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

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