Couples coaching begins with the assumptions that human connection is the most important thing in life, each member of the partnership is creative, resourceful and whole and that no one gets to be wrong, only fully responsible, for what happens. Coaching is a way of assessing what works, what does not work, and what is needed in a relationship. The process involves establishing a vision for change and growth, followed up by a process that supports the development of plans for that growth and actions to implement change.
The Challenges to Relationships
Maintaining a strong relationship is a challenge that all couples face. There are always new forces and circumstances occurring inside and outside of the relationship that impact communication, harmony and connection. When these forces and circumstances are acknowledged, and co-management of them is integrated into the life of a relationship, the relationship will grow and thrive.
Personal preferences differ because of the reality of diversity. Gender differences, family of origin, faith, ethnic culture, style, and personal temperament are of the sources of both joy and tension in relationships. All of these differences are part of who we are and what makes the relationship. Each couple holds the desire and the keys to continually transform the diversity within their relationship into complimentary relational harmony. Committing to making changes on each side of the relational equation opens the door to a positive process of change within the relationship.
There is a relational drift that can occur in a couple’s connection and is often due to a process of progressive attrition of connection possibilities, and a growing sense of complacency or surrender to the process. The couple’s repertoire of fun and enlivening activities can decrease over time. This attrition of possibilities flattens, dulls, and eventually destroys the joyful heart of the relationship. If the drift is allowed for too long, then the couple will stop having fun together.
Attrition of possibilities occurs in a variety of ways. It occurs when assumptions and expectations are not explored in ongoing conversations. The attrition process can lead to dysfunctional rules within the relationship. For example, a statement like, “I don’t want to take a walk.” could be misunderstood as “I never want to take a walk with you again.” Without ongoing conversation aimed at creating clarity of understanding not waling together will be established as a rule leading to drift. Rules can grow from statements like “I can’t” or “I won’t” and the us of universal statements like “always” or “never”. The consequences of such statements can diminish and undermine spontaneity in the relationship. Assumptions and expectations deserve regular conversation for the sake of mutual understanding and clarity. Communication about what is needed is part of the solution for creating new possibilities.
Couple’s coaching moves the partnership towards new possibilities and breaks through barriers that have been previously established. Couples create these barriers inadvertently over time and as a consequence of hurried accommodation to specific circumstances. Then these accommodations gradually become cumbersome unwanted precedents interfering with what could be joyful routines in the life of the relationship. Couples can work together to undo limitations that they have mistakenly allowed or co-created.
The couples coaching process involves:
- Clarifying the vision, personal values and goals.
- Identifying personal values, life purpose, passions, and motivational factors.
- Acknowledging past successes, passions, and dreams.
- Exploring and embracing the client’s, innate-gifts, strengths and life purpose.
- Identifying past inhibitors or obstacles,
- Establishing the best alliance for communicating, connecting and creating accountability in the coaching process,
- Creating a short term and long term action plans,
- Enacting ways of engaging the client’s passion and enthusiasm for moving forward to accomplishment.
From there a plan of action is negotiated with the client to move him or her to accomplishment. Coaching includes development and or enhancement of the client’s sense of personal authenticity, personal authority, and the capacity to show up in life 100%. The meeting structure and time frame are flexible and worked out with the client.
When couple are in conflict, the feelings of loss, sadness, resentment, animosity and contempt must first be addressed along with the patterns of behavior that have resulted, before the coaching process can progress successfully. For these situations, I ask couples to adopt a set of principles along with the possibility of individual concurrent counseling for each member of the couple.
The principles are aimed at a form of Self-management that will promote understanding and reintroduce and perpetuate self-respect and respect of the partner. There are nineteen methods offered for self-management. They are as follows.
- Grounding: Get yourself grounded before you approach a conversation. Getting ground refers to self-embodiment, which is full awareness that you have a body, knowledge that you are in your because you feel the sensation of it, and you are in the present moment in the present surroundings. There are many ways get our of our heads or out of our thoughts. Getting grounded is a fundamental element of most coaching processes.
- Speak calmly: Monitor your tone of voice and emotional state. If angry, avoid taking any action other than calling a “time out.” Avoid using angry solutions to problems. Avoid any disciplinary action while feeling anger, other than saying, “There will be a consequence”.
- Reflective Listening: Use reflective listening (or listening at Level Two*). Use “I statements“ and ask others to engage in reflective listening as well. Reflect back what you have heard. Find a kind way to state your opinion. Speaking in terms of only, yourself. Avoid using the pronoun “you”. This takes practice, is essential and the fundamentals of this are part of what people learn in couples or family coaching. See the article about Listening Outline and Exercises at this link and the section on Learning Communications Skills
- Judgments: Do not make any judgments. Avoid criticism. Be curious first. Notice your assumptions. Clarify the assumptions with conversation with the other, and evaluate the legitimacy of expectations. Speak only about the personal facts, your own experience, to you, your assumptions and expectations without referencing any disappointment.
- Time-outs: Always call a time out when necessary, that is before things get heated. If you notice emotion rising in yourself, you have been triggered or in the other has also been triggered. When we are triggered we are guaranteed to over react. Whenever we are triggered it is time to call a time-out. Calling a time out includes announcing the beginning and the end of the time out. After the time out, resume the conversation. It is necessary for a time-out to have a beginning and an end. 15 to 90 minutes is often all that is needed. More time can be acceptable and waiting more than 24 hours to resume a conversation is probably too long.
- Use of force: Never use force of any kind in a relationship. Force is involved when people make efforts to convince, manipulate or make others feel guilt or shame. If a conversation reflects a level of competition then at least subtle force is involved. Use of angry words or angry gestures is evidence of significant force. Pushing or “selling” an opinion is a forceful obnoxious process. Expressing an opinion is not necessarily forceful. There are many points of view. Remember self-control will preserve connection.
