Start Changing Right Now, for Couples

November 29, 2009

Ken and Mary found their relationship deteriorating more and more often into angry blaming sessions. Neither felt they were being listened to or understood, and neither experienced the other as trying to make it better. They had seen a therapist a few years back but they found themselves in the same spot again and asked their family physician for another referral.

He appropriately asked them why they weren’t going back to the original therapist. Mary answered most simply, “We talked a lot about how our parents’ marriages affect us, and shared our feelings, but we never really understood what we should do when we were in the middle of a blow-up.”

Their physician hesitated, and then asked, “I can refer you to a couples coach. You should each expect to be challenged to change your own behavior and learn new ways to communicate. It’s all very practical and focused on your present situations and behaviors, but it can be too direct if what you really want is to have someone sympathize with you.”

Both said they wanted to try it and he gave them a referral to me. Boy were they surprised at the first meeting when I told them, “I don’t want to hear your story. I just wanted us to start with one of the conversations that you find it hard to have. We’ll use the conversation to take a look at your individual conversational strengths and weaknesses, and come up with new strategies.”

They started talking with each other about how they wanted to parent their children and almost immediately Mary started blaming Ken for not being consistent. I stopped the conversation and asked her what she was trying to accomplish.

This simple question opened up an explanation of her feelings, but once we had briefly reviewed them I suggested we start the conversation again and this time we got a bit further before Ken calmly explained that Mary didn’t respect him or his parenting style.

Once again I stopped the conversation and told Ken that I heard that was how he felt, but it was presented as an assumption about Mary that might just be his creative story and have little to do with what Mary really felt. I encouraged him to check it out.

This conversation went on for the hour and a half we had scheduled and in their summary both Ken and Mary were more accepting of their role in conversational failures and motivated to clear things up. I gave them things to try at home and we wrapped up.

Couples Coaching is about changing current behaviors so that an individual can get what they want out of a relationship. It focuses more on effective and lasting change, and learning through actions, then on supportive empathy. It isn’t right for every couple, but can be powerful for highly motivated couples.

If you’re interested in having your questions answered about Couples Coaching, contact me or phone me at 978-446-9600.

Jay Livingston

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