For many couples, the idea of getting help is daunting, to say the least. We know that there is an issue with the relationship, and it seems like getting help might be the answer- but what kind of help? And how do you know that the person you choose is going to be fair and professional? In the past, the main option was relationship counselling - a useful, though often expensive and long term process where both partners explored their family histories, communication and attachment patterns, and worked over time towards a more secure and harmonious relationship.
This is all well and good, but for some couples this approach was not quite the right fit. One reason for this is that a lot of relationship counselling comes from the ‘problem’ based perspective -that our relationship issues are mainly due to wounds and damage that we carry, and part of having a good relationship means uncovering those wounds, and working to heal them. In more recent years, a new type of couples intervention has emerged - relationship coaching. This approach is one that has worked well for couples who are not quite prepared to dive headlong into intensive couples therapy, but still want to improve their day to day connection and intimacy.
What is Relationship Coaching?
Just like individual coaching, relationship coaching is a service that focuses on making improvements in day to day life. It is different to therapy in that it assumes that we are all capable of growth and success and, rather than focusing on what has happened in the past and how it has impacted us, shifts focus towards the future and our values.
Relationship coaching is definitely not right for a couple who is working through trauma or serious mental health issues - that requires a specialist therapist - but it can be useful for addressing issues that are happening within the relationship - like communication, trust, parenting, stress or addictive behaviors.
Many couples love this approach because they don’t have to go through long descriptions of past relationships or family traumas, and instead work on what is in the here and now. Old patterns and unhealthy ways of coping are still identified, but the major work is in finding ways of overcoming barriers and obstacles to closeness and intimacy.
Most relationship coaches work to a framework that allows them to identify what it is their clients want in their lives, and what needs to change in order for them to grow and succeed - their training is in motivation and behavior change.
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What Does a Relationship Coach Do?
Most relationship coaches work in their own way, but a common approach for most coaches is to have initial sessions where they identify the couples’ major issues and goals, as well as the barriers and obstacles that are currently standing in their way (eg. financial issues, trust).
They then work towards the following goals, since these are the major ‘stuck’ points for most couples:
For many of us, we will have expectations about relationships that we might not even know about ourselves - they might be things we’ve decided based on seeing our parent’s relationship, or from previous partners we’ve had. For example, the expectation that a partner will do a certain share of housework, or be available at certain times, or contribute to the relationship in a certain way. If your expectations are irrational and unrealistic, you are likely to be disappointed and frustrated and unconsciously behave in a way that might lead to separation
Most happy relationships have an alignment of values, needs and desire. When couples are in a bad place in their relationship, they can find it hard to talk about this kind of things and negotiate what their needs are - so Coaching helps make this clear for them and gives them a framework to have that conversation calmly.
Even though we can focus on big events and occurrences in our lives, in reality our existence is made up of the day to day - and this is where a relationship lives or dies.
Making huge gestures on important days is all well and good, but also the small things such as making your partner coffee, doing something nice for them at the end of a long day, having a difficult conversation that needs to happen, and coming through this - this is where true connection and intimacy are formed.
Coaching helps give practical advice about how to make the day to day better in a relationship and remain aware of their promises to each other and teaching them how to keep working on their relationship. Often it is about getting into good habits and making sure there is time each day or week to connect, no matter what is going on - and this might involve some behavior change on your part.
Improve Overall Functioning
Often relationships can suffer when we are under stress in the other areas of our lives - such as financial, parenting, work or health. One of the big strengths of a coaching approach is that it is strengths and solution based, and helps people to find solutions to things that are holding them back in their lives. Relationship coaching helps people to make individual changes in their lives that will ultimately help them to be better partners and better functioning people all round.
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Benefits of Relationship Coaching
Coach as a Resource
For most people who have had relationship coaching, they describe the relationship they have with their coach as a major positive. While therapists need to be neutral and reserved, relationship coaches can be a lot more personal and can be thought of as a kind of professional friend - they are there alongside you for the journey, and are a kind of expert guide who can offer you helpful guidance and motivation when you need it. A lot of research shows that, for couples, having someone there to act as a mediator and witness to their issues - whether this is a therapist, coach or family member - is hugely important, since it allows for new and better understanding of dynamics and communication, since there is now a third person who is outside of the conversation and can give feedback and input.
One old adage about therapy is that, while it works, it can take a long time to see results - and sometimes things get worse before they get better. With coaching, it is likely that you’ll see immediate results, since the questions that a Coach asks are designed to elicit important insights and most Coaches will start you on the change journey almost immediately. Many couples love this approach, since what has brought them to the session feels urgent and they are anxious to see positive changes in their relationship as soon as possible.
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One reason that Coaching has seen such growth in the last 10 years is that it provides very clear, actionable directions that couples can put into place immediately. Since we know that a lot of our relationships come down to how we interact day to day, relationship coaching focuses on those small interactions and how we can improve the quality of connection between the couple, and teaches people to be consistent in these - leading to longer term, more stable behaviors, and an improvement in how the couple interacts with each other - leading to better connection and more intimacy.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of relationship coaching is that it has the ability to be highly targeted. This means that if a couple was having issues with their communication, trust, intimacy, confidence and finances, their Coach would design their program to address each of those issues in turn - using strategies that are designed to help couples see each other’s perspective and agree on a new way of doing things. Often this kind of approach really takes the mystery and stress out of relationship issues - a Coach has the uncanny ability to boil down arguments and issues into their true origin - and offer a powerful and tailored solution. Most people find it relieving to know that the issues they are having in their relationship are, in fact, universal, and that there are solutions to most of those issues.
Now is a great time to approach relationship coaching if you’re curious - there are opportunities to access affordable and effective help online, from a number of different resources. Relish has text-based coaching that also offers valuable content in areas such as communication, security and conflict, or if you’re interested there are also online and telephone relationship coaches available. For many people who have put off getting help for their relationship because they don’t want to go into the past or spend months or years in therapy - coaching is a great alternative, since it offers a similar outcome but in less time, and with a lot more immediate value. We wish you the best of luck with it!
What do you have to lose? Besides bad habits and poor communication, of course. Start improving your relationship today with Relish. Install now.