Discernment counseling aims to help struggling couples decide whether to improve the marriage or let it go. Around 30 percent of the couples coming into marriage counseling are mixed agenda couples where one spouse feels like he or she wants to leave and is reluctant to work on the marriage (the "leaning out" spouse) while the other wishes to stay in the marriage (the "leaning in" spouse).
Couples meet for discernment counseling up to five times, but can stop whenever they want. During the first session, I will talk to both about what's been good (and bad) about the marriage and will ask what you have done to iron out their difficulties.
We will ultimately lay out three paths:
1. making a commitment to stay in the marriage and make it work,
2. trying a six-month-long reconciliation path in which you work on the marriage using traditional couples therapy, or
3. moving toward a divorce.
Discernment counseling incorporates both individual and couples counseling. Working with both parties individually helps ease what can be a traumatic process, especially in cases where one partner feels shell-shocked, bitter and angry by their spouse's desire to leave.
I work with the leaning out person separately to encourage them not do further damage to the marriage. I help the leaning in spouse bring their best game to this crisis, as opposed to that desperate game you bring when deeply hurt.
Mainly, discernment counseling helps the couple truly think through what can be a life-altering decision.