Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Birth of Marriage Coaching - Two Couples in Crisis

“Jeff, I’ve got a bad situation here. Two marriages are in crisis because of an inappropriate relationship. We know you have extensive experience in situations like this. Will you and Jill come to help?”

The two couples were in pain and undecided about their futures. The extensive involvement of both families in a church meant that there could be catastrophic ramifications not only for them, but the entire congregation. Why? People talk and take sides. It’s not uncommon for such events to erode unity or even split churches. The best outcome in such a circumstance would be reconciled relationships in both marriages and between the couples.

With a tone that communicated pastoral concern mixed with a tinge of desperation, the pastor asked me to get on the next available flight to his city: “We’ll pay your expenses and have you here as long as it takes; whatever you need.” Providentially, our schedule was open. “We’ll be glad to come,” I said. As soon as I hung up the phone, adrenaline rushed through my body as I began to contemplate how Jill and I could help these two couples. I caught the first plane with an empty seat the next morning and Jill followed a couple days later.

En route I contemplated: What had we learned and experienced over the years that we could apply to this broken situation? A few years prior we helped to catalyze a community marriage initiative, in the process learning the state of the art in relationship ministry. The big secret was the existence of relationship skills that almost any couple could learn to use to improve communication, prevent misunderstandings, build closeness and resolve conflicts in ways that build instead of eroding their relationship. Just prior to the community marriage initiative I’d become certified as a Christian Leadership Coach.  As I reflected on the community initiative and coach training I thought, We’ll draw on the most effective relationship concepts and skills we know to help them work through pain while we’re with them, and to equip them with coaching skills to continue dealing with hard issues effectively after we’re gone. When I compared notes with Jill over the phone that evening I discovered that she’d reached the same conclusion.

So, as we flew into the storm of the relationship crisis, Marriage Coaching was born.

Arriving on the scene, we formatted our conversations with both couples, and the church leaders as a coaching conversation. We worked through a coaching process called “The Coaching Funnel”. The concept of the funnel is to help a client discover their vision for what an ideal future looks like, progressing through an exploration of their thoughts, feelings and desires. You then assist the client to set clear, specific and measurable goals, to move them toward their ideal future, with action steps to achieve those goals. After working through the coaching funnel, we taught and modeled communication and conflict resolution exercises based on the skills in this book.

In many respects it was easy. Although the situation was emotionally charged and extremely uncomfortable, we knew exactly how to structure every session in order to obtain clear objectives based on what the participants wanted. They wanted to understand what happened and why it happened, so we facilitated partners sharing with each other using good speaking and listening skills. Some wanted apologies and others wanted forgiveness, so we facilitated them through apologies. They wanted ways to work through the powerful emotions they were carrying, so we modeled exercises to help them to do just that.

The process elicited their desires and we simply responded to what they asked for. That’s the foundation of coaching; it’s about what the person/relationship being coached wants, not what someone else—counselor, pastor, friend—prescribes for them. So, coaching your own marriage is about the desires of your heart, and that’s why it works. You and your spouse identify what you want, and then work a process to make your desires reality! 

*Excerpt from Marriage Coaching: Heart Hope and Skills for a Great Relationship

Monday, October 29, 2012

What is Christian Marriage Coaching, and Who Can it Help?

Christian Marriage Coaching is the application of Christian coaching concepts and skills to facilitate growth and change for couples. Below is a brief introduction to Christian coaching. Everything that applies to coaching individuals applies to coaching couples.

One, Christian coaching is fundamentally client-centered and directed. The client is the focus: their needs, the issues they want to work on and helping them discover what they are motivated to change.

Two, the Christian coaching relationship is essentially transparent and authentic. The coach models relational authenticity including transparency to the person(s) being coached with the desire that the client will be able to do the same in the relationship.

Three, Christian coaching is empowering. As the coach empowers the client to work on the issues that are most important to them, the client is helped to focus on the development of goals and the action steps necessary to achieve those goals. For those who have successfully utilized coaching concepts, it has proven to be an effective, efficient and comprehensive way to move a person toward change. And the process is completely transferable: it can be used in multiple relationships and different circumstances.

In general, individual coaching is an empowering voluntary authentic relationship in which coach and client focus on clarifying goals that the client wants to accomplish. Instead of focusing on the individual, the objective of Marriage Coaching is to facilitate identification of growth goals that both partners are motivated to pursue. Once goals are determined, the coaching couple collaborates with the couple being coached to develop and choose action steps to accomplish those goals.

