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What is Christian Marriage Coaching?

Mar 20th, 2009 | By | Category: Family Coaching Center

What is Christian Marriage Coaching? coupleonbeachatsunset

Christian Marriage coaching is a fresh approach to helping couples to help themselves and other couples. It is the discipline of believing in couples, engaging them where God has initiated growth or change and keeping them responsible for the process. While is it 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 themselves.

Bob and Sue agreed that their marriage was stagnant. They said they didn’t have huge issues, but most couples don’t seek help unless something is painful. “We have a few sticking points and want to be proactive to solve them instead of waiting for things to get worse. That’s what we’ve heard from couples that eventually got divorced; that they had some minor problems that grew into bigger problems that eventually destroyed them.” said Sue, “We want to head off problems before they grow bigger.”

Both Bob and Sue noticed some patterns they wanted to break, and they were both agreeable to setting some goals. Their communication became strained during Bob’s busy season at work, and those were the times that Sue didn’t feel heard or cared about. This resulted in her being less willing to be intimate with Bob which was a problem for him, as it would be for most men. He agreed that communication could be improved, and yes, he wanted more physical intimacy. “We’re not sure that things are so complicated that we need counseling but we do feel stuck and want some help. The coaching approach sounds interesting. What is it?”

“Basically, marriage coaching is a conversation about how you want to grow and change in your marriage. As a marriage coaching couple, Jill and I will ask questions to understand what you want to be different in your relationship, and to help the two of you to choose one or more goals. You set the goals and choose the steps to achieve the goals. We facilitate your conversations, and provide support, encouragement and accountability to accomplish the goals you set. How does that sound?” “It sounds great to me,” Bob said. “I’ve used a process like that at work, and it’s been really effective.”

Said another way, Christian Marriage Coaching is the application of Christian Coaching concepts and skills to facilitate growth, healing and change for couples. Everything that applies to coaching individuals applies to coaching couples.

Healing? Yes, even healing. That scares some people, particularly some of my coaching colleagues, but frankly, we have seen a lot of healing between couples as we simply facilitate them sharing their honest thoughts, feelings and desires with effective listening that holds their spouse’s heart, and vice versa. Add effective asking that opens their hearts to one another, and a lot can be accomplished for couples, and by couples for themselves. Ethical issues related to this topic will be covered in future articles. It is extremely important for marriage coaching couples and couples being coached to understand the scope and boundaries of this approach, so it is an important topic in our marriage coaching training program.

The objective of marriage coaching is to facilitate identification of growth goals that both partners are motivated to pursue, and the action steps to accomplish those goals. Once goals are determined, coaches collaborate with the couple and the partners collaborate with each other to develop and choose action steps. 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. This is one reason that we exclusively train couples to do marriage coaching. Coaching with your partner is helpful to manage exploratory conversations with the couple being coached as they share their honest thoughts, feelings and desires en route to setting goals.

“Marriage Coaching is the discipline of believing in a couple engaging them where God is motivating them to grow or change, and keeping them responsible for the process.” It is distinct from counseling because marriage coaching only attempts to serve couples that want to grow and change, and who are willing to do the process together in order to accomplish something that they both want. The couple doesn’t have to know exactly what changes they want to make when they come. We help them to clarify how they want to grow by asking powerful questions, and by taking them through exercises to tell each other what they want.

Jill and I won’t coach a couple unless they are agreeable to being coached as a couple (we view their marriage as the client). We do offer adjunct individual sessions, but only if the couples sessions continue. Some specialized applications of marriage coaching in the future may begin with individual marriage coaching (i.e., reconciliation coaching), but that is not something we are doing per boundaries we have set for our coaching to be with other couples as a team of two.

We also require that couples being coached agree to engage the process in faith to accomplish what they hope for but don’t yet see or experience in their relationship (Hebrews 11:1). Most couples that ask us for marriage coaching are motivated by some degree of pain or lack of pleasure; either something is happening in the marriage that is painful to one of them, or something is missing that would bring more pleasure if it were present. This makes the faith element of marriage coaching essential. Couples that have history together sometimes have a hard time believing that things can be different; that their partner can do differently. We address this up front by asking the miracle question. “If God wants to give you a miracle for your marriage, would you be willing to receive it?” That establishes a baseline of faith to begin the process. From that point on, if ever one or the other says “They won’t or can’t change”, we revisit their original answer. “But you said that you would receive a miracle from God, and perhaps He is going to do one. Let’s continue to pray for that and see what He does.”

