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Discernment Counseling for “Mixed‐Agenda” Couples

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This article describes discernment counseling, an approach to working with couples where one partner is leaning toward divorce and the other wants to preserve the relationship and work on it in couples therapy. These "mixed-agenda" couples are common in clinical practice but have been neglected in the literature. The goal of discernment counseling is clarity and confidence regarding the next steps for the relationship, based on a deeper understanding of each partner's contributions. Sessions emphasize individual conversations with each partner. An analysis of 100 consecutive cases found that about half of the couples chose to start couples therapy in order to reconcile, with most of the rest choosing the divorce path. Longer term follow-up information is also presented. © 2015 American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
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DISCERNMENT COUNSELING FOR “MIXED-AGENDA”
COUPLES
William J. Doherty, Steven M. Harris, and Jason L. Wilde
University of Minnesota
This article describes discernment counseling, an approach to working with couples where
one partner is leaning toward divorce and the other wants to preserve the relationship and
work on it in couples therapy. These “mixed-agenda” couples are common in clinical prac-
tice but have been neglected in the literature. The goal of discernment counseling is clarity
and confidence regarding the next steps for the relationship, based on a deeper understanding
of each partner’s contributions. Sessions emphasize individual conversations with each part-
ner. An analysis of 100 consecutive cases found that about half of the couples chose to start
couples therapy in order to reconcile, with most of the rest choosing the divorce path. Longer
term follow-up information is also presented.
An everyday experience for couples therapists is the couple where one partner is interested in
staying married and presents as eager to do the therapy, while the other partner is leaning toward
divorce and is ambivalent about trying couples therapy. Whether formally married or in a commit-
ted long-term relationship, these couples are a neglected group in the field of couples therapy. Most
models assume that both partners present for treatment with at least a basic motivation to preserve
and improve the relationship. This article describes a model for “discernment counseling” for cou-
ples who are divided on the future of their relationship. Discernment counseling aims to help cou-
ples develop clarity and confidence in deciding on the next steps in their relationship, including
whether to embark on couples therapy or move toward divorce. We present a description of 100
consecutive couple cases seen in the Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project.
BACKGROUND
Although therapists regularly deal with mixed-agenda couples (one “leaning out” of the rela-
tionship and reluctant to work on the relationship in therapy, and the other “leaning in,” wanting
to preserve the relationship and begin therapy), there has been strikingly little clinical literature on
how to work with these couples. Crosby’s (1989) edited book, aptly titled When One Wants Out
and the Other Doesn’t, is the chief exception. L’Abate and Hewitt’s (1989) chapter described a
polarized bind that many of these couples face: either “extricate through the magic of divorce” or
“keep the status quo” (p. 152). Echoing the clinical advice of many of the other chapter authors,
Russell and Drees (1989) recommended slowing down the decision making process and negotiating
for a number of sessions. Jurich (1989) proposed six sessions of assessment rather than moving
directly into couples therapy. Despite the thoughtfulness of these chapter authors, the clinical
advice they provided was fairly general. None offered a detailed protocol for working with mixed-
agenda couples.
William J. Doherty, PhD, Professor, Family Social Science, University of Minnesota. Steven M. Harris, PhD,
Professor, Family Social Science, University of Minnesota. Jason L. Wilde, PhD, Program Evaluator, Family Social
Science, University of Minnesota.
Address correspondence to William J. Doherty, Family Social Science, University of Minnesota, 290 McNeal
Hall, St. Paul, Minnesota 55108; E-mail: bdoherty@umn.edu
[The copyright line for this article was changed on December 18, 2015 after original online publication.]
246 JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY April 2016
Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 42(2): 246–255
doi: 10.1111/jmft.12132
©2015 The Authors. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf
of American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits
use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Other clinically oriented studies describe the phenomenon of “mixed-agenda” couples without
using the term specifically. For example, Kanewischer and Harris (2015) interviewed 15 women
who had contemplated divorce but received marital therapy and eventually decided to remain
married. The study goal was to determine the impact of couples therapy on their decision making
process. In each case, only one partner was interested in pursuing divorce to solve marital prob-
lems. Similarly, Gurman and Burton (2014), in addressing the potential pitfalls and problems with
providing individual therapy for couple problems, maintained that many who present individually
for relationship-oriented therapy are there alone because of “partner-generated” refusals to engage
in conjoint therapy. Some of this partner-generated refusal may be related to mixed agendas within
the couple relationship.
As with the clinically oriented literature, there is limited empirical research on this topic. We
identified only five peer-reviewed clinical studies. In a groundbreaking study, Doss, Simpson, and
Christensen (2004) found that divorce concerns were the third largest reasons for entering therapy,
and, strikingly, that there was little overlap within couples on this and other reasons to seek cou-
ples therapy. In Doss et al.’s sample of 147 married couples, more than a third fit our criteria for
being a mixed-agenda couple. The authors called for much more attention to different goals
spouses have for couples therapy.
In a subsequent study, Tremblay, Wright, Mamodhouseen, McDuff, and Sabourin (2008)
identified three directions couples therapy can take: interventions to improve the relationship,
ambivalence interventions to address commitment issues in at least one spouse, and separation
interventions. Although these researchers did not assess for ambivalence at intake (they offered
improvement interventions to all couples), they did find that 20% of cases turned into ambivalence
interventions. The particulars of the ambivalence intervention were not described.
The third study on this topic addressed whether similar or different partner agendas affect out-
comes. Owen, Duncan, Anker, and Sparks (2012) found striking differences in outcomes between
couples where both wanted to improve the relationship (two thirds of the sample) and those cou-
ples (23%) where one wanted to improve the relationship and the other wanted to “clarify whether
the relationship should continue.” (In another 9% of couples, both partners wanted to clarify the
relationship.) At 6 months posttherapy, 45% of the mixed-agenda couples had separated, com-
pared to just 8% of the couples where both wanted to improve the relationship.
Two more recent studies explored the nature and role of “commitment uncertainty” in couple
therapy. According to Owen, Rhoades, et al. (2014), commitment uncertainty “reflects a rupture
or strain in the sense of couple identity [where] partners are likely to experience a shift in the ways
they view we-ness or a shared sense of identity with their partner” (p. 209). This concept seems
related to the idea of mixed-agenda couples. In a research study, Owen, Keller, et al. (2014) pro-
vided therapy to 30 couples who had varying levels of commitment uncertainty to see the therapeu-
tic effect of therapy on these couples. The study showed different outcomes for couples who started
couples therapy with more commitment uncertainty. The authors recommend that “changes in
commitment uncertainty should be considered as a ... target of intervention for many couples” (p.
