"Discernment counseling" is a smart option for you and your spouse before you make a final decision about separation or divorce. For example, if one of you wants to preserve and fix the relationship and the other is leaning more towards ending it, discernment counseling is a good option. This kind of couple with different agendas is common among couples approaching divorce, and there are certainly not enough specialized services for them.

This mixed dynamic is common in couples counseling, which usually makes couples counseling futile if we try to work on a marriage that one or both people aren't even sure they want to fix. Discernment counseling differs from regular marriage counseling in some of the following ways:

  • Together, we aren't trying to solve the problems in your marriage yet... we are just trying to figure out whether the problems can be solved. Just as you might consult with a physician for their medical opinion on the possible course of treatment for an illness, I would help you in the discernment counseling process to determine whether or not your the problems in your marriage are deadly to your marriage, or if there's a way to repair the marriage.
  • We mainly have conversations alone--just you and me, or me and your partner--since each of you may have different needs and agendas.
  • Discernment counseling is time-limited (1-5 sessions, max, with each session being 1.5 -2 hours).


  1. Clarity about the relationship (what may have gone wrong, what you want, what to do next based on what you want)
  2. Confidence about the next steps for your relationship
  3. Understanding better (what has happened to your relationship and what each of you have done to contribute to the problems)


This type of counseling focuses on helping each of you move towards one of three possible paths:

  1. End the relationship... you both decide to move forward towards separation or divorce
  2. Commit to a six-month period of time to for an all-out effort in couples counseling (and sometimes some other services, too) to preserve your marriage
  3. Stick with the status quo and decide later. Sometimes there are multiple other factors that make it nearly impossible to move forward, towards reconciliation or towards separation or divorce.

In our discernment sessions, each of you will meet to talk with me alone, and you both will also get together with me afterwards to discuss what each of you is learning in our conversations alone. I will always balance respect your reasons for ending your relationship while also opening up the possibility of restoring the relationship to health. I believe that it's not over 'til it's over, so if you decide to fix things, I would be happy to help you. Likewise, if you decide that it's over, I will respect your individual prerogative to end the relationship.

No matter what, I will help both of you see your own individual contributions to the problems and the possible solutions. Understanding your own contribution(s) to the problems is really important, especially if you want to have any successful relationships in the future.

I consider Discernment counseling "successful" when both people feel like they have found 1) clarity and 2) confidence in their decision (even if it is painful) and 3) they more fully understand what has happened in their relationship that has made them get to this point.


Discernment counseling can be as brief as one session and as long as five sessions. I limit it to five sessions because that is all it should take, and if you need more time, you probably need further individual therapy, not discernment counseling with your spouse, to work through your own ambivalence. Each of you decide each session whether to come back for another session or not, but both of you have to be willing to come to schedule another session.  The sessions are always longer, nearly 2 hours (110 minutes). 

What is the cost of Discernment Counseling?

For the standard 2 hour Discernment Counseling Session: $320

i do not permit Discernment counseling when:

  • One of you has already made an final decision to end the relationship and only wants counseling to encourage the other spouse accept that decision.

  • One of you is coercing the other to participate via threats of any kind.
  • There is a danger of domestic violence or physical harm.
  • When there is an Order of Protection from a court.

important legal note - no court INVOLVEMENT permitted

All couples who enter discernment couples therapy sign a binding legal agreement that they understand that all records are the property of Stephanie Cook, LCSW, and that by entering Discernment Counseling, they are in agreement that they will not request any records, nor will they ask Stephanie to be involved in any future court proceedings.