- Surprises and Abandonment: Avoid surprises and abandonment. Announce comings and goings. Avoid leaving loved ones with a sense of surprise or abandonment or wondering about your where you are. Call ahead if you are going to change the plan or be late. This is not about control it is about courtesy and respect.
- Universal Statements: Avoid using universal statements like, “You always…” or “You never…” or “It is always about you…” or “I am the only one who…” or “ Why is it always me…?” These kinds of statements may be meant to express frustration but ultimately serve only to change the subject, and distract the listener for from understanding the real point. As soon as we use a universal statement the listener will think of an exception and/or take offence. At this point the conversation is onto a new topic about which there will automatically be a disagreement.
- Sarcasm: Avoid using sarcasm. Sarcasm is the speedy conveyance of an emotionally charged message without directly acknowledging the emotions. Sarcasm generally implies or requires “We do not have to talk about this!” Emotionally charged sarcastic messages often include judgments, shaming put downs and or ridicule. If you hear someone say something that feels sarcastic, it is best to refuse to accept the message by saying, “That sounds sarcastic. Can you say that in another way?” Sarcasm in a relationship can seem to conserve time, however the saving is at the expense of the relationship. The alternative to sarcasm is often an intimate conversation.
- Mind Reading: Avoid the delusion of mind reading. Speak about your assumptions and expectations clearly and often. Be curious about your partner’s assumptions and expectations. Clarify what you suspect is going on with the other person based on what you observe and feel.
- Feelings: Talking about feelings does not include statements like: “I feel you are …” or “ I think you are…” or “I want you to …” feeling statements include I statements that begin with “I feel” where the object of the sentence is one of the basic feelings. The basic feelings are sad, hurt, confused, shame, afraid, fear, anxious, safe, unsafe, happy, unhappy, energized, exhausted. All the other feelings are compound derivatives of the basic feelings.
- Polarity of Opinion: When differences occur, agree to disagree. Marvel at the array of differences that are possible. Practice inclusive conversations as opposed to exclusive conversations. Saying, “That’s wrong.” or “You are wrong.” are exclusive statements. Saying, “That is interesting.” We have such different perspectives.” or “I never would have thought of that.” or “How did you arrive at that idea or action?” are inclusive statements. Be curious about the other opinion. Explain your opinion without attempting to convince in the process. Whenever there are two opposing opinions or perspectives, there is always at least one other way that would be a creative win-win solution. Compromise is not generally a win-win solution.
- Feedback: Giving feedback is a delicate process. The purpose here is for your insights to be able to be appreciated by the other person. If you want to give someone feedback, then first get permission to do so. You might ask, “Will you give me permission to say something that might make you uncomfortable?” If they say yes, then you might want to make another request, “Will you promise not to get angry with me?” The reason you ask these questions is to help the person prepare for your feedback. No matter how carefully you are moving into sensitive territory you may create a problem if you are delivering a judgment along the way. It is important for the person at the receiving end to be prepared for what is coming. People often do this preparation easily when asked these questions, by getting themselves grounded and centered. If they say “No.” it means that they can not find a way to get grounded or can not trust you enough to be with whatever you are about to say. Be patient with someone who does not agree to receive feedback. If they do not want to give you permission, quickly say okay I do not have to say anything. Most of the time the other person will get curious and eventually want to hear what you have to say. It is important to give them time. The point is that the listener feels safe as you tell the truth from your perspective. If you believe that you possess the ultimate truth then this process will not go well. Only use “I statements” and do not refer to the other person by name or by using the pronoun “you”. Begin by saying, “My perspective on this is…” Regardless of how right you think you are. You must be certain that the listener is not offended. If they are offended by your message, then the message will not be received even though they gave you permission. The purpose is for your insights to be able to be appreciated by the other person. Ideally they will say thank you. Also review the article, Rebuilding Trust: The Loving Salve for Relational Betrayal or Other Relational Injury at this link.
- Boundaries: Be respectful of personal space and privacy issues. Respect the body, the possessions, the emotions and the words of others. Do not enter someone’s personal space without permission. Do not touch someone when you are angry. Do not tell someone how he or she feels or should feel. Do not talk over another person’s words while they are talking.
- Comparisons: Avoid comparisons to others. Making comparisons to others is received as shaming and manipulative. Make no comparisons to other people. Compare yourself to yourself. Compare your loved one to that same loved one. Look at the progress or change in the individual over time. Comparisons to others will generate the feeling of shame and/or envy.
- Personal Authority: Be your own authority. No name-dropping. Do not bring anyone else into the discussion as a way to validate yourself. Never say any things like, “ I have talked to other people about this and they agree with me.” That would be ganging up on the other person. Let you authority be your personal and powerful truth. Do not rely on the power of numbers to support your truth. To do so demonstrates evidence that you want to convince in a forceful manner and control the other.
- Family of Origin Loyalty: Do not bring up your significant other’s family. Doing so will trigger a defensive response, or will be perceived as a personal attack, because the bonds with family of origin are unconsciously strong and bind one with a kind of loyalty. This is true even when we repeat what the other has said about their family member or family. The only exception is be to express a compliment or statement of gratitude. In some cases that might even be a problem.
- Parental loyalty: Do not talk to your child about the other parent. Doing so will trigger a defensive response or will be perceived as a personal attack. This makes children (young or old) very uncomfortable. Even if they might agree with you they will not like you bringing it up. The exception is a complement.
- Overt uses of force are: name-calling, yelling, pointing at another person, threats of violence, hitting, pushing, any angry statements or gestures, throwing objects or punching objects are all overt uses of force. If any of these occur in relationship then this is a destructive abusive process within the relationship.