237).
The other clinical study we found was also on the topic of commitment uncertainty. Luebcke
et al. (2014) studied three couples in a multiple case design to track couples’ responses to clinical
interventions. Two of the couples experienced higher levels of commitment uncertainty than the
third. Results suggest that a couple’s openness to certain interventions is dependent on the couple’s
level of commitment uncertainty. This exploratory study provides further evidence of the impor-
tance of addressing the specific needs of mixed-agenda couples in order for therapy to be success-
ful.
In sum, the limited literature available on mixed-agenda couples suggests that everyday clini-
cal experience is correct: that these couples represent a meaningful subset of couples presenting for
therapy (30% might be a reasonable estimate), that there is a dearth of protocols available to work
with these couples, that mixed-agenda couples respond differently to therapeutic interventions
than couples with the same agenda, and that they are at high risk for divorce.
April 2016 JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY 247
ORIGINS OF THE DISCERNMENT COUNSELING PROTOCOL
The protocol described here was inspired by the work of family therapist Betty Carter who
developed (but never published) an original way to work with mixed-agenda couples. Using indi-
vidual conversation, she helped each partner work on divergent goals: for the leaning out partner,
the goal of making a good decision about staying married or divorcing; and for the leaning in
partner, the goal of maximizing the likelihood that the marriage will be preserved and strength-
ened. The first author heard Better Carter give a clinical presentation on this approach in the 1980s
and later adapted and expanded it in his couples therapy practice.
In 2008, the first author began a research and intervention project with a family court judge
and a group of collaborative divorce attorneys who recognized that their profession also lacked
systematic ways to assess and work with ambivalence about divorce and interest in reconciliation
among their clients. The prevailing assumption was that by the time people engaged the services of
a lawyer, both spouses believed, or would soon accept, that the marriage was irretrievably broken
down. On the contrary, the research study coming out of this court project showed high prevalence
of divorce ambivalence and mixed agendas among couples who had already filed for divorce (Doh-
erty, Willoughby & Peterson 2011).
Based on this research, the group of lawyers and the first author developed a “divorce ambiv-
alence” protocol in which the lawyers assessed for ambivalence and mixed agendas. They began to
have conversations with clients about taking a “time out” from the divorce process to consider the
options for the marriage. However, many of these couples had undergone couples therapy and at
least one of the partners was not motivated to try again. At this point, the first author told his
attorney colleagues about his protocol for working with mixed-agenda couplesa “precouples
therapy approach” that assumed the presence of a leaning in partner and a leaning out partner.
The attorneys said that this was the kind of service they wanted for their clients and believed their
clients would be interested in it. A name for this approach was needed, and the group came up
with “discernment counseling” as the goal was for couples to work through the complexities of
their situation and come to a decision on the future direction for their marriage. The first author
offered to create a full protocol that could be taught to other couples therapists. This article
describes the discernment counseling protocol and presents information on a sample of 100 con-
secutive couples treated by three discernment counselors who have together refined the model in
The Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project.
DESCRIPTION OF DISCERNMENT COUNSELING
As described earlier, the need for discernment counseling stems from the challenge of imple-
menting standard relationship-improvement strategies of couples therapy with couples where at
least one partner is ambivalent about staying in the relationship and about trying to address the
relationship in therapy, and the other partner generally wants to preserve the relationship and try
couples therapy. This scenario creates special challenges for the therapeutic alliance and makes for
halting progress at best in couples therapy, with early dropouts and therapist frustration common
in clinical practice (Doherty, 2011). Discernment counseling is appropriate for couples who are
married or in a long-term committed relationship where breakup is a real possibility but where the
leaning out partner has not made a final decision. The protocol is not appropriate for “closure
counseling” where one party only wants to help the other partner constructively accept a divorce
decision.
The goal of discernment counseling is to help couples have greater clarity and confidence
about a direction for their relationship, based on a deeper understanding of their relationship and
each person’s contributions to the problems. (We intentionally use the term “counseling” rather
than “therapy” in order to connote that immediate relationship improvement is not the focus, and
to make it less threatening to leaning out partners who are reluctant to embark on couples ther-
apy.) The immediate decision to be “discerned” is framed as three alternative paths rather than as
a dichotomous decision between staying together or divorcing. Path one is to stay the coursestay
married as things have been and not do couples therapy. This is the “status quo” path. Path two is
248 JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY April 2016
separation or divorce. Path three is a commitment to six months of couples therapy (and some-
times other services) with divorce off the table, in order to see whether they can create a healthier,
more mutually satisfying relationship. After six months, they can evaluate whether to make a per-
manent commitment to the relationship or end it, either way based on having made a full effort to
reconcile. If the couple chooses path three, discernment counseling transitions to couples therapy
with an explicit demarcation that discernment counseling has ended and couples therapy has
begun.
Discernment counseling is short term, involving 15 sessions with a special structure that dif-
fers markedly from traditional approaches to couples therapy. Although the partners come
together for sessions, the intensive work occurs in separate individual conversations, with carefully
orchestrated interactions when both people are together in the room. No couple interventions
(e.g., attempts to facilitate connection and intimacy) are attempted with both partners present in
the room, and couples are encouraged not to expect changes in their relationship problems during
discernment counseling. The reasons for this approach are that, first, there is no contract for rela-
tionship-improvement interventions, and second, that the partners have divergent goals at the out-
set.
One emphasis during the individual conversations is on self-differentiation and self-responsi-
bility, and how growing in these areas can contribute to a better process of determining the future
of the relationship. This focus encourages both partners to take responsibility for their part in the
decline of the health of the relationship, which benefits them whether they enter couples therapy or
choose divorce. If they decide to enter couples therapy, they benefit by having moved past expect-
ing change to come only from the other spouse. If they decide to divorce, they benefit because
learning about the self in relationship can prepare each for a healthier next intimate relationship.
