Generally speaking, couples work is exceptionally challenging. It’s rarely easy (even for me—and it’s far less easy for you and your significant other). No matter which seat at the table any one of us occupies, we’ve each got a role to play—a role that requires courage, readiness and openness. It requires the the capacity to show up amidst the ache of overwhelming uncertainty, and to stand up against the allure of impending apathy. It requires the wherewithal to simultaneously hold space for oneself AND one’s partner, especially within moments of intensity and overwhelm.
If you don’t feel like you’ve got those skills, that’s okay—under most circumstances, they can be taught and learned and practiced. By contrast, if you don’t feel prepared and committed to learn and exercise those skills (ideally with some measure of self-compassion for the imperfection involved in practicing new things) couples work will likely be an exercise in frustration.
Can you save our relationship?
The simple answer is no—and it would be unethical for me to suggest otherwise. Speaking to a room full of couples therapists and coaches, relationship expert Dr. Julie Gottman says it best: “Bottom lime, it’s not our job to save marriages; it’s our job to help couples work with the truth, whatever that truth is. Period.” What I can promise you is that YOUR truth won’t deter me. I won’t ignore, avoid, invalidate or argue with it. Quite the contrary: I’ll consistently highlight your truth when I witness it, often stretching and inviting you to explore it more deeply, more directly and more compassionately than before.
Some couples really like a formulaic approach to their couples work, a “ten point plan” type of process that feels fully conceptualized from the very start. If that’s you, I honor your preference—and I will happily refer you to colleagues of mine who work comfortably and expertly with such an approach.
As for me, though I’m strategically trained in several such modalities (The Gottman Method, Early Couples Recovery Empathy Model, etc), I’ve come to recognize that I do my very BEST couples work in a more organic, evolving and conversational manner—integrating tools and resources and interventions sourced from various modalities along the way.
To that end, after collecting some solid background info from both you and your partner, including both joint and individual sessions initially, I’ll ask you to come to every session prepared with something YOU want to talk about. It might be a fight you’ve just had, a topic you’ve been avoiding, a triggering event you’re dreading, or a long-held need you’ve been carrying alone, scared and unsure about how to expose or express it to your partner. Such presenting topics will nearly ALWAYS identify a combination of important issues, themes, patterns needs and desires. Over time, by addressing the most urgent and important concerns you bring into every session, we simultaneously ultimately explore the deeper and more systemic stuff—and by then, you’ve usually developed enough trust and safety (with yourself, with your partner, with me and with the process) to do that work in productive, powerful and sustainable ways.
As with all my work, in the context of couples relationship coaching, I’m happy to wear a variety of different hats in different moments. That said, one role I definitely will NOT play is that of secret keeper. When you choose to work with me as your couples coach, your relationship ultimately becomes my “identified client.” This simply means that I become an active advocate for BOTH of you, equally and simultaneously, keeping your mutual relationship goals clearly in sight. In this couples coaching role, I maintain an open door policy, which means that I am comfortable seeing you both together and/or separately as needed; it’s an arrangement that can be profoundly beneficial, but also one that requires significant measures of trust and safety to be most effective. One important practice that builds that trust is my emphatic “no-secrets policy.” Before we begin couples work, I’ll ask each of you to submit your agreement to this no-secrets policy, acknowledging that you will never share with me something you expect me to actively conceal from your partner—nor will I ever say something to you that I wouldn’t also say to your partner.
In a perfect world, you and your partner come to every couples session with a jointly agreed-upon topic for that day’s conversation. That said, we don’t live in a perfect world, and sometimes you WON’T be on the same page about what topic(s) should “make the cut” for that day’s agenda. In this case, we’ll do our best to accommodate both topics by making an intentional pivot midway through, dividing your session time as equally as possible.
In my experience, great couples work doesn’t occur when everyone at the table feels rushed. That’s why I nearly always require couples sessions to be 80 or 110-minutes long—allowing enough time for the three of us to FULLY process an issue (or two) before the clock strikes “done.” If calendars or finances prohibit you from scheduling these extended sessions, please let me know; we’ll put our heads together to strategize the best solution possible.