Life Coaching Your Marriage… Is it a Virtue?
More than a decade ago, my mentor told me: “Admiration is the most important element in love.” Years later, I learned about Dr. Gottman’s Fondness and Admiration System, which points out the power of seeing the good in your partner. I could not agree more!
But what kind of toxic interactional pattern can contaminate admiration?
I’ve seen one in my clinical practice, and I think it is worth paying attention to it. It’s a silent killer, eroding the Fondness and Admiration System.
Here’s is the pattern:
A very successful, hard-working and goal-oriented person is deeply concerned about his/her partner’s success or happiness. So they try to “help.” They try to “coach” their partner toward success.
It is that good for the relationship or not?
It depends on a number of factors.
Does the over-achieving partner considering herself or himself a “life coach” or a “life companion”?
Life Coaching Your Marriage…Or Is It A Vice?
Having a real interest in your partner’s well-being is important. No doubt you have good intentions in your concern about his/her dreams, goals and achievements. Honoring these aspirations is an excellent way to achieve greater emotional closeness.
However, if the concern becomes a worry or a source of stress in the relationship, it may be problematic.
- Do you feel responsible for your partner’s progress?
- Do you feel disappointed and frustrated if he/she does not follow your expectations?
- Do you believe they would be “better” somehow if they’d just listen and follow your lead?
If so, you may be on the road to losing admiration.
You can recognize when you’re a “life coach” when you use these phrases:
- “I just want him to be someone in life.”
- “I want her to find her way.”
- “He is too compliant, too passive, too disorganized.”
- “I need her to find her passion in life.”
- “I want him to be successful in developing this business.”
- “She needs to grow up.”
The underlying thinking is:
- “If I am a goal-oriented and successful person, I need him/her to be more like me;” or
- “If you are not successful (in my definition), you are in trouble;” or
- “You need to fix yourself, so I’ll accept you.”
If the “coach” expects his/her partner to “shine” by following his/her advice, you’re on a slippery slope. Frustration will eventually become disappointment, and over time, disappointment may become resentment. Following this comes the loss of admiration.
Are You Stressed for Success?
Trying to “fix” the situation, the “coach” puts pressure on the partner, giving her unsolicited “ideas and suggestions,” or finding the “ideal” job for him, or looking for classes that will “improve” this or that “deficit,” etc. The problem comes when those attempts are interpreted by their partner as: “I am not good enough, or capable enough for my spouse.”
Also, those attempts to “help” may feel instead like “pressure.” Pressure kills creativity and is an obstacle to decision-making. More pressure leads to less performance. You get trapped into this negative cycle where resentment only grows. Life coaching your marriage can sometimes lead to clashes of differing realities.
Helpful Coaching: “Companion Coaching.”
The “coaching” itself is not negative. It may even be useful if it is related to a particular situation in which the “coachee” is asking for help.
For example, my husband is a skilled biker. I want it to learn about it.
So he helps me:
- To choose the right bike;
- Explains to me how to take care of myself while riding;
- Describes the theory behind the practice of bike-riding; and
- Evaluates my performance, to help me improve my level of skill.
This coaching is not emotionally threatening to my relationship, because (1) I asked for it, and (2) it was specific to one aspect of my life.
This “companion coaching” is healthy because it is:
- Based on my freedom to request help, my partner isn’t pressuring me to change “for my own good”;
- It is specific to one task of my choosing; and,
- It is not directed at improving my character.
Besides, who decides what it means to live a successful life?
Being successful, and feeling successful, are very personal concepts. Take my mom, (who does not have a bachelor’s degree, and isn’t a wealthy business owner).
I asked her:
“Hey, Mom do you feel successful as a woman?”
“Sure.” she said, with a smile on her face.
“Why is that?”
She explained: “I realized my dream of raising my children. Now I see that they are good people, and are professionals with big hearts and loving families, and so I feel happy.”
My mother found her success in parenting. I have found my happiness in balancing a career with family responsibilities. Both are workable paths to success and should be respected.
Healthy couples are life companions. They support one another’s goals and dreams, as individuals, and as a couple. They are responsible for their own decision-making and working on their own sense of personal growth. Life companions TALK about their ideas regarding success, their goals, and dreams, and try to understand one another’s point of view, even if they don’t agree.
In contrast to a “life coach,” a life companion shares his/her own dreams or struggles, and are free of the fear they’ll be “improved upon” when they do. They don’t risk rejection, judgment, evaluation or punishment when they share those dreams. They don’t need a “coach” to improve them, because they are loved, accepted, and respected for who they are.
Now that I’ve outlined the difference, which roles do you play in your marriage?
Dr. Heide R. Ubinas
Dr. Ubinas has been helping couples coach themselves into happiness for more than 20 years. She's lived in Chicago, Florida, and now San Juan and helps couples online and in intensive retreats get their groove back. Fluent in English and Spanish, she's an advanced practitioner in the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy.
Clinical Psychologist (#3154)