Marriage Crisis, Discernment Counseling, Separation, Infidelity


When a spouse is unfaithful it can be one of life’s most painful experiences, and I’ve often said that if people knew how much pain their spouse will experience they wouldn’t do it. Sadly, though, most people who do it don’t think it through and I’ve unfortunately witnessed hundreds of couples who have faced this reality.

When it comes to being unfaithful, there are several aspects to the issue that I typically see:

1. One spouse has a secret. A couple comes in with serious problems, and while one person is having an affair, the other spouse doesn’t yet know it.

2. One spouse suspects an affair. A couples comes in and one spouse seems certain there is an affair going on while the other spouse profusely denies it.

3. An affair has been discovered. An affair has been revealed and a couple comes in with a severe marital crisis.

4. Marriages with a history of infidelity and trust issues. A troubled couple comes in with a history of infidelity within their marriage while no current affair is going on. They deal with daily doses of lack of trust and insecurity.

Prior to an affair almost every husband or wife says something like, “If my spouse ever cheats I will divorce him immediately.” Of course we mean it when we say it, but when it actually happens, only 25 percent of us actually do it. That’s right, 75 percent of couples are able to make it through an infidelity crisis, and one reason is that life is much more complicated than a simple black & white pronouncement about cheating resulting in the marital death penalty.

No matter what situation regarding infidelity a couple may find themselves in, there are always answers. I am very experienced in dealing with issues of infidelity and know how to manage and coach a couple through the upset and lack of trust. No matter what situation you find yourself in, it’s never too late to come in and work through it.

Yes, it is difficult, but not as difficult as NOT doing it. In therapy we will take a close look at every factor that led up to one spouse choosing infidelity. We will examine what in the marriage wasn’t working, we’ll look at the affair itself and the aftermath. We’ll face the disappointment, anger, grief, and sadness and get to the bottom of why the infidelity happened and what could have prevented it. Understanding this is vital to shoring up the leaks in the marriage so it won’t happen again, and it also helps us navigate to a place where we can consider forgiveness and the possibility of a strong and happy relationship moving forward.

There are many ways to manage these situations that will maximize your chances of working it out, and I can help couples have the honest conversations that will take us down that path.

There is a lot to understand about the affair dynamic, and you will not only come to understand it, but you become an expert in how these dynamics led to your own marriage crisis.


One of the most amazing facts I’ve found as a marriage therapist is that most couples who are unhappy and considering separation have NO criteria for making such a decision, and often do it without any rhyme nor reason and with NO plan for getting back together. Under these circumstances, what usually happens is one of two things:

1. They miss each other and get back together too soon, without resolving the issues that got them separated in the first place, or

2. There is so much acrimony – or apathy – that they consider repairing the marriage too big of a mountain to climb and they throw in the towel and divorce.

Whichever one it is, separating on your own often has disastrous results. I think of it like two people who suddenly (and haphazardly) decide to drive for hours through a snow storm with not enough gas, no cell phone, provisions or safety equipment. Yes, they might make it, IF everything goes exactly right. Still, the statistics are against couples who manage their separations themselves – sixty-five percent of those who reconcile end up divorced within a short time … the main reasons are that they don’t fix the reasons they were unhappy in the first place and still do not know how to have honest and transparent communication.

I imagine that a significant portion of the other 35 percent experience a marriage that is permanently diminished is some way following the honeymoon period of reconciliation. Separation is just one of those things in life you probably should not do without someone who knows how to coach you through it.

As you might imagine, I have a plan for couples that clearly defines if, when, and how they should separate. IF we find through conversation and my evaluation that separation is indicated, I have a solid plan we follow that is tried and true and offers you the best chance for reconciliation and/or make the wisest most-informed decision you can about what is best for you as a couple.

