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When You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling: Coaching Your Marriage for Pleasure By Jeffrey J. Williams

Sep 3rd, 2009 | By | Category: Family Coaching Center

In general, life and leadership coaches focus on growth and problem-solving, not healing or reduction of pain.  But when it comes to relationships it has been our experience that pain (or the absence of pleasure) is what motivates people to seek coaching.  When both partners in marriage want to grow and they are willing to take responsibility in the process, a coaching approach can be part of their solution.*

Whether you’ve been disconnected in your marriage for a few days or a few months, the beginning of a solution is the same; communication.  And coaching skills provide the tools you need to do the job. At the foundation, all coaching is about effective asking, listening, and goal-setting.  I continue to be amazed by power of these simple skills to help couples identify and pursue solutions for their marriage.

Do these complaints sound familiar?

–         We don’t have fun anymore.

–         We don’t talk like we used to.

–         We were happiest when we first met and we spent a lot of time together.

–         The last time I remember being happy together is before we had kids.

While commitment is the behavior of love, pleasure is the feeling of love.  It is the latter that couples are referring to when they say things like, “We don’t love each other anymore” or “We’ve fallen out of love.” The translation? “We aren’t experiencing the pleasure we once had in our relationship.”

When they get to this point, some couples can do for themselves what has historically been done for them…asking questions.  Pause for a second.  What questions come to mind?

When was our marriage the most pleasurable for you?

What made it that way?  What were we doing?

What has changed?

What do you think I have done to make things better?  What have you done?

What have you thought about doing?

What would you like from me?

What would you like to start/stop happening to have more pleasure in our marriage?

What would you like to happen more/less in our relationship?

Again, the questions that marriage helpers (coaches, mentors, counselors, pastors) ask couples about their marriage are the same ones that couples can ask themselves. Asking each other effective questions (the kind that are most apt to open someone’s heart) is one way couples can help themselves to restore pleasure.

The most effective questions to elicit honest sharing about each other’s thoughts, feelings and desires are open questions that begin with what, how, when or where.  Why are they effective?  One reason is because they can’t be answered by saying yes or no.  Any couple can learn to ask these kinds of questions, and the only limit on how many questions is their curiosity about what their partner thinks feels and wants.

Let’s personalize this.  When your partner answers it is critical that you hold their response as if you are holding their heart in your hands.  This requires both heart and skill.  A humble, selfless heart will set aside its own ideas and desires in order to hear and appreciate someone else’s.  The skill is simple but thoughtful reflection (paraphrasing) what the listener hears.

Here’s an example:

Question: What is one thing we could start doing that would bring more pleasure to our marriage?

Answer: For us to take more walks together, because I think we talk best when we walk.  I feel like I get your full attention for a period of time and that you are more willing to share more.

Reflection: I hear you saying that you feel closer to me and more cared about when you get my undivided attention, and that walking together is one of the best ways for that to happen. Is that what you wanted me to hear?

Speaker’s answer: Yes.  I didn’t exactly say that I feel closer to you when you share more and I get your full attention, but it is true.  I do feel that way.

This conversation could continue into the formation of a specific and measurable goal that both partners want to achieve, such as walking together three times for 30-45 minutes during the work week, and twice on the weekends for an hour or more.

In this example, one spouse wants more closeness more often so that they feel more pleasure in the marriage.  The other spouse is agreeable to doing what their partner is asking.  Presto!  They’re moving in the right direction to restore that loving feeling!

Is it really this simple?  My stock answer is that it is so simple it’s hard.  Couples sometimes make the mistake of believing that the solution to restoration of pleasure in their relationship will be proportional to the discomfort, pain or dullness that they feel.  This isn’t always the case.  Sometimes a slight nudge of hope in the right direction can be like a snowball that gains momentum as it tumbles downhill.  It has been our experience that a specific, measurable shared goal often ignites a flame of hope that grows stronger as a couple actually puts their plan in action.

Does this make sense?

The next time you or someone you care about has lost that loving feeling consider trying these steps:

1. Ask what your partner wants more of in your marriage?

2. Ask what it would mean to them to have that?

3. Ask and contribute ideas to make that a reality.  How could we make that happen?

4. Remember to listen along the way with heart and skill.

5. After hearing what they want and ideas about how to make it happen, ask yourself what you think and how you feel about what they’ve asked for.  Do you want it to?

6. Ask if you can share your thoughts and feelings about what they want.  If they don’t reflect what you say, ask them to do that for you as you did for them.

7. If at all possible, agree to participate in what your spouse is asking.  This will get the change process started.  You will be earning relational equity by participating in something your spouse wants.  This will make it more likely that they will participate in something you want.

Clearly, there are many potential pitfalls for couples in a process such as this, especially if things have been painful or the relationship has been void of pleasure for a long time.  If you or a couple you are helping gets stuck or is otherwise unsuccessful in this, then some coaching or a class might be helpful.

Marriages don’t need to settle for mediocrity.  Helping marriage survive is one thing.  Making quality marriages in which partners both get their needs met and experience ample love and respect is quite another.  One goal at a time it is possible to build and sustain marriages we’re excited about and in which we feel fulfilled.  That is a great foundation from which couples can launch into shared purpose of mission and ministry together.

What’s better than a couple happy at home spilling that joy over to others in the world?

*Couples in pain might need additional approaches (such as counseling), but even so, a basic coaching skill-set can be helpful for them to learn and use as they work through their unique issues.  Listening, asking and setting goals are part of all people-helping approaches.  After counseling, rehab, etc. a couple will eventually be left to themselves to manage their own relationship.  A coaching framework is something they can use at some point to coach themselves.

Copyright 2009 Jeffrey J. Williams | Grace & Truth Relationship Education | Germantown | MD | 20876 301.515.1218, Jeff.GTRE@gmail.com

*Jeff Williams is a Professional Coach and Coach Trainer specializing in Marriage Coaching.  Jeff and his wife Jill coach and train married couples to strengthen their own marriage and to help other couples. Go to www.graceandtruthrelationship.com or call 301.515.1218 for more information about receiving coaching, training, speaking and seminars.

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