Counseling for Couples on the Brink (Discernment Counseling)

If you or your spouse are considering divorce, you are in a tough spot. Traditional marriage therapy is generally ineffective where one of you is not fully committed to working on the relationship. It can be very difficult to participate fully in couples therapy when one is so hurt or angry that they are leaning out of the marriage and don’t want to make themselves more vulnerable with a partner to whom they no longer feel fully committed. Discernment Counseling was designed precisely for this situation as a short-term method of allowing a couple to slowdown, take a breath, and examine the options for their marriage: restore it to health, move toward divorce, or take a time out and decide later.

The goal of Discernment Counseling is for each partner 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 and if both partners want to try to solve them. The counselor respects your reasons for divorce while trying to open up the possibility of restoring the marriage to health. Each partner is treated with compassion and respect no matter how they are feeling about their marriage at the moment. The counselor emphasizes the importance of each of you seeing your contributions to the problems and possible solutions (useful in future relationships even if this one ends).

Discernment Counseling is structured differently from traditional couples therapy. First, it is short term, comprising one to five sessions of one to two hours each. Second, although you will meet as a couple, some of the most important work occurs in one-to-one conversations with the counselor, in recognition of the fact that you are in different places.

Discernment Counseling was developed by Bill Dougherty when he recognized that traditional couples counseling wasn’t suited for many couples in which one partner is leaning into the relationship and the other is leaning out. At The Counseling Center of MarylandTM, we use Discernment Counseling techniques to help these couples with the difficult choices they face. For more information, see

Discernment Counseling is designed to help 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.