(One of the sayings in discernment counseling is, “You can’t divorce yourself.”) The other empha-
sis during individual conversations is on helping the spouses see their joint interactional patterns
or “dances.” Simply hearing about their interaction pattern is a new experience for most couples.
Once the pattern is described, the members of the couple are often more open to seeing their own
role in the relationship challenges and are sometimes more inclined to try path three, couples ther-
apy.
The discernment counselor works with each partner differently during the individual conver-
sations. With the leaning out spouse, the focus is on the decision making process concerning the
three paths (including why past attempts to solve relationship issues may have failed) and on learn-
ing about one’s own contributions to the problems. With the leaning in spouse, the special focus is
on hearing what the partner is saying about the relationship, constructive efforts to salvage the
relationship during a time of stress, and using this crisis as a wake-up call to learn about self and
develop goals for personal change. We have found the work of Weiner-Davis (2002) particularly
useful in working with leaning in partners to avoid alienating their partners by avoiding showing
more distress through such things as pursuing, pleading, or scolding. In both cases, each spouse
comes to understand his or her own role in the problems and potential solutions, rather than focus-
ing on changing the other. As stated, we emphasize using this crisis as way to make positive
changes in self, whatever the outcome for the marriage.
If the ultimate decision is to try to reconcile (path three), the therapy phase begins with a writ-
ten agenda of changes each partner wants to make in self in order to be able to have a healthier
relationship. Generally speaking, the therapist doing the discernment counseling becomes the cou-
ples therapist, although there can be situations when a referral to a more specialized couples thera-
pist can be appropriate, for example, when someone with more advanced sex therapy skills might
be appropriate. There may be other services in the reconciliation plan, such as an alcohol assess-
ment, couples retreat weekends, or personal therapy. If the ultimate decision is to divorce (path 2),
the discernment counselor helps the couple articulate guiding principles for how they both want to
act during the divorce process (such as being respectful to one another or putting the needs of the
children first) and connect with divorce professionals and other resource providers who will sup-
port them in having a constructive, cooperative divorce. If the decision is to not decide on either
divorce or reconciliation but to stay together (path one), the discernment counselor offers to be a
resource in the future.
April 2016 JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY 249
In the discernment counseling protocol, the first session is 2 hr and the subsequent sessions
are an hour and a half each. (The first session is longer because of time needed to get background
information.) Both parties decide at each session whether to have a subsequent discernment coun-
seling session or to be done with the process. This approach is designed to invite buy-in from the
leaning out spouse who has a say in whether or not to continue in the discernment counseling pro-
cess. The flow of the sessions is as follows: couple time at the beginning (very brief after the intake
session), followed by an individual conversation, a brief summary to the partner of what that indi-
vidual has learned in the individual time, then a conversation with the other spouse, followed by
that person’s summary, and concluding remarks by the discernment counselor. As stated before,
the intensive work is with each partner individually, along with carefully structured sharing of
what each has learned in the individual conversations.
A key issue with combining individual and couple conversations is how to handle confidential-
ity. The discernment counselor does not share what clients say during individual conversations,
but does selectively share impressions and reactions drawn from the individual conversations. For
example, the discernment counselor would not say, “Your husband said he still loves you,” but
might say, “I am sensing love going both ways in your relationship, even if it’s hard to see right
now.” Secrets such as affairs are held in confidence during discernment counseling, but they would
generally have to be shared as part of a plan to embark on path three couples therapy.
INFORMATION ON ONE HUNDRED CASES
We examined records of 100 consecutive cases to generate preliminary data on the
kinds of cases seen and the outcomes of discernment counseling. The three leaders of The
Minnesota Couples on the Brink, who together have refined the protocol and conducted
trainings, conducted the discernment counseling with the 100 consecutive cases covered in
this evaluation. They used a written protocol and had regular case consultations but did
not use formal adherence-to-protocol measures; a treatment manual is still under develop-
ment. The evaluation covered the following questions: (a) What were the characteristics of
couples referred to the project? (b) How were they referred to the project? (c) What was
the average number of sessions? (d) What were the initial outcomes in terms of the “paths”
chosen? (e) What factors predicted the path taken, and (f) What were the longer term out-
comes of couples who chose the different paths? Data came from intake forms completed
by the couples, detailed case write-ups by the discernment counselors using a standard for-
mat, state divorce records, and follow-up contacts with couples and referral therapists.
Couple Screening
Couples who contacted the project were screened in separate partner telephone interviews to
establish eligibility for discernment counseling. There had to be one partner leaning out of the mar-
riage but not yet finally decided on divorce, and the other had to be leaning in, wanting to preserve
the relationship. Before the phone interview, potential participants were asked to read a website
description of discernment counseling. Leaning out status was determined by how they answered
an open-ended question about how discernment counseling could be of use to them. Specifically,
spouses were assigned a leaning out role when they said that they wanted help in deciding whether
to stay in the relationship or divorce. Leaning in status was assigned to partners who said they
hoped to avoid divorce and improve the relationship. In every enrolled case, divorce was an imme-
diate possibility and the leaning out spouse was reluctant to embark on a course of couples ther-
apy. We screened out a handful of potential participants who indicated that they had already
made a final decision to divorce and wanted to have a forum to help their partner accept that deci-
sion. We also screened for coercion and intimate partner violence risk. Following conversations
with both partners, an initial appointment was scheduled.
Intake Measures
Three assessment instruments administered at intake were used to examine potential predic-
tors of which path the couple would take at the end of discernment counseling. They were not
repeated at the end of discernment counseling or at long-term follow-up.
250 JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY April 2016
Couple relationship adjustment was measured by the brief version of the Dyadic Adjustment
Scale (Sabourin, Valois, & Lussier, 2005). This four-item scale has demonstrated reliability and
validity as a brief way to assess dyadic adjustment and distinguish clinical and nonclinical popula-
tions and predict relationship dissolution. Scores can range from 0 to 21, with a marital distress
cutoff score of 13 corresponding to the 100 point cutoff for the full Dyadic Adjustment Scale (Sab-
ourin et al., 2005).
Referral sources were determined via self-report of participants responding to a question
about how they found out about the project.
Contact with a lawyer was assessed by asking clients during the phone intake about where they
were in the divorce process, including whether they had contacted a lawyer. In addition, we gath-
ered demographic information on length of marriage and educational levels.
