Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It Takes Two to Tango (Tangle?) - Steps to Unravel Complex Messes in Relationships

Her version of what happened is different than his, and both think they are right. "It's a tangled mess" he says, "And we're not sure how to move forward."

Tangles take time to unravel. As a former racquet-stringer, it's something I've mastered. It requires calm nerves and a steady pace until all the knots are undone. Tangled messes for couples are similar.

In Marriage Coaching we slow things down by adding some individual sessions to focus on one partner's view of the tangles, and then we prevail on them to do their part. Often this means taking 100% responsibility for whatever portion of the problem that they are willing to own(1)...and not offering any excuses or defense for speaking or behaving inappropriately.

"I can do that", she said. "Good", I thought. Maybe now they'll move forward.

Coach your own marriage

Is there a tangle in your relationship right now? Here are some suggestions:

1. Get alone with God and ask Him to show you where you are in the wrong.
2. Ask God to give you the grace and humility to confess to the offended party.
3. Say, "About _____. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?"
4. Leave it at that. Offer no justification, defense or explanation.(2)
5. If the offended needs you to hear their feelings, serve them by reflecting.

Without wood a fire goes out...
(Proverbs 26:20, NIV).

Just this morning I saw a relationship become a bit more tangled because both participants made vain efforts to change the behavior of the other. The result was frustration and knots that are a little bit tighter. Either or both could use the process above to begin to make things better. The key is taking responsibility for self, and letting God deal with the other.

Godspeed in slowing things down and taking responsibility for yourself in your relationships!

Jeff and Jill, Marriage Coaches

1. I first heard this from Rich Wildman, who said that his 16 month separation from his wife began to heal when he took 100% responsibility for his portion of their problems.

2. I Peter 2:23 - "...rather, He (Jesus) entrusted himself to Him who judges justly." When beaten and ridiculed, Jesus responsed with silence. He entrusted his defense to His Father rather than engaging an argument with men.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What Should Tiger Do?

I've written elsewhere that except for the grace of God, there go I. Trust me when I say that I'm not writing from a posture of judgment, but rather from a heart of grace. Whether or not Tiger has meant the things he said in his mea culpa is something only he and God know, and Elin will be able to tell with time. If he is remorseful and wants to begin today, the first day of the rest of his life, living according to his values and as his family deserves (his words), then there are some things he can do to recover his personal integrity (no matter how much noise and money the tabloids make), his marriage and his family (two children).

{Full-disclosure: Jill and I have coached countless couples through recovery from adultery]

So, what should Tiger do?
1. Retain the services of a marriage-friendly therapist. What qualifies such a therapist? Professional competency and commitment to a pro-marriage stance. A poor choice of a therapist can be downright hazardous to the marriage. See the commitment statement of marriage-friendly therapists here,

2. Make himself accountable to Elin. As far as we know, he is the offending party that broke trust. Evidence of true remorse and desire to heal the marriage will be indicated by him volunteering to make himself accountable for his time; where he goes, whom he's with, and who he communicates with (email, cell phone, etc.).

3. Do a post-mortem. How did this happen? Tiger should examine the psychological, emotional and relational antecedents that predisposed him to conduct a prolonged, clandestine relationship. A great book that can help offending spouses to examine themselves is, "Staying Together: When An Affair Pulls You Apart".

4. Give Elin the opportunity to process her grief and trauma with a marriage-friendly therapist. Perhaps the day after Thanksgiving was the first day she had knowledge of Tiger's affair (I'm speculating). If so, he needs to remember that she has a lot of catching up to do. He needs to hear her honest feelings and answer her questions. The experts are divided on how much to disclose. That's for the Wood's to evaluate and decide.

5. GET SKILLS - The state of the art in relationship education that teaches skills is much, much better than most couples know. For instance, these are a few of the skills; effective listening, effective asking, effective goal-setting. In addition, there are exercises any couple can learn to use in tandem with skills to prevent misunderstanding, build closeness, improve emotional literacy, have difficult and emotional conversations in a way that builds instead of eroding the relationship, resolve conflicts, etc. If Tiger and Elin decide to repair their marriage they will need the best tools available to process the content of their thoughts, feelings and desires on a day to day basis for a long time.