This intervention is called Managed Separation, and it’s true to its name in every aspect (You will find more information on that below) as I help couples manage their separation in a way that brings them clarity and moves them forward as opposed to stagnating. If we can manage the separation to a point where we can then do marriage counseling, we switch into a mode that assumes the marriage will be saved. Be informed that if your marriage has reached this low of a point, only hard work over a long period of time will bring the positive result you are looking for. There are no quick fixes here, so we need couples to approach the process knowing it will be a long process with ups and downs, but the end result will be worth it.

No matter what happens or what decision you make, if you choose to use the Managed Separation intervention, you will be able to know that you did every possible thing you could to make a clear and well thought-out decision regarding your marriage, and that aspect alone brings great comfort.

Managed Separation: noun. A concept created by Little Rock therapist Becky Whetstone to assist distressed married individuals who are considering divorce in finding clarity in their decision-making process, and to save marriages that otherwise would not be saved.

Below you will find a non-binding “contract” designed for couples to separate with a rhyme, reason and purpose, instead of the do-it-yourself willy-nilly way that usually ends up in disaster. I call it the Managed Separation, and after much experience have found it THE BEST and most effective way to separate in a positive way. I have put much thought into writing it, and have tweaked it over the years after experience has shown me how to make it even better and more helpful and effective. You will find a blueprint for separating, the rules you must follow for the best chances of success, guidelines for children and custody and more. The document is copyrighted and may not be copied or passed on to anyone. It is for your exclusive use only. The cost to download the Managed Separation Agreement is $50.

You may need a Managed Separation if …

1. Either husband or wife has reached a point of stress in the relationship that he or she feels an urgent need to get away.

2. The person feels mired in anger, frustration, and disappointment concerning the relationship.

3. The person is seriously considering divorce.

4. The person has doubts about whether or not divorce is the answer.

5. The person desires to make a thoughtful and mindful decision regarding whether to legally end the marriage, i.e. “I want to make sure it’s the right/best decision.”

5. The person is not sure if he loves his or her spouse anymore.

6. Is plagued by numerous doubts and uncertainties regarding the marriage and divorce.

Managed Separation

a serious concept for couples whose marriage is in serious trouble …

“Managed separation is for couples whose marriage would absolutely, positively end in divorce otherwise … it ensures a couple doesn’t end a marriage that could possibly have been saved.”      – Becky Whetstone


Managed Separation with a qualified Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist brings couples peace of mind that they didn't throw the towel in too soon.

Managed Separation with a qualified Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist brings couples peace of mind that they didn’t throw the towel in too soon.

Sometimes married couples need to separate. Although most marriage and family therapists stand for marriage and wish every one could be saved, we know that not every marriage can or should be saved. Sometimes a married couple love one another, but feel so much anger and distress that one or both can’t see — or feel — the love and caring. What is really sad is that a legal divorce usually follows, and months or years after the fact one or both often look back at the end result and wishes he or she had waited longer to decide on divorce and had done more to save the marriage. And if you ask me, nothing is more tragic than to see a couple toss in the towel too soon, when a managed separation might have saved each from the suffering that’s sure to come with divorce and its aftermath.

In my work, I manage a lot of separations, and I like to do it, because I like hopefulness. So long as a couple is taking a managed break and not making any rash decisions concerning ending the marriage, I know there’s a chance the relationship’s health may be able to be restored. The problem is that managed separations require an amazing amount of self-discipline and self control, and in my experience, there aren’t many who are able to pull it off – but maybe YOU can …

Why separating on your own doesn’t work.

There has been a lot of research on why the majority of couples who separate on their own, and then reconcile, usually end up divorcing. The reason it doesn’t work is that the couple’s marriage is tension-filled, and then they separate, but during the separation most don’t do anything about working on the problems and issues that brought the marriage to the brink in the first place. Time apart warms the heart, and all of a sudden one or both miss each other, and in the missing the husband and wife focus on the wonderful things about the partner and experience amnesia about the annoyances. The cockles of the heart warm, a honeymoon period ensues, and the two reunite. But the honeymoon won’t last because old wounds, hurts, and disappointments are still there, and little by little they will all reappear. Things said and done leading up to and during the separation will be used against one another, and now things are worse than ever.