Outcome Measures
The main outcome was the path taken by each couple. Path three was a decision to try to rec-
oncile through six months of couples therapy, with divorce off the table. Path two was separation/
divorce. Path one was a decision to stay on hold, neither pursue reconciliation nor divorce. These
paths were a central focus of the discernment counseling, and the choice of path was recorded by
the discernment counselor in each couple’s file after the final discernment counseling session. There
were no missing data.
We also gathered data on longer term outcomes via three sources: county divorce records,
individual follow-ups with couples, and contacts with therapists for couples who were still in ther-
apy. The follow-up period after discernment counseling averaged 28 months, with a minimum fol-
low-up period of 12 months. The outcomes of 99 of the 100 couples were determined, and one
couple was lost to follow-up. We coded outcomes into five categories: divorced, pursuing divorce
(filed and in the divorce process), reconciled, pursuing reconciliation (mostly still in therapy), and
on hold (neither pursuing divorce nor in therapy to reconcile).
FINDINGS
Couple Characteristics
The couples in the sample included 97 heterosexual married couples and three same sex cou-
ples who considered themselves married. (Same sex marriage was not yet legal in the state at the
time.) Couples had been married an average of 15.5 years (ranging from 1 to 44 years). In terms of
relationship adjustment, this was a highly distressed group, as expected. The average marital
adjustment score was 6.98, compared to the marital distress cutoff score of 13 for the brief version
of the Dyadic Adjustment Scale. In fact, couples in the present study averaged a full standard devi-
ation below the mean (10) of clinical sample reported by Sabourin et al. (2005). About half of the
couples (51%) had seen a divorce lawyer prior to beginning discernment counseling. Demograp-
hically, this was a well-educated group, with nearly all having a college degree or graduate
education.
Referral Sources
Self-referrals were the largest source of referrals (48%). Self-referring couples found out about
the project from friends and contacts, from reading articles, searching the Internet, or other media.
The second largest source was from therapists and social service agencies (34%), followed by law-
yers and judges (11%), a direct mailing to divorcing individuals (4%), and a parent education
course (4%).
Number of Sessions
Discernment counseling is intended to be brief, and that is what we found. The mean number
of subsequent discernment counseling sessions received per couple was 3.61 (SD =1.75).
Main Outcome: Paths Taken
After the last session, the discernment counselor recorded the immediate outcome of the direc-
tion (path) the couple chose to take. Forty-seven percent of the sample decided to move to path
April 2016 JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY 251
three: working on reconciliation in couples therapy. Forty-one percent chose path two: move
toward separation/divorce. And 12% chose path one: stay together and neither divorce nor
embark on therapy. See Figure 1 for an outline of the findings.
Predictors of Path Taken
Only one intake variable measured at intake was found related to path taken by the couple.
Prior contact with a divorce lawyer was associated with a lower likelihood of choosing path
three (reconciliation effort) and a higher likelihood of choosing path two (divorce)
(v
2
(2, N=100) =8.45, p=.015). Of those with lawyer contact, 55% chose path two and 31%
path three. Among those without lawyer contact, 27% chose path two and 52% chose path three.
Longer Term Follow-Up
As the discernment counseling aimed at helping couples choose an immediate direction for
their relationship, we present the relationship status outcomes in terms of what happened to those
who chose different paths at the end of discernment counseling. For the relatively small number
(n=12) who chose path one (relationship status quo or stay the course) at the completion of dis-
cernment counseling, three couples were divorced, one was pursuing divorce, one was reconciled,
one was pursuing reconciliation, and five were on holdneither pursuing divorce nor engaging in
further reconciliation efforts.
For couples who chose path two (divorce), 90% were divorced at follow up. This figure com-
bines the 80% with finalized divorced and the 10% with divorces in process. One couple was recon-
ciled, and three couples were on hold.
For the couples who chose path three (reconciliation effort in therapy), 36% had reconciled,
6% were pursuing reconciliation, 28% had divorced, 17% were in the divorce process, and 13%
were on hold. Folding the couples pursuing divorce and pursuing reconciliation into the broader
categories of divorced and reconciled, the findings for path three can be summarized this way: Sim-
ilar proportions of path three couples had reconciled (42%) or divorced (45%), and the remainder
were on hold. Interestingly, having seen a lawyer did not predict long-term outcome for those who
chose path three.
DISCUSSION
The purpose of this article was to make the case for a special way to work with mixed-agenda
couples on the brink of divorce, to describe the protocol for discernment counseling, and to present
initial data from a project aimed at refining discernment counseling as an intervention tool. It is
important to mention that because there was no control group, no conclusions can be drawn about
the efficacy of discernment counseling for preventing unnecessary divorces, averting premature
divorce decisions, or fostering more constructive divorces. The objective at this point was a careful
description of a sample of consecutively treated couples.
In discussing the findings of this study, it is important to keep in mind that this was a highly
distressed sample even for a couples intervention study, with marital satisfaction scores well below
norms for clinical samples. The prospect of imminent divorce was on the table for all couples, and
Path 1 – Status Quo Path 2 – Separated/Divorced Path 3 – Couples Therapy
100
Couples
Path 2
41%
(n = 41)
Path 1
12%
(n = 12)
Path 3
47%
(n = 47)
Divorced
90%
(n = 37)
Status Quo
7.5%
(n = 3)
Reconciled
2.5%
(n = 1)
Status Quo
13%
(n = 6)
Divorced
45%
(n = 21)
Reconciled
42%
(n = 20)
Reconciled
17%
(n = 2)
Divorced
35%
(n = 4)
Status Quo
42%
(n = 5)
Figure 1. Immediate and long term outcomes of 100 discernment counseling cases.
252 JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY April 2016
half had already contacted a divorce professional. Many had tried some type of couples therapy in
the past, and in all cases, the leaning out partner was reluctant at the outset to embark on a course
of couples therapy. We presented couples with the goals of achieving more clarity and confidence
in their decision making about a direction for the relationship, based on a deeper understanding of
what had happened to the marriage and each partner’s contributions. The focus of the work was
on both individual contributions and couple dynamics, and on three paths: stay the course, move
to separation/divorce, or commit to a six-month course of couples therapy with an understanding
of the changes to be made by each partner.
