Discernment Counseling

A Short-Term Therapy

Discernment counseling is specifically for couples who aren’t sure that they want to continue their relationship. It is also useful when one partner wants to stay together while the other would prefer to end the relationship. Discernment counseling can help you to consider and weigh all of your options before making the all-important decision whether to repair or terminate a relationship.

If you are a couple considering breaking up or getting a divorce, it is natural to feel uncertainty. Working with a highly trained therapist can help you resolve whether to reconcile or divorce, ultimately allowing both partners to move forward with confidence and clarity.


Discernment counseling was created by Bill Doherty, a professor at the University of Minnesota. When one partner wants to break up and the other wants to save the relationship, they are referred to as a “mixed agenda” couple. Until Doherty’s technique, there were few effective tools available to help these couples.


Whereas traditional couples counseling is focused on rebuilding a relationship, discernment counseling is a brief therapy designed to help couples decide their next steps. There are three courses of action: separating, committing to a six-month period in which both partners make an all-out effort to save the relationship, or postponing the decision.

Discernment counseling begins with four key questions to learn more about where you are in your relationship:

  • What has happened that has caused you to consider ending your relationship?
  • Individually or as a couple, what have you tried to fix your relationship?
  • What role (if any) do children play in your decision about the future of your relationship?
  • When did you feel most connected in your relationship and what were the best times for each of you?

How Discernment Counseling Can Help​

You’ll each meet individually with one of us to discuss your feelings and your goals. After all, the reason to pursue discernment counseling is that you each of you has a different agenda. Then, we’ll meet jointly to conclude the session with a summary of the outcome and to plan another session, if you are both willing.

Remember that this is a short-term and structured process that generally lasts from one to five sessions. The objective is not to solve your problems or repair your relationship but to decide whether you both want to remain in a relationship that will certainly benefit from repair. Consequently, it’s natural for your therapist to spend more time with you separately than together to aid the decision making process.

In couples counseling, should you decide to take that path, you’ll spend more time with your therapist together as you work on communication and connection.


Discernment counseling is an important step before you make a final determination about the future of your relationship. Over the past 30 years, we have both seen couples prematurely decide which path to take resulting in one or both partners living with regret and anger.

We do believe that some relationships, however, are meant to come to a peaceful end. Discernment counseling enables those couples to reach that decision with the calm and caring guidance we can provide.

Should you ultimately choose to end your relationship, we are here to help with Conscious Uncoupling, a new form of counseling that honors the decision to live independent lives while preserving each partner’s integrity and self-esteem.

Craig and Debbie have both been trained in Discernment Counseling.