What the couples who go through this learn is that the only way trust, confidence, and security can be rebuilt, and wounds healed, is by doing individual therapy and couples therapy.

Don’t separate without a therapist to guide you through it.

In most separations, one person wants to take a break and separate, and the other person doesn’t. (Although the research shows that if the person being left was totally honest, he or she would have to admit to being unhappy in the relationship as well). When couples come in my office in this situation, the person being left usually pleads with me to convince the one leaving not to go, but I know that if one person needs that space and time away, it is vital that he or she gets it. I describe that feeling as a person who is drowning and desperately needs air. If the person drowning doesn’t get the air, I can predict the marriage will end in divorce, when there was a chance it could have been saved.

That’s why I encourage the person who doesn’t want the separation to go along with the managed separation. The reason I call it a “managed separation” is because it is a deliberate and focused plan that is enacted for the purpose of saving the marriage. This is opposed to an unmanaged separation mentioned above, in which two people spend time apart, only to reconcile having not done the work they needed to heal themselves and the marriage.

What’s involved …

In a successful managed separation, an agreement is worked out with the couple and a third party, such as their marriage counselor or trusted person. Here is what must occur:

  1. The attitude adopted must be one of love, and not fear. A therapist can help you with this. For example, in my practice, if there is hostility between partners who are considering separation, we stop the conversation. I do a guided meditation to relax them, and once relaxed, we continue. It makes a world of difference.
  2. Clear rules and boundaries are set forth regarding contact, visitation and details with children, dropping by the house, phone calls, text messages, who will mow the lawn, what to do when her or she gets a flat tire, finances, and dating.
  3. The initial separation agreement should cover a time period of three to a maximum of six months. If a person can’t get clarity in six months, then it is fairly safe to conclude that the decision is NOT in favor of continuing the marriage. Also, this period is so difficult for the person being left that it is simply unfair to ask anyone to endure such an experience for a longer time.
  4. Work out a plan for growth … this means individual therapy takes place throughout, and the couple meets for marriage therapy periodically – I usually recommend every two to three weeks – to check in on the marriage and to discuss frustrations, concerns, as well as hopefulness and stories of growth and understanding.
  5.  During a managed separation, I strongly encourage both parties to avoid dating. There is nothing like dating to dig a marital hole even deeper. By the way, if a third party is involved, meaning an affair is going on, all bets are off. The purpose of a managed separation is to sincerely and honestly work to save a marriage. Marriage counseling cannot be successful, and a marriage will not heal, when a third party is involved.
  6. Once negotiated, the agreement is written down, and each party signs it.

Although the managed separation can be very successful if followed, it is easier said than done. That is why you need a qualified therapist to coach and help calm you through the process.

If you are thinking that your marriage may be close to the end of the road, but want to make sure, a managed separation may just be the type of resuscitation that will breathe life back into your relationship.


By popular demand —

Dr. Becky’s Copyrighted Managed Separation Agreement,* including provisions for custody of children.

For use by Becky’s clients, therapists managing separations, and those interested in Managed Separations.

This is a 10-page agreement written by Becky that discusses the purpose and spirit of a Managed Separation (MS) and outlines the terms, rules, and guidelines of the MS. Couples embarking on a MS with Becky will want to download this and examine it before we embark on the first Managed Separation meeting. (Couples typically come in and talk about what’s going on in their marriage the first time they meet Becky, THEN if a MS is indicated, the first MS meeting is set up.) If this is the case, it is helpful and time saving for couples to read over the agreement before that first MS meeting. After looking it over, make notes and highlight questions regarding it, and then bring it in to session where we will iron out any wrinkles. (Couples may download one form and make a copy of it for the other person.) Also, if you are not working with Becky and want to use a MS agreement with your Marriage Therapist anywhere in the US or the world – all the work has been done by a therapist experienced with MS, so you can be sure the agreement covers the questions that continually come up. Trust me, virtually no therapists will have such an agreement available for their clients as it would be extremely time consuming to prepare, so, if you decide on MS, your therapist will appreciate using this as a template. (Becky has purposefully not formatted it as read-only so that you and/or your therapist may edit and amend it to suit your own needs.) One last advantage for viewing the MS agreement form is that it allows individuals and couples to see what’s specifically involved so you can discover whether if it’s a viable option for you.