The primary outcome was the choice of which path the couple took. Findings showed that
about half of the couples (47%) chose the reconciliation path, 41% chose separation/divorce, and
the remainder opted for the status quo. When we embarked on developing discernment counseling
with this “on the brink” population, we had little idea about how the paths would play out. If
nearly all couples chose either immediate divorce or couples therapy, then we would have ques-
tioned whether discernment counseling was a superfluous intervention: Why not just proceed to
divorce or couples therapy? However, the actual breakdown of chosen paths suggests that there
was a true discernment process going on, as opposed to “closure counseling” to facilitate a divorce
or an assessment process prior to beginning couples therapy. These couples seriously deliberated
over the next step for their relationship.
Divorce is not considered a failure of discernment counseling. We were interested, however, in
the longer term outcomes of couples who tried the path of reconciliation with therapy. We found
that about 42% had succeeded in reconciliation or were still working on reconciliation. A similar
number (45%) had divorced or were in the divorce process, and a smaller subset (13%) was on
hold, neither in crisis nor particularly satisfied with their situation. Summarized differently, a little
less than half of the couples who tried to reconcile ended up divorced within an average of two
years, and most of rest had reconciled.
It is important to emphasize, however, that the data used for the longer term follow-up
findings were less precise than for the choice of paths. The length of follow-up varied consid-
erably, and while the outcome categories of divorce decrees and filings were public informa-
tion, we did not have objective measures for the three categories of reconciled, pursuing
reconciliation, and on hold. Outcomes measured objectively based on the number of divorces
and divorce filings can be summarized as follows: 49% of the total initial sample of couples
were divorced at follow-up, 13% were in the divorce process, and 38% were still married and
not in the divorce process.
One of our informal observations doing discernment counseling was volatility and fluidity
among these highly distressed, on the brink couples. During the discernment counseling process,
some spouses shifted from leaning in to leaning out of the relationship and vice versa. A few lean-
ing out spouses appeared to be trying to use their leverage to get concessions from their leaning in
partner, a situation the discernment counselor challenged in the one-to-one conversations by
focusing on the leaning out partner’s contributions to the problems and potential solutions. Some
leaning in spouses oscillated between eagerness to look at self and blame for the partner for bring-
ing up divorce. This is difficult, intense, but satisfying work.
Another informal observation concerns common mistakes therapists new to discernment
counseling make. After several years of training couples therapists in discernment counseling, here
are a number of common mistakes we have observed:
Mistake 1. Making couple therapy interventions and going for too much vulnerability when
the couple are in the room together. The intense work in discernment counseling
is with each spouse separately, with carefully orchestrated sharing in between
individual conversations.
Mistake 2. Spending too much time unpacking past hurts and conflict without focusing on
decisions about the future. Discernment counseling is oriented to what to do
now, especially whether to try therapy.
Mistake 3. Not moving quickly enough to challenge the leaning out spouse on his or her
contributions to the problem and thereby focusing only on the leaning in
April 2016 JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY 253
spouse’s contributions. Some therapists fear alienating the leaning out spouse
and collude in holding only the other partner responsible.
Mistake 4. Not preparing the post-individual-time summaries carefully enough. These are
crucial to the spouses experiencing each other as having made shifts during dis-
cernment counseling.
Mistake 5. Failing to leverage learning about each partner in conversation with the other,
out of fear of breaking confidentiality. The sessions benefit greatly from the dis-
cernment counselor’s willingness to share reflections about each partner with the
other.
Further protocol development for discernment counseling is continuing, and training of practi-
tioners is giving us a sense of how this intervention can fit into everyday clinical practice. We have
observed three ways that couples enter discernment counseling. Some couples can be assessed as
mixed agenda prior to the first session because of what they say when contacting the therapist. The
therapist then begins with discernment counseling instead of traditional couples therapy. In other cases,
the assessment of mixed-agenda status occurs during the first or second session of couples therapy, and
then the therapist proposes shifting the focus from therapy clinical work to discernment counseling.
Thirdly, in communities (like ours) where discernment counseling becomes publically known as an
option for “on the brink” couples, clients sometimes directly request discernment counseling.
In terms of training, we have found that well-trained couples therapists can learn to use some
elements of discernment counseling after a day-long training. They can identify mixed-agenda cou-
ples, avoid making common mistakes with them, and use together-and-separate conversations as a
prelude to starting standard couples therapy. However, like other complex couples interventions,
doing discernment counseling with confidence and expertise requires additional training. Informa-
tion on training opportunities is available at (www.discernmentcounseling.com).
Although we are still learning how to implement this protocol with a wide range of couples,
early experience and preliminary data presented here suggest that discernment counseling holds
promise as a tool for helping mixed-agenda couples who have presented such a challenge in every-
day clinical practice. Instead of offering therapy to couples who differ on their desire for therapy,
this protocol takes spouses where they are atdivided about their next stepsand attempts to
meet the needs of both.
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April 2016 JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY 255
... Like EFT, Discernment Counseling is based on the assumption that romantic relationships are attachment relationships (Madden-Derdich & Arditti, 1999;Weiss, 1976 (Doherty et al., 2016), 11.5% of people in divorce proceedings believe their relationship could still be saved (Doherty et al., 2011;Hawkins et al., 2012), and 75% percent of individuals regretted their decision to divorce one year later (Hetherington & Kelly 2002). As such, Doherty et al. (2015) concluded that the approximately 46 % of couples entering therapy with mixed agendas did not need couple therapy, rather they needed a way to increase their ability to clearly and confidently make a decision for the direction of the relationship based on an improved understanding of how each partner contributes to the negative interaction patterns in the relationship. ...
... During counseling, the counselor aims to aid the more leaning out partner to understand the dyadic nature of the struggles in the relationship, while the leaning in partner focuses on personal change. The majority of the work takes place individually, with time set aside at the end of each session for each partner to share what they have learned about themselves and the relationship (Doherty et al., 2015). Discernment ...
... Counseling is framed as working on the self, as each partner will bring their relational patterns of behavior into all future relationships (Doherty et al., 2015). While Doherty (2011) emphasizes compassion when listening to each partner's narrative, he also emphasizes the necessity of challenging the leaning in partner to see how they are impacting the relationship. ...