Couples that coach their own marriage practice the discipline of believing in themselves and their marriage by actively pursuing growth and change through a process in which they keep themselves responsible. This process is obviously more challenging than coaching individuals because each partner’s perspective must be drawn out, clarified and understood before goals are negotiated and decided, and action steps are chosen. While Marriage Coaching is offered as a service by trained couples (from lay to professional), its reliance on basic skills such as asking, listening, and setting goals makes it an approach that any couple can quickly learn to use to help their own marriage.

Couples can learn skills and a process in a relatively brief period of time—when compared to the amount of time spent in an average counseling relationship—and then begin to apply them at home.

Marriage Coaching: Heart Hope and Skills for a Great Relationship Williams, Jeff and Jill 


Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Purpose Marriage Coaching: To Heal Strengthen and Protect Your Own Marriage

Why did we write the book Marriage Coaching: Heart Hope and Skills for a Great Relationship?

In a sentence, the purpose of this book is to equip you for more and better in your marriage; more hope, pleasure and purpose, and better ways to recover, sustain and to protect it. Learning to coach your marriage is a simple process based on simple skills and exercises so don’t be daunted by the idea that it will be difficult to learn. The hope of this fresh self-guided process to heal, strengthen and protect your relationship is that you can know exactly what to do in the most challenging conversations and circumstances with a predictably good outcome.

Despite the statistics that marriage is on the decline and that more than half of today’s marriages will eventually fail, it is possible to build and sustain a great marriage! All it takes to get started is for a couple to agree that they want more and better. From there it’s about heart, hope and skills, which is a formidable combination of humility, desire and ability. While it sounds simple, it isn’t easy…but, it’s very worthwhile. In the words of my brother in-law before Jill and I married, “Jeff, it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do, and the most worthwhile thing.” He was right.

The scope of this book is simultaneously narrow and broad. It is narrow because it presents a few simple foundational concepts and skills for a process that any couple can use to better understand each other’s thoughts, feelings and desires, to set goals and to support each other as you pursue those goals for relationship growth or change. In a nutshell that is the process of coaching your own marriage; a self-guided process that results in the discovery of goals shared by both partners followed by self-monitoring to do the action steps to achieve those goals.

The scope of this book is also broad because the skills are useful with any marital content at any point in a couple’s life cycle, and it is a useful process to help couples consider and apply ideas from other marriage curricula. Listening, asking, setting goals and supporting the growth and change process with encouragement and accountability are effective skills with many applications. What you will experience as unique in this presentation is the emphasis on heart as the motivator and guide for use of the skills. You’ll be challenged to prepare and sustain a hopeful, humble and compassionate heart as the foundation of life-giving conversations facilitated by skills.

How has your marriage improved by coaching it?  Which skills have been the most powerful for your relationship?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why Marriage Coaching Works!

Coaching is a new way to work at change that is designed around motivation, not instruction. Coaching starts with what you want to change based on what God is doing in you, and the whole process is arranged to maximize your motivation—because if you are really motivated, you will really change.

Here are a few more reasons why I believe marriage coaching is becoming an essential tool for revitalizing marriages and growing great relationships:

1.   It appeals to men. The counseling approach is that something is broken or unhealthy that needs help to be fixed. That is a valid approach, but men tend to react negatively to anything that implies they are needy or have failed. Coaching, by contrast, works with people who see themselves as basically healthy and helps them toward a desired future. It’s much easier to get a man into marriage coaching than marriage counseling.

2.   It makes people responsible. In coaching you set the agenda, you set the goals and you decide on steps of action. When you choose what to do, your buy-in is higher, and you take more responsibility to get it done.

3.   Coaching focuses on growth. The coaching approach works with healthy marriages as well as strained ones, because it trains couples to meet God in their situation and move forward. Instead of getting healed, couples focus on developing the patterns that produce long-term health and growth.

Jeff and Jill explain in depth exactly how coaching works in this book. They’ve done a great job of applying the fundamentals of a biblical coaching approach to marriages in a practical, applicable way.

