Beliefnet
Doing Life Together

Sarah and John were at a family dinner. During a trip to the restroom, John pulled Sarah aside and said, “I’m done. No more of this. I want out of this marriage. ” Sarah, stunned and speechless, wondered what prompted such a big decision. She, like many spouses, was unhappy in the marriage but had not gone to counseling.

According to the Gottman Institute, unhappy couples wait an average of six years to get help. And the wait doesn’t usually make things better. But should this couple divorce over their unhappiness?

Not until they’ve tried a few things first.

One of those things is something rather new called “discernment counseling.” Developed by veteran marriage therapist, Bill Doherty, at the University of Minnesota, discernment counseling aims to help couples decide if divorce is really the next step. The idea came to him after talking to a family court judge who told him that many couples he saw in court handled their divorces so well that he couldn’t really understand why they were divorcing. Doherty figured that the judge was on to something. A reconciliation service may play a role in helping couples stay together.

In typical couple therapy, one spouse usually wants out while the other wants in. Doherty built his model of help around this dynamic. He processes with couples what is good about the marriage and how they arrived at this point of contention. He also asks what they have done to try and save the marriage.

Three options are suggested: 1) Keep things as they are 2) Try a 6 month reconciliation with marriage therapy or 3) Divorce. So far, 25 couples have gone through his process with 40% choosing the reconciliation option. The rest are considering their options or pursuing divorce. Basically, Doherty is offering a service for high risk couples, giving them time and space to really talk about what went wrong, decide if the wrong can be repaired, and discuss their willingness to try options before declaring divorce is inevitable.

Because marriage is a sacred covenant, the idea of slowing high-risk couples down, and allowing them time to process their most important relationship, seems like a great idea to me. Regardless of the outcome, couples owe it to each other to think through their relationship and try to repair it. This process takes time. During that time, some may find that there is reason to salvage the marriage.

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