Article
The Emotionally Focused Individual Therapy Adherence Measure (EFIT-AM) is presented as a scale to measure a therapist’s adherence to the EFIT model. The theoretical rationale for EFIT as a promising model of individual therapy and conceptual development of EFIT-AM are introduced. The EFIT-AM was developed to measure therapist adherence to treatment tasks when working specifically with clients presenting with negative emotional disorder and can be used to promote therapist education and development in training and supervision. The measure includes assessment of essential skills, meta-themes, and stages of EFIT. The measure was piloted using participants (n = 20) with advanced training in EFT. Participants used the measure to rate therapist adherence to EFIT model by observing a recorded therapy session of an expert EFIT therapist. Participant ratings were used to examine consistency among ratings of therapist behaviour and to receive feedback regarding the user experience of the EFIT-AM. Mean item ratings of three and five within the same talk turn were considered to signify reliable identification of an EFIT skill. Of the 18 adherence items on the EFIT-AM, 12 items met our criteria for 50% of participants identifying the item at the same time with a rating of three or five. Six items did not meet these criteria and were considered to either occur at a session, as opposed to talk-turn, level or in need of consolidation. The high level of interrater reliability and internal consistency of the EFIT-AM indicate the EFIT-AM is a promising tool to evaluate therapist adherence.
... However, unlike EFT, Discernment Counseling arose from research indicating that, at the time of divorce, 30% of divorcing couples felt ambiguous about their decision to separate (Doherty et al., 2016), 11.5% of people in divorce proceedings believe their relationship could still be saved (Doherty et al., 2011;Hawkins et al., 2012), and 75% of individuals regretted their decision to divorce 1 year later (Hetherington & Kelly 2002). As such, Doherty et al. (2015) concluded that the approximately 46% of couples entering therapy with mixed agendas did not need couple therapy, rather they needed a way to increase their ability to clearly and confidently make a decision for the direction of the relationship based on an improved understanding of how each partner contributes to the negative interaction patterns in the relationship. ...
... During counseling, the counselor aims to aid the more leaning out partner to understand the dyadic nature of the struggles in the relationship, while the leaning in partner focuses on personal change. The majority of the work takes place individually, with time set aside at the end of each session for each partner to share what they have learned about themselves and the relationship (Doherty et al., 2015). Discernment Counseling is framed as working on the self, as each partner will bring their relational patterns of behavior into all future relationships (Doherty et al., 2015). ...
... The majority of the work takes place individually, with time set aside at the end of each session for each partner to share what they have learned about themselves and the relationship (Doherty et al., 2015). Discernment Counseling is framed as working on the self, as each partner will bring their relational patterns of behavior into all future relationships (Doherty et al., 2015). While Doherty et al. (2011) emphasizes compassion when listening to each partner's narrative, he also emphasizes the necessity of challenging the leaning in partner to see how they are impacting the relationship. ...
Article
Full-text available
Couple and family therapists (CFTs) routinely encounter couples with differing levels of commitment, otherwise known as mixed agenda couples, in their practice. CFTs using a traditional model of couple therapy may miss opportunities to help these types of couples make a coherent and deliberate decision for the future of their relationship. In response to the large number of mixed agenda couples coming to therapy, this article outlines a way to integrate Discernment Counseling (Doherty & Harris in Helping couples on the brink of divorce: Discernment counseling for troubled relationships. American Psychological Association, 2017) and Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) (Greenberg & Johnson in Emotionally focused therapy for couples. Guilford Press, 1988). EFT and Discernment Counseling view couple relationships as attachment relationships, thus providing common ground for integration. However, the primary goal of EFT of creating a securely attached couple relationship does not account for mixed agenda couples, thus necessitating this integration to provide a method for EFT practitioners to address this common dilemma. In this manuscript, the author creates a roadmap for EFT therapists to use Discernment Counseling to enhance assessment, treatment planning, and initial sessions.
... Reconceptualizing marital commitment as a dynamic process instead of an outcome has many implications for family practitioners. Because divorce ideation and marital commitment uncertainty are common and constantly evolving, educators and marriage therapists could help by normalizing the process and intervening in ways that address some of the typical issues surfacing in marriages when one or both of the partners are considering divorce and help the couples gain clarity and confidence in the direction the couple would like to go (Doherty et al., 2016;Harris et al., 2017). The certainty of divorce (having a paper or decree stating the formal legal dissolution of the marriage) and the out-of-reach finality of staying married is an important concept that could also be communicated to therapy clients. ...
... Our research suggests that marital commitment can be an ambiguous process of working on a relationship without knowing a specific outcome. Future scholarship may want to focus on the processes of marital uncertainty versus the outcome of remaining married or divorcing, just as (Doherty et al. 2016;Doherty & Harris, 2017) discernment counseling model indicates that perhaps our conceptualizations of marital commitment should not focus on whether couples commit to an outcome but, rather, to a process. When people have to make a commitment to a marital outcome of divorcing or not divorcing, it may be easier to select the outcome that seems more clear and unambiguous-that of not staying together. ...
Article
Objective The aim of this study is to use in-depth, qualitative interviews and longitudinal analysis to explore fluctuations in divorce ideation over time with 30 participants who had thoughts about divorce in the previous 6 months. Background Scholarship on marital ambivalence and divorce ideation suggests the importance of better understanding the dialectical tensions involved in navigating the many areas of life affected by marital commitment uncertainty. To model complex relational processes of change over time, researchers need to move beyond contextualized snapshots of relationship outcomes to a more continuous mapping of relationship processes, including changes in emotions, beliefs, and behaviors regarding the future of their marital relationship. Methods We completed in-depth interviews with participants who had recently been thinking about divorce at two times approximately 8 to 10 months apart. Our team used qualitative thematic analysis to elucidate emergent themes and processes. Results We found complex and dynamic patterns of leaning-in, leaning-out, and holding-on emotions, attitudes, and behaviors that suggest theoretical models that may better capture the dynamic process of how commitment uncertainty influences the ways in which married partners think about the future of their marriage. Conclusion This research can help improve how we theoretically model commitment uncertainty processes embedded in divorce ideation within the complex processes of day-to-day and longer term relational changes over time. Implications Family practitioners and the couples they serve can benefit from expanded conceptualizations of marital commitment outcomes that also include the processes of marital commitment as a way to normalize the ebbs and flows of relationships.