Purchase and download the Managed Separation Agreement now. Cost: $55.

[gravityform id=”3″ name=”Managed Separation Agreement”]

*Use with the supervision of your marriage therapist. Not intended for couples to use on their own.

What is the commitment and cost of managed separation?

Managed separation involves commitment. What type of commitment? Time, emotions, thought, energy, and yes, money. One of my managed separation clients recently said that the only thing more expensive than managed separation is divorce, and he’s probably right. Divorce isn’t only expensive from a financial standpoint, it changes numerous lives forever. That’s why I implore couples to do everything they can to make sure their marriage can’t be saved, because if there are still seeds of love and caring to be found, managed separation is the microscope that can detect them.

Managed separation involves a three to six month therapy commitment, involving both individual therapy and meetings involving the couple to manage the separation. Following a successful managed separation, therapy will not be over. Accountability is an important part of the process, and couples will need to return (at a minimum) for monthly therapy sessions to ensure that the marriage’s health remains stable.

The Package.

The initial assessment session to discuss managed separation is two hours long, and involves husband and wife. The cost for this session is $330.

If it is agreed that we will proceed with a managed separation, we will schedule a session in which the details and logistics of the managed separation will be discussed and negotiated, if needed. A non-binding agreement will be written out and signed for clarity purposes. The cost of the 90-minute session is $275.

Once the Managed Separation is underway we begin the therapeutic process… the way it could work out financially is …

Managed Separation Therapy Package recommended:

1. Once weekly, or once every-other week, 55-minute therapy sessions for each partner in the relationship, cost $175/each.
2. Twice monthly 55-minute marital sessions, cost $175/each.

If you decide on Managed Separation you will want to be sure your therapist is familiar and experienced with the process. If you have any questions or need more information call Becky Whetstone at 501-590-9200 or email

Discernment Counseling

For couples on the brink, it’s a strategy for seriously considering what immediate steps to take

Discernment Counseling is a means of conversation, understanding and decision-making for couples on the brink of divorce. It offers partners in marriage crisis short-term counseling – 5 meetings or less – for the sole purpose of helping them weigh options and create well-thought-out decisions regarding the future of their marriage, all while being guided by a highly trained and experienced therapist.

Discernment Counseling was created by researcher Bill Doherty, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota, who saw a need for something therapists could offer to help couples whose marriages were so deep into crisis that marriage counseling involving marriage repair and reconciliation was not an option. Why? In the typical scenario, one spouse is leaning way out of the marriage and not wanting closeness or reconciliation; while the other desperately wants to save the marriage, and marriage counseling needs two motivated partners. We call these couples “mixed agenda couples.

Discernment Counseling offers a specialized protocol for mixed agenda couples to make a well-thought out decision regarding their immediate future. Through conversation with each partner separately and then together, Discernment Counselors help partners reach a decision to take one of three paths:

  1. Status quo – Stay together in the relationship as it has been.
  2. Separation that will ultimately lead to divorce.
  3. A six-month commitment to couples therapy, after which a decision will be made to stay together or get divorced.

If you feel you and your partner may be interested in Discernment Counseling, you may set it up with Doctor Becky, who has received training by the Doherty Institute in Discernment Counseling.

Discernment Counseling can take place over the telephone, through video conferencing methods such as Skype and FaceTime, or in person (though the initial session is always done on the telephone).

Here is the protocol you will be asked to commit to:

  1. Intake phone calls. Each partner schedules a 20-minute phone call with Doctor Becky. If both agree to Discernment Counseling, we proceed to step 2.