6. Never give up. Shop for the information they need to recover. There are a multitude of proven approaches to healing from an affair. If one approach doesn't help them to solve all of their issues, they shouldn't assume that the problems can't be solved. Sometimes it is a simultaneous or sequenced combination of approaches that leads to success. If they really want it, and will behave with good-will (selflessness and humility) they can get there.

Quite a few couples have come to us to work through an affair. They hear that we teach communication skills as part of our model of Marriage Coaching, and they are attracted to learn practical ways to communicate. "After all, that was the problem that led to us drifting apart, and now we need to know how to communicate more than ever."

**Our experience has been that Marriage Coaching can work in tandem with other approaches, such as therapy, and sometimes as the sole approach. How does this work with something so severe as an affair? It works because it is heavily skill-laden. We emphasize facilitating couples to communicate in safe ways that they can continue to use to coach their own marriage when they are alone. On average this is 12-15 hours of sessions over a three-month period.

Just this week we had an emergency session with such a couple. What did we do?
1. We asked what they wanted and how badly they wanted it on a scale of 1-10.
2. We asked what kind of tool they would like to have if it could be custom-made to accomplish something important for their relationship.
3. We taught the heart and skill of effective listening and effective asking by modeling. (note: we teach that the heart under any effective skill is the heart of Jesus which is compassionate, patient, self-less, and so much more). Heart without skill is manipulation.
4. We taught and facilitated them to share their honest desires.
5. We taught an exercise to share honest feelings (Anger, sadness, fear; the emotions common to grief situations).

There's more to teach this couple and many more sessions to have, but we got off to a good start. As Jill and I sit at home alone tonight, we are confident that the couple that didn't know how to help themselves yesterday is probably trying to use what they learned on their own? Why? Because they want to make things better and they know that struggling through the newness of skills and difficulty of emotions on their own is going to be necessary at some point, so why not try now while we are either an email or a phone call away.

What's the point to Tiger and Elin? Here it is: If you really want to make things right, then make the time to make things right, and get state of the art help. You have enough money to secure live in therapists and coaches for as long as it takes. Stop at no expense. No matter the cost, a priceless result is possible. After all, what dollar value could be placed on a happy and healthy marriage for your children.

I'm praying for you!

A child of divorce and Marriage Coach and Counselor,

Jeff Williams

Monday, November 16, 2009

Selflessness: The Path to Abundant Marriage

The foundational skills of listening, asking and setting goals are present in most marriages to some degree. Yet Jill and I continue to be surprised by disclosure from the majority of couples that they could stand some improvement. Why is this? We don’t think that it is primarily because the skills are conceptually difficult to grasp, (though there might be some initial awkwardness and self-consciousness) but rather that the essential humility of selflessness is NOT a natural default posture when using these skills.

Instead, in many conversations, self and selfishness interferes with loving conversations. This is exactly what Jill and I have discovered to be at the root of our conflicts over the years: SELF.

What is the opposite of love? We think that it is self.

Biblically, love is defined as selflessness. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, NIV). “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25) “…it (love) is not self-seeking…” (I Corinthians 13:5, NIV)

If you want to build an abundantly hopeful, joyful and purposeful marriage, learn and use effective skills with a selfless heart. How does one cultivate and sustain such a heart? Selflessness can be efficiently developed through relationship with a selfless man; Jesus. Then we are prepared to selflessly love our spouse.

**Would you like for your marriage to be coached or to learn to coach others? Check out scheduled classes or write for a free consultation,

*Jeff and Jill Williams provide the ministry of Marriage Coaching to couple’s globally. They also train couples to coach couples. Contact them for a complimentary consultation if you are interested in being coached or trained as a Marriage Coaching Couple, 301.515.1218,

Copyright 2009, Jeffrey J.Williams, Grace and Truth Relationship Education 20716 Scottsbury Drive, Germantown, Maryland 20876.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Who Can Coach Their Own Marrige?

