is not an option for us.

We work with many Christian couples navigating the complexities of honoring God while also dealing with painful realities in their marriage.  We offer Christian marriage intensives called The Connected Marriage for Christian couples that are committed to do the work to bring about healing and reconciliation.  We also engage in discernment with Christian couples with the understanding that there are circumstances when temporary separation is the best choice for ultimate healing of the marriage and for the instances when divorce is permitted.



If You Need Clarity, Understanding, and Direction Discernment Counseling Can Help!

To learn more about Discernment Counseling call us at 623-680-3486,text 623-688-5115, or email info@crossroadsfcc.com and ask to speak with one of our therapists who specialize in Discernment Counseling. We offer a 20 minute complementary phone consultation.  You can ask all the questions you have and see if Crossroads is the right fit for you.

We have office throughout the Valley of the Sun including Phoenix, Anthem, Online throughout all Arizona, and Scottsdale.

Recent Blog Posts