... These researchers found that there were distinct types of divorce ideation, with some considering divorce more seriously than others. In the clinical realm, Doherty and Harris (2017) developed the Discernment Counseling protocol to aid therapists as they work with couples in the divorce decision-making process to help them gain greater clarity and confidence in their decision making about the future of their marriages (see online supplementary materials for a summary of the discernment counseling approach), with preliminary evidence showing its effectiveness (Doherty et al., 2015). Despite these recent studies, there is limited empirical research documenting what married people who are thinking about divorce do to repair their relationship or to seek greater clarity in a decision ultimately to divorce. ...
... This may be because those who seek help in the action stage may experience some opposition from their partner when it comes to problem definition and the need for relationship help. Doherty et al. (2015) have referred to these couples as "mixed-agenda" couples, couples where one partner is leaning into the marriage and the other is either leaning out or is ambivalent about their commitment. Thus, in applying the SOC model to divorce decision making, we note that individuals likely are progressing in the stages of change relative to two possible decisions: the decision to work to improve their relationship or the decision to divorce or separate. ...
Article
Guided by the Stages of Change (SOC) model, we explored relationship-repair behaviors among those thinking about divorce, employing a recent national longitudinal survey of married individuals (N = 745). Person-centered analyses explored whether there were distinct typologies of relationship-repair behaviors. We found four distinct classes: Intense Seekers (6%), who engaged at high levels of all kinds of repair behaviors, including professional services; Moderate-fading Seekers (14%), who engaged in moderate levels of various repair behaviors, including professional services, but did not sustain that behavior over a year; and Minimal-private Seekers (42%) and Private-sustained Seekers (38%), who eschewed professional services and engaged in low-to-moderate personal and private repair behaviors. We discuss possible applications of the SOC model to the divorce decision-making process and conclude with implications for practice, including the need to allocate greater attention to personal and self-help interventions that match the way most people try to repair their relationships. KEYWORDS: divorce ideation, latent class analysis, national survey, reconciliation, Relationship-repair behavior, stages of change
... Couples who decide to divorce are often unable to make a divorce decision with clarity and confidence . The discernment counseling protocol was developed to help these couples in their divorce decision-making process (Doherty & Harris, 2017;Doherty et al., 2016). The current study investigates the perceived impact that discernment counseling has on the process of divorce and the coparenting relationships of individuals who divorce. ...
... Path 2 is called the divorce path. Path 3 is referred to as the reconciliation path where partners agree to take divorce off the table and commit to couples therapy for at least 6 months to see if they can, together, increase the health of the marriage (Doherty & Harris, 2017;Doherty et al., 2016). ...
Article
Full-text available
Discernment counseling is designed to help couples considering divorce arrive at a greater sense of clarity and confidence in their decision making about the future of their marriage. Possible outcomes include making no change to the marriage, divorcing, or attempting reconciliation through couples therapy. To date, no research has been done on whether or not discernment counseling helps couples who decide to divorce with their post‐divorce family life (i.e., coparenting). We surveyed 11 people (from male–female couples) and conducted in‐depth interviews with eight who had undergone discernment counseling and subsequently divorced to see what impact discernment counseling had on their post‐divorce coparenting relationship. We analyzed the data from a phenomenological perspective. Respondents described their discernment counseling experience as helpful for achieving clarity and honesty in the divorce decision‐making process, they shared their appreciation for the structure of the intervention, and indicated that it led to a greater coparental cooperation post‐divorce.
... Several other sequencing suggestions include: meeting with clients separately at the beginning if one of them is on the verge of ending the relationship, similar to Doherty's discernment counseling (Doherty et al. 2016); delaying problem solving (when possible) until the interpersonal process has improved; focusing, then, on practical problems (e.g., money, children, division of labor), the benefit of which is sometimes glossed over by therapies that emphasize exploration of core emotional issues; working toward "acceptance" (Christensen and Jacobson 2000) of some "perpetual" couple problems (Gottman et al. 1998); and, like Fishbane, proactively encouraging positive shared activities and therapeutic work to restore sexual intimacy. ...
Article
Full-text available
Couple therapy is too complex, and too important, to be undertaken under the sway of doctrinal orthodoxy. Integrating various schools of thought enlarges our toolkit and optimizes our efforts. In their excellent paper, “Couple Impasses: Three Therapeutic Approaches, Siegel, Goldman, and Fishbane provide three contemporary examples of such integration. In this commentary, I will note some commonalities in their work, highlight some singularly useful ideas from each author’s section, and conclude with some of my own thoughts about integrating and sequencing interventions in couple therapy.
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Divorce is considered distressing for many individuals (Sbarra et al., Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2015, 24, 109); however, individuals in poor-quality relationships may experience certain benefits of leaving an unstable union (Amato & Hohmann-Marriott, Journal of Marriage and Family, 2007, 69, 621). On-off relationship cycling, or the breakup and reconciliation of a relationship, is a salient indicator of poor relationship quality and a common form of relationship instability (Dailey et al., Personal Relationships, 2009, 16, 23) that is associated with distress (Monk et al., Family Relations, 2018, 67, 523). In line with divorce-stress-adjustment and relational turbulence theory perspectives, we hypothesized that those whose relationships were characterized by on-off instability would experience less distress during the separation and divorce process. Given gender inequality in marriage (e.g., Dempsey, Journal of Sociology, 2002, 38, 91; Monin & Clark, Sex Roles, 2011, 65, 320), we also hypothesized that this association would be more pronounced for women. Using data from 98 divorced or separating couples, we found that relationship cycling prior to the separation and divorce process was associated with fewer distress symptoms for women. Conversely, a history of relationship cycling was associated with more distress symptoms for men. Our study provides support and extends prior investigations illustrating that, for some, those in unions characterized by more turmoil, may experience relief following a termination.
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The paper is focused on ethical issues of making decisions about cryopreserved embryos in the context of relationship break-up in the framework of the embryo’s legal status and the church’s stand on the matter. All these issues can be viewed as part of a broader problem of intuitive and rational foundations for decision-making when facing difficult situations in life. On the one hand, the stressful context of the situation implies intuitive-driven decision-making; on the other hand, assisted reproductive technologies are largely counter-intuitive. We describe the peculiarities of family psychotherapy with mixed-agenda couples going through a divorce who have joint cryopreserved embryos but disagree on what to do with them. We introduce a protocol for psychotherapeutic work in the situation when one partner wishes to continue with the fertility treatment and have a child while the other partner is determined to utilize joint embryos as unwanted biological material. In addition, we discuss emotional and social complications that may arise (guilt, unfaithfulness of one of the partners, other losses, and grieving).