Couples are saying they like the title of our upcoming book, "How to Coach Your Own Marriage". Why? they say it's intriguing to learn how to do something for themselves.

So, who can do it?

Any couple motivated to grow or change, and willing to take responsibility for the process can learn to coach their own marriage as part of their strategy to strengthen, protect and even heal their relationship.

How do we know this? We see couples do it successfully after we teach them, and we do it ourselves.

Why do we say that it can be part of the solution instead of saying that it is THE solution? Several reasons:

1. We know that some couples need a different approach. For instance, couples that have elements of abuse (verbal and/or physical) in their marriage can see things get worse and become more dangerous when they share honest thoughts, feelings or desires with each other.

2. Some couples need the expertise of a psychologically astute and marriage-friendly therapist
to provide insight and to help them navigate potentially fatal mine-fields related to a history of abuse, trauma or severe psychological disorder BEFORE they add or transition to a self-help approach.

How does a couple coach their own marriage?
That will be will be detailed in the book, but here's the first key, a question:


You may already be in the habit of asking this questions, but our experience says that most couples don't. You might tell you partner what you want and/or ask what they want (these ARE great questions), but asking what your marriage needs is very different.

So, once you answer what your marriage needs, what can you do about it?

Stay tuned...

Jeff and Jill

Friday, October 9, 2009

Coach Your Own Marriage: An Alternative to Marriage Counseling

Any couple that is motivated to grow and change, and willing to take responsibility to learn to use some basic coaching skills can coach their own marriage.

“Why would we want to do that?”
you ask. We’ll briefly present a couple of reasons that it is good for couples to learn how to help themselves by learning to coach their marriage.*

1. Marriage Counselors and Coaches don’t go home with you. Many couples have asked in jest if we could live with them. Why? They experience effective communication, problem-solving and goal-setting in sessions that we facilitate, and they aren’t confident that they can continue such high quality conversations without facilitators to guide and police the process. However, with enough practice and good-will, couples CAN learn to do this for themselves. Learning to coach your own marriage enables you to do something for yourselves instead of being dependent on someone else to do it for you.

2. Coaching is a set of skills and a process that can be effectively used for a variety of issues. No two marriages are alike. Each has a different set of issues, AND no Marriage Coaching couple, counselor or pastor would ever be able to hear all of the content in any one marriage even if they met an hour a week for the rest of their lives. Once you learn the process and become confident in skills, you can communicate about and set goals in every area of your marriage.

While there’s a place for every current approach to strengthening, protecting and restoring marriages, some are more effective than others, and some are more appropriate for certain types of issues.** No one approach has all the answers. However, we are confident that any couple that is motivated to grow and change, and willing to take responsibility for that process can benefit from learning a basic coaching skill-set that includes listening, asking, setting goals and supporting growth and change, and that they can learn to coach their own marriage on their own time and at their own pace.

What do you want for your marriage?

* Do you want to strengthen and protect it?
* Would you like to set and accomplish more shared goals?
* Could your communication use a tune-up?
* Would your spouse grade you as A+ in your listening?

If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of these, then learning to coach your own marriage might get you where you want to go!

*Our book, How to Coach Your Own Marriage is due out January 2010.

**A coaching approach is generally not the first choice when abuse or addiction is present in a marriage.

Jeff and Jill Williams are a marriage coaching couple who provide direct service to couples that want coaching and training that prepares couples to do marriage coaching. In addition to being a certified coach and coach trainer, Jeff holds a license as a Professional Clinical Counselor (State of Ohio, E-3098)., 301-515-1218.

Saying Sorry and Doing Differently

Sorry is as sorry does. Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words.

Did you grow up hearing some of these axioms from your parents? There’s a lot of wisdom in those little phrases, eh?

