I always like to begin with the fact that I have no special training or credentials to work with couples.
I've done some powerful couple's work and, earlier, some that flopped—and I learned a lot from those that flopped. I especially learned that if both people aren't showing up telling the truth, it doesn't work. More than anything, this means that if they're lying to themselves, they can't tell the truth to each other or to the whole room when we're meeting. This slows down or blocks forward movement, because everything we try to do to get to greater clarity and to consciously move things in a chosen direction is taking off from a place that doesn't exist or that's not based in reality.
Communication can be imperfect: You don't need to have more clarity at any given moment than you actually have. The truth sometimes looks like, I don't know, I'm muddled, Everything inside me just tensed up. But coming close to that could also lead to fears being felt into and articulated, or contractions noticed that are keeping something out. When everyone is telling the truth in this way, a lot can happen. The unexpected can come in. I truly believe that illumination wants to come shine its light, and we can invite it with open curiosity. There’s no problem when resistance is in the room: we’ll get curious about that, too.
For couple's work to do anything, we also need a shared intention for the work. This doesn't have to be hyper-specific and may in fact be better if it's NOT. But if one of you wants to work out a stay-or-go decision and the other wants to make it work at all costs, the work won't be clear and honest. So the shared intention can be anything, as long as it’s aligned for both of you and it’s spoken and written down for all of us to see.
I would invite you both to brainstorm the intention for coaching individually on paper, then read your thoughts to each other. Find the Venn diagram, tweak it—stay with it till you’re both satisfied. If it feels hard to get to, you may be being too specific or outcome-oriented: go general. When you have it written, down, share it with me in a 3-way email.
In our work together, I will invite you to a grand experiment based on the shared intention you come up with. Most important would be curiosity and openness, including allowing any outcome. That may sound scary, but it's most powerful to know that anything could happen and that you'd both be okay in any possible outcome.
This then allows you to drop in and discover what you actually want. It also allows you to move boldly through an exploration (because you'll be cautious and unconsciously manipulative of outcome if you're attached to one). This doesn't mean generating some Buddha-worthy total detachment—just beginning our work with any outcome allowed. You can also notice your attachment to the relationship (or old aspects of the relationship) and release it, at least in a now-moment. You can take thoughts you notice to inquiry or bring them to sessions.
The best foundation we can lay for the experiment is total acceptance of where you are now—or as close as you can get to that. Whatever path you've gone down together, it's been a valid journey. Wherever you find yourself now, it's got NORMAL, TYPICAL human stuff all over it. And you're not stuck with any of it unless you insist you are.
The stuff of what we need to do together will reveal itself very easily. I listen carefully to words people use and I know a lot to do:
I've never seen what needs to be addressed not reveal itself along the way. It does and it will.
Finally, I'll be in my own usual grand experiment to see what's possible in supporting your process and bringing you to greater clarity. I’ll support each of you to be aligned with yourself and with your own guidance system so that you can move toward alignment with each other or a kind letting go. I work very intuitively and try whatever comes to me to try. If you’d prefer to work with someone with couple’s work credentials and Ivy-League-approved processes, I’m not your right helper!
Something that can frustrate people in coaching
I'll only let you tell so much story, and sometimes I'll stop you when you think I really, really need to know a particular detail of the story or dynamic. My aim is to move you away from the narrative you've been stuck in, not to have you reinforce it through telling all the details.
As a coach, not a therapist, I don’t seek to uncover the origin of problems (though that can come up briefly), and my emphasis is not on validation (even as I believe it's all valid and I certainly sometimes validate). During session time, I watch for where you're operating in a way that's not aligned for you as individuals and therefore keeps you from connection (acceptance, love, ease) in the couple. I move very quickly from things you tell me or demonstrate to processes and practices that create openings and shifts.
We meet for 5 sessions, typically biweekly, with takeaways exchanges in between. One of those is a process session (described below). Sometimes it’s good for the first two sessions to happen weekly. Sometimes, after the first two at the biweekly rhythm, we can go to 3 and 4 weeks between the following sessions. (Process session can be inserted anytime or be tacked on at the end.) The right rhythm for the individuals involved and the process we’re in reveals itself organically. It’s important not to have so much time between sessions that momentum is lost or starts going the other direction—as the habitual course already has a lot of momentum.
Sessions last 75 minutes (except process session, which goes for 60).
After sessions, each of you sends session takeaways plus further musings and questions at the halfway point between sessions. Send these in a three-way email to each other and me. I always respond to takeaways, and you’re welcome to comment in the chain on each other’s. This ensures that assignments are clear and the stuff of sessions is being absorbed and will be more likely kept in view and applied. I’ll add my guidelines (really suggestions) for session takeaways at the end of this document.
Beyond the report of what most sparked you in the session, the in-between emails could contain any or all of the following: what you're working on, what you're noticing, what you think is going well or badly or both, something you want to run by me, any question you want to ask. I invite you to bring up anything that trips you up between sessions, so I can give further coaching to shift it before our next meeting. If you need help applying something in specific circumstances of the moment, bring that up. The idea here is to ensure that what we talk about in session is being applied: the experiment is underway. So do ask questions or speak up if anything feels frustrating or off. For the record, you can also ask for a video check-in for roughly 15 minutes, but with couples it often works best even just for time/schedule reasons to use email.
If either of you ever wants to communicate with me privately between sessions, you're of course welcome to do that. I seem to think that the more we can do with all eyes upon it, the better. But if you feel you need to express something to just me, go ahead. Know that I'll want to consider how it would be appropriate to bring that concern out into the open, though I will force nothing, timing included.
Process Session (60 minutes)
This happens somewhere along the way when a need asserts itself. It could be an inquiry session, or EFT, or any process that I want to take you through to look through another lens or use another tool. This is often applied to some recurring theme that creates disconnection or misunderstanding between you, or something comes up in life while we’re meeting and it’s clear you’d benefit from using this for the current thing you’re navigating.
Conscious Loving, by Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks.
If you’re reading this book before, during, and/or after our work together, this will complement and reinforce everything we do together. Some couples read it together or plan discussion times, and this has proved useful and healing.
Some helpful questions or things to tell in session takeaways (with absolutely no requirement or need to answer all of them, though you certainly could):