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This article provides a conceptual overview of commitment uncertainty and fluctua-tions in commitment. In doing so, we distinguish commitment uncertainty from related concepts, such as ambivalence about commitment and doubt. In addition, we describe the onset and course of commitment uncertainty. Finally, we highlight several issues regarding the treatment of individuals and couples who express commitment uncertainty. The cost of unstable romantic relationships, including cohabitation, marriage, and long-term partnerships, is not limited to the health of ro-mantic partners, but it also affects the physical and mental health of children and workplace productivity (Amato & Cheadle, 2005). The foundation of romantic relationships ultimately rests in partners' commitment to one another. However, divorce/separation rates provide a frequent reminder that for many couples com-mitment to the relationship can be uncertain, wavering, and even unknown—a phenomenon that we label commitment uncertainty. Uncer-tainty plays a prominent role in human behavior across a range of contexts (e.g., coworker inter-actions, dating relationships, marriage; Berger & Calabrese, 1975; Knobloch & Carpenter-Theune, 2004; Kramer, 2004). In this special section, we review the nature of commitment uncertainty across several domains. The section begins with this theoretical overview; subse-quently, three articles examine how commit-ment uncertainty can influence (a) adults' ro-mantic relationships over time, (b) couple therapy outcomes, and (c) interventions for cou-ple therapists. Theoretical Foundations
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The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between client initial goal for couple therapy (i.e., improve the relationship or clarify the viability of the relationship) and the outcomes (including their relationship status, i.e., separated or together) at posttreatment as well as at 6-month follow-up. Two hundred forty-nine couples (N = 498 individuals) seeking treatment for relationship distress in a naturalistic setting were treated by 20 therapists. Client initial relationship goal was attained by intake paperwork protocol, which included client initial goal for couple therapy and client perception of partner goal. Clients who reported that their goal was to improve the relationship reported better outcomes at post. Couples who reported their goal was to improve the relationship were less likely to break up at a 6-month follow-up. Of the 115 couples stating they wanted to improve the relationship, only nine (7.8%) couples were separated at 6 months. In contrast, of the 16 couples in which both partners wanted to clarify the relationship prior to therapy, nine (56%) were separated at follow-up. Therapist awareness of each individual's relationship goal prior to couple therapy could enhance outcomes, and treatment tailored according to initial goals could set the stage for positive outcomes however defined.
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Full-text available
The main purpose of the current research was to develop an abbreviated form of the Dyadic Adjustment Scale (DAS) with nonparametric item response theory. The authors conducted 5 studies, with a total participation of 8,256 married or cohabiting individuals. Results showed that the item characteristic curves behaved in a monotonically increasing function for all items of the brief 4-item version of the DAS (DAS-4). The DAS-4 proved to be informative at all levels of couple satisfaction. Compared with the 32-item version of the DAS (DAS-32), it was as effective in predicting couple dissolution and was significantly less contaminated by socially desirable responding. In addition, structural equation modeling demonstrated that the underlying latent construct measured by the DAS-4 was very stable over a 2-year period. This brief version has the advantage of being less time consuming and constitutes a promising alternative to the original DAS-32 for clinicians and researchers.
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The current study investigated therapeutic interventions in couple therapy with 3 couples, 2 who experienced higher levels of commitment uncertainty. A multiple case study design was used to analyze couples’ reactions to interventions within and between sessions of therapy. Four sessions for each couple were coded, selected from the first, second, third, and fourth quarters of therapy. Examination of individual therapist interventions and couples reactions allows for a nuanced understanding of the role of therapy in relationship communication and couples’ outcomes. Therapeutic interventions and client reactions were coded to determine the effect of each type of intervention on facilitating engagement between partners. Findings revealed that therapists’ use of exploration interventions and action interventions lead to more constructive communication and less avoidant communication. In contrast, insight interventions were found to decrease natural expression of affect within session, especially for commitment-uncertain couples. These findings suggest that the specific interventions used by therapists can affect outcomes of engagement between partners, and in some cases this can differ depending on whether partners are experiencing commitment uncertainty. Implications for practice and future research are discussed.
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This study examined the association between changes in commitment uncertainty and couple therapy outcomes. Thirty couples participated in couple therapy at a university training clinic. The results demonstrated that changes in commitment uncertainty explained approximately 8% of the variance in posttreatment relationship satisfaction and approximately 3% in posttreatment psychological well-being. For clients who started therapy with high levels of commitment uncertainty, there were small- to medium-sized gains in relationship satisfaction and for women, there were medium- to large-sized gains in psychological well-being. Implications for research and practice are offered.
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If therapists know why couples seek marital therapy, they can more effectively tailor their therapies to improve treatment outcome. Unfortunately, there have been no systematic studies to date on couples' reasons for seeking therapy. In a survey of 147 married couples seeking marital therapy, the most commonly reported reasons were problematic communication and lack of emotional affection. Within individual couples, spouses showed little agreement on their reasons for therapy, suggesting that careful and individual assessments should be made of each spouse. There was only partial overlap of couples' reasons for seeking therapy, questionnaires of relationship problems, and previous studies of therapists' reports of couples' problems, indicating that traditional methods of assessment may not fully capture why couples are seeking therapy. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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This study offers the first research data on the interest of divorcing parents in marital reconciliation. A sample of 2,484 divorcing parents was surveyed after taking required parenting classes. They were asked about whether they believed their marriage could still be saved with hard work, and about their interest in reconciliation services. About 1 in 4 individual parents indicated some belief that their marriage could still be saved, and in about 1 in 9 matched couples both partners did. As for interest in reconciliation services, about 3 in 10 individuals indicated potential interest. In a sub-sample of 329 matched couples, about 1 in 3 couples had one partner interested but not the other, and in 1 in 10 couples both partners were interested in reconciliation services. Findings were consistent across most demographic and marital factors. The only strong predictors of reconciliation interest were gender, with males being more interested than females, and initiator status, with far greater interest among those whose partner initiated the divorce. These findings are discussed in terms of attachment theory and future prospects of divorce services.