What are the two most important words in marriage? We think it’s these two, “I’m sorry”. But an apology has to be followed by different behavior if it is going to be believable. To apologize and then to not do differently builds up walls of mistrust and resentment, and we’ve all seen how that can be terminal for a relationship. Thus, daily dismantling of walls that keep us separate from one another is an essential component of daily relationship hygiene; it keeps things between you clean, clear and healthy.

Daily hygiene? Sure. Just as you care for your physical body, care for your relationships. How, you ask? Here are a few ideas:

1.Say you are sorry and mean it. An effective way to do this is to pray for revelation about the ways you have hurt your partner and the courage to admit it. Then, ask them if you can have their attention to make an apology. “I know I hurt you when ________. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” How many times to do this? Do it as many as you need to because there is no continuation of relationship without forgiveness.

2.Hear how you affected your spouse by your actions. It’s one thing to apologize and to hear that you are forgiven. It’s another thing to enjoy a fully reconciled relationship, and that only happens when the offended party trusts that you understand how your actions affected them. Ask, “Will you share with me what you thought and how you felt when I ______ (fill in what you said/did).”

a. Then, be very careful to listen with a selfless heart and to reflect what you heard them say. (See below for tips on effective listening). This can be extremely difficult as your SELF might want to arise in defensiveness, but remember, your partner’s feelings can’t be wrong. They might feel and see things differently than you, but remember that you invited them to share how your actions affected them. Now that they are willing to give you the gift of their honest feelings, hang on their every word, understanding that this IS the path back to a reconciled relationship. The fact that they are willing to share with you is so much better than the alternative of stone-walling and refusal which is a well-known death knell for a relationship.

3. Do differently. Pray for revelation and ask your spouse what they would like differently from you. Ask what they would like more or less, and what they would like you to stop or start doing that will help them to trust you and feel closer to you. Then, ask Jesus to help you to do that, and consider asking a friend or two to pray and to support, encourage and hold you accountable to keep doing or not doing the things that your marriage needs to be healthier, safer and more pleasurable.

Relationships erode and break without consistent effort to nurture and protect them. None are exempt from offenses; words and actions that hurt feelings and erode trust. But, it is not inevitable for a relationship to die, IF we each recognize and take responsibility for our actions, and remain tender to conviction of the Holy Spirit and respectful to feedback from our spouses.

As long as partner’s are talking about their honest thoughts, feelings and desires, there is hope for the relationship to not only continue, but also to be all that God designed it to be.

Are there pending issues or difficult conversations that you need to have with your spouse? Are you avoiding them out of pride because you want them to say that they are sorry before you do? Would you consider taking the first step? If so, the guidelines above might be helpful.

Our hope and prayer for you is the same as for ourselves, that we would live fully in the wonder and mystery of marriage; that we would not settle for mediocrity by allowing sites of infection to be covered over in our marriage, and that we would remain tender to the Lord’s loving rebukes, and humble to speak and act for the best of our marriage, even if it mean’s saying sorry, again and again.

*Tip on Effective listening. Effective listening that holds your partner’s heart is both a skill and a posture of your heart. The qualities of heart are patience, humility and love (read I Corinthians 13). These can be conjured up into your awareness through a listening prayer like this, “Lord, please help me to hold ____’s heart with your heart. Please help me to hear with your ears and to feel compassion and sorrow as they give to me the gift of their honest feelings. Please restore our relationship even as you teach me and help me to do differently in my words and actions. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

The skill of effective listening is to reflect, in your own words, what your partner shares with you. Ask them to pause after every 3-5 sentences so that you have opportunity to hear and reflect accurately, then allow them to continue.

*Jeff and Jill Williams provide the ministry of Marriage Coaching to couple’s globally. They also train couples to coach couples. Contact them for a complimentary consultation if you are interested in being coached or trained as a Marriage Coaching Couple, 301.515.1218,

Copyright 2009, Jeffrey J.Williams, Grace and Truth Relationship Education 20716 Scottsbury Drive, Germantown, Maryland 20876.