Those who have taken their marriage or partnership to professionals may be familiar with the sinking feeling when your other half announces that the union is not worth saving. After pricey counseling bills, countless hours on the proverbial couch, and the sheer emotional costs, many would wish that they had stumbled across that important piece of information earlier. But a “new” form of couple’s counseling aims to do exactly that, by determining early on whether both parties even want to remain married.
“Discernment therapy” as it is called has been established by Bill Doherty, a professor in the family social science department at the University of Minnesota. Doherty tells msnbc that 30% of couples come into traditional marriage counseling with “mix agendas,” with one spouse often times “leaning out” towards divorce while the other is “leaning in” to save the partnership. He maintains that, ‘Traditional marriage counseling has no way to deal with those people,” explaining that discernment therapy incorporates both couples and individual therapy sessions.
“Mixed agenda couples” are reportedly a point of frustration for many counselors according to Doherty. And it’s pretty easy to see why given what Joe Guppy, another counselor, pointed out:
“Couples counselors have been aware for decades of the need to discern whether the couple has come in to stay together or to break up,” he says. “Oftentimes, one of the couple knows he or she wants to leave, hasn’t told the partner and is essentially bringing the counselor on board to help soften the blow.”
Doherty also elaborates on how his method can prevent common scenarios on the couch, citing those who don’t put an ounce of effort into conventional marriage counseling and then proclaim that the process failed them:
“The name discernment counseling is important because sometimes the person who is leaning out will run the clock out on marriage counseling,” he says. “They’ll show up, but won’t really try, then will pronounce that marriage counseling didn’t work. What I say is, ‘We don’t know if marriage counseling will work. We haven’t tried it yet. We’re deciding whether or not to do it.’”
Given the high numbers of divorce in the United States, coupled with cultural divorce-shaming, if partners need 10 preliminary steps to make it marriage counseling then so be it. Methods that identify a less enthusiastic, and thereby less committed, party early on can save families the resources that might otherwise be more appreciated — and needed — elsewhere. Why throw money down the drain on your divorce-minded spouse when you could be funneling that hourly rate into a college fund for the kids?