Beyond Fixes or Feelings: Coaching Your Couples to Do Both

It’s late in the evening, and I am sitting in my dimly lit office as I listen to a familiar argument. It sounds a little bit like this:

Partner A: I just want you to understand how I feel about what happened—and how the kids feel about it too. That’s all I want. Why can’t you just do that for me?

Partner B: How does understanding your feelings help anything? I get it—you didn’t like what happened, but what do we do next? Talking about our feelings won’t move us forward.

Partner A: You never care about anyone’s feelings, and that’s why we are in this predicament.

Partner B: No, we are in this predicament because you only want to talk about feelings instead of buckling down and figuring out what we should do next.

In this particular dance, the couple is moving around a conflict by asking for two different things—Partner A wants emotional validation while Partner B is asking for a solution.

As is usual for them, neither is getting what they want. Instead, they go back and forth, criticizing each other’s approaches to solving the problem and doubling down on what they believe the right path forward is.

When I first started working with couples, I didn’t fully understand that, within this dynamic, there are two separate values and skills being presented. As the empathetic therapist, I would often lean toward the more emotion-focused path being the “right” one. And, as a result, I would unintentionally invalidate the solution-focused partner.

Now, though, I help to validate both Partner A and Partner B by explaining to them the differences in their roles—one acts the “emotion coach” and the other acts as the “solution coach.” Within this validation, I help them to embrace their differences and learn to negotiate through their conflict interactions.

The Emotion Coach

The Emotion Coach in the relationship values empathy. For those who resonate with the Emotion Coach mindset, sharing feelings is not just helpful—it's essential when navigating stress. These individuals understand that emotions have a profound impact on relationships, and sharing their emotions effectively with their partner can help to improve the relationship dynamic.

The Emotion Coach recognizes that, without a solid understanding of the emotions at play, a mutually beneficial solution cannot be reached. They find it important to take time to recognize the impact of an issue to build closeness and connection.

The Solution Coach

The Solution Coach in the relationship values problem-solving. This role is all about seeking clarity amid chaos—finding the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. For those who resonate with the Solution Coach mindset, sharing feelings may seem secondary to finding practical solutions. When navigating stress and conflict, these individuals find solace in problem-solving and action-oriented approaches. While emotions may sometimes take a back seat, their ability to see the "way out" of the issue keeps the momentum moving forward.

Coaching Together

Both the Emotion Coach and the Solution Coach play crucial roles in guiding a relationship forward. It’s critical that couples therapists highlight these differences as strengths, allowing partners to combine forces to move forward together.

Validating that each person has a skill and that this skill can be utilized to improve the relationship tends to go much further than dismissing one skill and lifting up the other.

For more information on these coaching styles, including an exercise to put it into action in session, check out The Couples Therapy Flip Chart. This tool is used in session and provides the therapist with guidance, interventions, and visual examples for clients.

Help your clients move from relationship sabotage to relationship fulfillment
The Couples Therapy Flip Chart
Written by trusted relationship expert and renowned Gottman therapist Elizabeth Earnshaw (@lizlistens), The Couples Therapy Flip Chart is the interactive in-session tool you need to help couples work through stuck points that leave them feeling frustrated, resentful, and disconnected.

Divided into four sections, this flip chart will support your ability to help couples:
  • Understand each other: Identify how each partner thinks and processes information to help them learn to accept and appreciate each other’s differences.
  • Manage conflict: Teach couples how to avoid destructive communication patterns and how to engage in repair and de-escalation when ruptures do occur.
  • Create a secure partnership: Lead couples in learning to manage their connection and partnership in relation to the outside world.
  • Connect during daily life: Guide couples on how to fill their emotional bank account and distribute the mental load to create a thriving relationship.
Couples Therapy Intensive Course:
Navigating Modern Relationships with Esther Perel, Ellyn Bader, Tammy Nelson, and more
Join 12 of the field's leading relationship innovators as they reveal practical advice and real-life case studies and demonstrations for both individual and couples therapists, focusing on the most pressing issues facing our clients today.

This online course just might change the way you see and work with your clients' relationships.

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Meet the Expert:
Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT, CGT, is a Marriage and Family Therapist, Clinical Fellow of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), Certified Gottman Method Couples Therapist, Certified Clinical Trauma Professional, and AAMFT Approved Supervisor. She is the author of the best-selling relationship book, I Want This to Work and the owner of a national therapy practice that provides systemic therapy to individuals, couples, and families. Elizabeth has worked with hundreds of couples since becoming a couples therapist. She lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania, with her husband, children, and dog.

Learn more about her educational products, including upcoming live seminars, by clicking here.

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