The mention of emotions or pain in the coaching process raises some flags. “I thought coaching was about achieving goals, not dealing with emotions, or things in the past.” I would agree that other applications of coaching can be more of cognitive process. But I don’t see how emotions, pain or the past can be avoided in relationships. Humans aren’t just thinking beings. We are also emotional, and nothing can trigger emotion like pleasure or disappointment in relationships. Parameters on marriage coaching make it safe for the clients and for the coaches. That will be the topic of future articles, and it is already part of our training program.

Even though as marriage coaching couples we are apt to hear about pain and emotions from the couples we coach, we don’t behave as counselors who diagnose the problems and prescribe solutions. Instead we focus on facilitating couples to have life-giving conversations with skills that they can use themselves outside of coaching sessions. Different than marriage counseling, marriage coaching relies on a client couple’s expertise and familiarity with their desires for own relationship instead of the counselor’s specialized knowledge.

However, like marriage mentoring couples, marriage coaching couples include information from their personal relationship or ministry experience during coaching, but only when the couple being coached asks or gives permission. When this occurs, marriage coaching couples are careful to not to prescribe or require couples being coached to choose specific goals or action steps. It is always the client couple’s choice about how to apply what they learn from their coaching couple.

Asking and listening, and giving the clients choice of goals and action steps are the things that distinguish marriage coaching from counseling or mentoring approaches. As the default posture to serve a couple, as soon as the marriage coaching couple concludes invited disclosure about how they have handled some marriage challenges or what they have seen other couples do, they flip back to the coaching posture to ask, “What do you think about that? What do you want? Is there anything in those ideas that you would like to consider or to build on as a potential action-step or strategy to accomplish your goal?”

Jill and I have been amazed to see how much couples can benefit from marriage coaching. It seems to be an idea whose time has come; couples learning skills to help themselves and other couples to heal and strengthen their marriage.

Why would God reveal and develop this application of coaching as this time? Tumult in the world and the importance of a strong and healthy Church is clear. Marriage is the irreducible unit of relationship in the Church that also reflects and models the relationship of Christ the Bridegroom with His Bride, the Church. One couple at a time and one Church at a time we see Him calling couples to strengthen and heal their marriages to help the Church itself to be whole and strong.

Is your marriage what God wants it to be? Could your marriage be stronger and healthier? Is there a way that you think He would like it to grow or change? Have you ever suspected that He wants to use your marriage to help others? If you answer yes to any of these questions, we invite you to pray about receiving marriage coaching for yourselves and then perhaps training to give marriage coaching to others. It’s a user-friendly, cost-effective, simple, potent, transferable and reproducible process that has brought the life and pleasure of Christ into marriages around the globe.

The bad news is that the Church has big problems with marriage; the divorce rate in the Church is no different than the unchurched population. The good news is that God has given us a way to build, protect and heal marriages. What’s your part? To make referrals of couples that can benefit? To refer yourselves? To train to help others?

I look forward to sharing a lot more with you, and learning from your comments. Future articles will present the case for marriage coaching, more details on who can benefit, who can do it, how it’s done and lots of special issues.

Oh, about Bob and Sue. We met with them four times for sessions of about 90 minutes over three months. They quickly set two goals in our first session, practiced some skills and exercises in our second session, ironed out some kinks in the process in the third session, and celebrated what they’d accomplished in the fourth. That’s when they said they had what they needed, and were ready to stop meeting. We were amazed by how quickly they understood and applied what we taught them, but that’s usually the case. Coaching skills and process is so easily understood, embraced and put to use by couples that we are no longer surprised by quick progress.

Bob and Sue remain one of our best referral sources. Sometimes they informally teach other couples what they learned from us, but when a situation seems beyond them, they refer. They could do more if they went through a lay Christian Marriage Coaching training process, but it’s not the right season of life for them to do that yet. But someday it might be the right time. At least they have a good taste in their mouth for the process, and in the meantime will be advocates of this life-giving process. In that way they will be helping the Church to become healthy and strong, one couple at a time.

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