June 08, 2022

Taking a coaching approach in marriage  
Speaking of the most difficult situations, marriage is often one of the biggest challenges for many Christ followers. We expect our spouse to be on our side and backing us up, but no other human being can do that perfectly. Even good marriages will have hard times, and those times will demand a patience and an other-centeredness that can be hard to muster. 

Written By CCT Team

Robert E Logan and Gary Reinecke Christian Coaching Tools Co-Founders.

Soft skills that can help your marriage

Coaching skills emphasize things like seeing various sides of a situation, listening until you understand well enough to summarize accurately from the other person’s point of view, searching for multiple possible solutions, and expressing genuine empathy and interest in the other person. Although you never want to fall into the trap of trying to serve strictly as a coach or counselor in your own marriage, the soft skills involved in these roles can be incredibly helpful in any close human relationship.

What is your spouse looking for?

coaching skills for marriage

You know that most of the time when you’re talking with your spouse, you’re not looking for a solution; you’re looking to be understood. And you know that when you’re looking to be understood, having someone provide a solution and tell you what to do doesn’t go over so well. It’s safe to assume that—unless the other person has explicitly asked for help problem-solving—they aren’t looking for suggestions and solutions either.

The best route is to move toward empathetic listening. Ask to hear more, unpack what you’re hearing them say, ask follow up questions. After fully unpacking all the other person has to say, you may want to ask, “So how can I be helpful to you?” This question is a good test of whether a person is looking for a solution or for empathetic listening. In marriage, as in all other areas of life, strive to live with patience and with humility, assuming you do not know all the answers and do not have all the solutions.  

Consider some of the directives from Proverbs: 

  • Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance— (1:5) 
  • A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense. (19:11) 
  • To answer before listening—that is folly and shame. (18:13) 
  • Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice. (13:10)

Living with patience and humility, and being willing to listen and receive advice and feedback yields great dividends, especially in marriage. Even after many years, never give up trying to learn more about your spouse and see how the world looks through their eyes. 

Discovery Listening for Marriage

Both of us have many years’ experience of trying and learning how to be better listeners and question-askers in our marriages. Here’s a story from Gary’s experience about how he and his wife Gina have applied coaching in their marriage: 

The exercise

A few years into our marriage Gina and I participated in a married couples communication workshop led by Dr. Dallas Demmitt.  He introduced us to Discovery Listening.  Foundational to Discovery Listening is to help the “speaker” process their thoughts out loud.  There are two important skills at play.  First is to ask, “Is there more?”  Second, the ability to summarize what you hear your partner sharing.  The purpose of summary is for the speaker to hear their thoughts as the “listener” summarizes.  Through this exercise, the “speaker” oftentimes will discover new insights simply through reflecting on the summary offered by the “listener.”  However, the take-away for me was the importance of summarizing without inserting or contaminating the summary with your interpretation.  This is much easier to say than do!  Let me explain.

The lesson

During the workshop we were asked to sit back-to-back with our spouse.  One spouse was identified as the “speaker” and the other, the “listener.”  As Dallas observed the couple, he would click a clicker every time the spouse who was the “listener” contaminated the summary.  Sounded easy enough.  My wife had stated on numerous occasions my superior listening skills. It was our turn.  We sat back-to-back.  Gina did an excellent job working hard to summarize and ask me if there was more, I wanted, or needed to share.  After 5 minutes we switched roles.

This time I was the “listener” and Gina, the “speaker.”  After Gina stated a concern, she had I remembering “anchoring” myself to the best of my ability before summarizing what I heard her say.  Before I finished my first attempt – I heard the “click” of Dallas’ clicker.  I guess I had done something wrong.  Regrouped, I attempted to summarize a bit more.  “Click!”  Frustrated again!  “Click!”  “Click!”  “Click!”  You get the picture.    By the end of the exercise, I was in double-digits.

Gina and I survived the workshop.  The learning for us was that we needed to be aware when the other required the undivided attention of the other.  Since then, we have on many occasions engaged in intentional conversations, requiring focus, and Discovery Listening.  

We use a simple cue like – “When can we have a focused conversation about this issue?”  Come up with your own que and give it a shot.  

Guidelines for a focused conversation with your spouse:

  1. Agree when to meet
  2. Set a time limit
  3. Do everything necessary to remove distractions
  4. Restated the ground rules 
    1. summarize 
    2. ask, “Is there more?”  
    3. no advice-giving
  5. If you are the listener commit to be curious and non-judgmental

Cover Photo by Kristina Litvjak on Unsplash

Photo by Oziel Gómez on Unsplash

That was a great coaching moment!

Most coaching assumes a formalized coaching relationship with a beginning, a middle, and an end, with clear goals to be accomplished along the way. However, you can also use your coaching skills in less formal ways– just as a way of relating and interacting. Think of it as a “coaching moment” instead of a “coaching relationship.”

Steps to Help You Make Decisions with God

You’ve got a big decision to make. When you make a decision based on the human intellect alone you might come away with a “good decision”; in contrast, when you consider God’s perspective on a matter you engage the spiritual dimension. This will lead you  down the path of prayerful decision making.

Can you find coaching in the Bible?

If you are trying to help others understand the biblical basis for coaching, here are two key scripture passages to help.

9 Ways Coaching Aligns with Biblical Principles

You may be wondering if coaching is biblical. The Bible never commands us to coach. In fact, the word coach is never used. So why coach? Should we even coach? Here are 9 ways coaching aligns with biblical principles.

The #1 Secret to Raising Self-Led Adults

You want your kids to become self-led adults. People who make good decisions, live into their gifts and talents, and contribute to their communities. The teen years are when the rubber hits the road. 

Purpose-filled Conversations with Your Teens

Conversations with your teens can feel one-sided. There are a lot of grunts and minute head nods, or if you’re lucky–one word answers. But this is a time in their development where they make important decisions that have lasting consequences. So, how do you move past casual chats to more meaningful and purpose-filled conversations with your teens? 

Coaching your kids

Translating your coaching skills to support your parenting will help you raise kids who have a clear understanding of who they are and have a solid framework for making good decisions. 

5 signs that you could be a better coach

You’ve been coaching for a while now. You may have even completed coach certification; but you feel there is something more… Are you coaching at your optimal level or could you be a better coach? How do you really know how well you’re doing? 

5 Steps to Clarify Your Values

Having trouble moving forward in your ministry goals? What about those you serve? If you are struggling to fill seats and find volunteers the issue may not be WHAT you are doing but a disconnect from the WHY.

Learning to trust your coach and your team

Are you at the top of your game? Even if you are, are you ready for what’s next? So many gifted and purposed pastors burn out because they are playing a solo game. Learning how to work with your team raises your effectiveness and reach in ministry.