Excerpt from Tony Stoltzfus's Foreword to Marriage Coaching: Heart Hope and Skills for a Great Relationship. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

How to Create Divorce Free Churches

The pastor looked stunned by my question.  He'd expected affirmation for his efforts to defend marriage as one man and one woman at some city commission meetings.  "That's great", I said, "But when are you going to do something proactive and effective to heal, strengthen and restore marriages in your church?"

Months later, after a few more broken marriages passed through his office he called me.  "We've got to do something", he said.  "It's really bad, and there's got to be more we can do to prevent the pain and brokenness."

It's a point that we've seen many pastors come to.  Spend long enough in ministry and they get pretty frustrated that teaching about what husbands and wives should do to love and respect each other isn't enough.  It's a point Jill and I came to in our counseling practice (2003) and eventually in our own marriage.  "There's got to be more and better for marriage!" We ranted to no one in particular, and prayed for God to lead us to the more and better.  Finally, He did.  And now we can't help share this good news (not to be confused with THE Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Although He is the foundation of the more and better).

Here it is, "Any couple, motivated to grow and change  can benefit significantly by learning to use state of the art relationship skills to heal, strengthen and protect their relationship."

That's it!  It's that simple.  Skills to open and hold each other's hearts, to set goals for the relationship that both are motivated to accomplish, and relational support, encouragement and accountability to pursue those goals.  Exercises to prevent misunderstandings and to build closeness, to have difficult and emotional conversations in a way that builds rather than hurts the relationship.

Pastors want to do well for marriages but many don't know how.  The bad news is that the war on marriage continues.  Forces from the outside and the inside of couple's lives work to divide us and to erode pleasure in our relationship.  BUT Good News is that there are things every couple can do to heal, strengthen and protect their relationship, and it begins with life-giving conversations.

There is no reason that churches shouldn't set the audacious goal of being "Divorce Free Zones".  "Fellowship with our congregation, learn to use state of the art skills with heart, and you will eliminate your chance of divorce, and what's more, you'll get what you need to make your marriage everything God wanted you to have; pleasure, purpose and potency for the lives of your children, grandchildren, friends, etc."

Curious about the solutions we're suggesting?  Write a note, give us a call, arrange for a lunch and learn, or do what the frustrated pastor did.  Arrange a conference to teach couples how to coach their own marriage and how to have difficult and emotional conversations.

It's good to preach about marriage, better to teach couples skills, and best to train couples in your congregation to train others.


Jeff and Jill Williams

Monday, October 8, 2012

Be Your Partner's Best Therapist

I'm re-posting this blog because it gets to the heart of a self-administered skill-based approach to healing, strengthening and protecting marriages.  If you want to dig in, check out "Marriage Coaching: Heart Hope and Skills for a Great Relationship", after reading below to learn what is happening to "professional" talk therapy.  If the pro's aren't going to do it for us, we'll have to learn how to do it for ourselves!

How to Become Your Partner's Best Therapist

A link to a New York Times Article, "Talk Doesn't Pay, So Psychiatry Turns Instead to Drug Therapy", was posted by Diane Solee, founder of Smart Marriages (originally the couples coalition for relationship education) on March 6. I read the article (click here to read) and then wrote to Diane to agree with her exhortation to the SmartMarriages listserv that Relationship Educators could drive a train through the hole created by the majority of the 48,000 Psychiatrists in the U.S. who have decided that talking to patients about their problems doesn't pay, so they take 15 minutes (if you're lucky) to hear about symptoms (but not why they have them or other potential solutions).

Here is the email I sent to Diane that she forwarded to the Smart Marriages listserv.


Amen that we can drive a Marriage Education train through this opening!

Frequently we're asked by couples what they can do to help themselves outside of session. Here's our reply:

"Armed with knowledge, skills and exercises from the school of relationship education you can become each other's best therapists; you can hold each other's hearts, work through conflict in a way that builds rather than hurts your relationship, proactively build and sustain healthy closeness, learn to manage emotional and difficult conversations on your own, negotiate for shared goals and behavior changes, learn to meet each others needs, etc. We can teach you all of these things by modeling skills and exercises and then facilitate you through some practice. Once you get it, we'll be done and you can continue yourselves."

Everything we learned through relationship education since the summer of 2004 (Smart Marriage, Dallas) to the present not only equipped us to serve hundreds of marriages and families around the world, but also helped us to save our own marriage. 
Jeff and Jill Williams