Cost for 20-minute phone calls: $88 each.

  1. One 35-40 minute session together, and one 35-minute session each with each individual, final 10-minute session together. Cost: $385.
  2. Subsequent 1.5-hour sessions – no more than three total. Involves talking to the couple together and separately. In the last meeting, the decision as to which path the couple will take is made. If path three is chosen, the couple’s final Discernment Counseling session will be devoted to transitioning to marriage therapy ­– either with Doctor Becky or the marriage therapist of your choice.

Cost for subsequent sessions and transition session: $385 each

 More Helpful Information on Discernment Counseling*

For partners who are leaning out of the marriage:

 You’ve probably told your husband or wife that you are deeply unhappy in your marriage and you may even have brought up divorce. This is an extremely difficult time in your marriage, to say the least!

Whether or not you have started the divorce process, you’re not certain it’s the right step. That’s why we suggest Discernment Counseling … it’s designed to help you make the best decision about the future of your marriage.

If you have been talking with friends or family members about your decision, you’ve probably found they take sides: saying either that you should move on from your marriage now or that you should keep trying to make it work. It’s hard to know where to get an objective perspective. That’s something a Discernment Counselor can give you.

Your spouse may be making things worse by reacting strongly, even panicky, to your feelings about ending the marriage. This is normal—most of us are not our best selves when feeling threatened with rejection and such an enormous loss. We know that their reactions—anger, sadness, clinging, promising to totally change—may tempt you to give up on the marriage prematurely in order to escape something that right now you cannot fathom. Discernment Counseling calms these waters and gives each of you a voice about your distress and your hopes.

Here’s what Discernment Counseling offers you:

  • More clarity and confidence in a decision about the future of your marriage
  • More understanding of what has happened to your marriage and the part each of you has played in the problems
  • A game plan for change if you decide to work on the marriage
  • A set of things you’ll learn that you can carry with you into this or future relationships, and a better chance to be good co-parents if you have children.

Surveys find that up to 40% of divorced people have regrets about their divorce decision, often because they feel they (and their partner) did not try hard enough to see make the marriage work. Are there rocks not turned over and looked under in your marriage, thoughts and feelings not expressed, mistakes not acknowledged, help not sought?

In this brief counseling service (a maximum of five session, and often briefer), you will be supported, honored for where you are, and asked to look at what you would need to change in yourself to have a healthy relationship —whether in this marriage or in a future one. You can’t divorce yourself.

Couples who go through Discernment Counseling most often come out the other end more settled and confident about their next steps, whether to make one, last, all-out effort in couples therapy to restore their marriage to health, or to move forward with divorce. Research shows that about half of couples choose the reconciliation path in couples therapy, and most of the other half proceed directly to divorce after having carefully considered their options. Divorce lawyers tell us these couples are calmer and the divorce process is smoother because of the work done in discernment counseling.

We hope you consider this new service for couples like you, on the brink. You may end up with a realistic plan to restore your marriage to health. Or you may end up with a decision to divorce that you will be less likely to regret in years to come, and with new learning and awareness about yourself that you can carry with you into new relationships.

For partners who are leaning into the marriage

 You may be on this page because your spouse has put divorce on the table or even started the divorce process.  Since the time you were hit with this possibility, you may have gone through a wide range of emotions such anger, denial, fear, and sadness. You may be trying to change your spouses’ mind, or you may be distancing yourself and hoping for the best. In other words, this has been a very tough time, and we’d like to help.

The process of Discernment Counseling will honor your desire to save your marriage and will help you bring best self to this crisis. You can’t directly change your spouse’s mind about working on the marriage, but you can ask if your spouse will consider doing discernment counseling with you—not to fix the marriage but to see if it is fixable.

 If you have any questions please contact us at: or call 501-590-9200.

*Much of this helpful information comes from the Discernment Counseling web site at: