Couples coaching is relationship coaching that is focused on couples. Therefore, everything that I talked about in my blog “What does a relationship coach do?” applies to couples coaching. Please have a look at it here.
In this article,I want to elaborate on couples coaching from the perspective of the coaching model ORSC (Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching) developed by Faith Fuller and Marita Fridjhon of CRR Global.
First of all, couples coaching is about where the couple is now and where they want to go in the future. Couples therapy on the other hand is about healing the past, whether it is trauma or abuse or any other issue that happened in the past and is still impacting the relationship.
An ORSC trained couples coach will work with the relationship or the third entity as it’s known in ORSC and not with each individual. In fact, it is the biggest sin in couples coaching to work with a couple’s relationship while at the same time coaching one or both of them individually. This is the biggest breach of the code of ethics of couples coaching there is because the coach will become biased and neutrality will be impossible.
An ORSC trained coach will work with a couple’s relationship through the lens of the five principles of relationship coaching, and they are:
- Relationship Systems are naturally intelligent, creative, and generative.
- Every member of the relationship system is a voice of the system.
- Each relationship system has its own unique identity or personality.
- Relationship systems rely on roles for their functioning.
- Relationship systems are in a constant state of emergence.
When a coach starts working with a couple, the first step will be to assess the couple’s relationship. Initially, the coach has to establish that neither of the partners suffers from an active addiction or mental illness, that there is no abuse or imbalance of power in the relationship and that both partners really want to change. A relationship that suffers from any of the above mentioned issues is not coachable and the coach needs to refer the couple to the appropriate professional who can help them.
Next, the coach gathers information about the relationship using one or more assessment tools that are designed for this purpose. The most common tool is a questionnaire that the coach designs and gives out to the couple to complete before the assessment session. Also, the coach might interview the couple and use some exercises to get more information about the relationship and its strengths and challenges in order to formulate a plan for the coaching process. At this point the coach might create a coaching contract specifying the couples goals, the number of sessions, payments and so on
The layers of a Relationship
The layers of a relationship run as deep as the layers of the earth itself. In fact, one way of viewing a relationship’s layers is by using the metaphor of the earth’s strata. The main layers of the relationship are:
The outer layer: In this layer of the relationship live the outer roles. The outer roles can be seen like the job titles of the individuals in the relationship. These roles are needed for the executive aspects of functioning, the maintenance of the relationship or the various tasks or responsibilities people hold. For example: the breadwinner, the housekeeper. Some typical issues that might occur at this level of the relationship are: role confusion, role nausea, poorly occupied roles and the need for new roles.
The inner layer: This is where the inner roles live, also known as emotional roles, these roles are created by the relationship to maintain it’s emotional functioning. Some examples of these roles are: Nurturer, protector, initiator, pursuer and so on. Usually, those emotional roles come in opposite pairs. For example, one person will be the spender and the other the saver of money or the economically savvy one. One of the most common issues with roles at this level is collapsing the person with the role. It is important to remember that the role belongs to the system, and if the person holding a certain emotional role leaves the relationship, someone else will step in and take on that role. For example an employee is fired for being difficult or non cooperative, but as soon as that person leaves, someone else starts becoming difficult and non cooperative.
The deep layer or Secret roles: as the name might imply, these are the hardest roles to uncover and they impact the relationship quite profoundly. These secret roles might be different aspects of one’s self, otherwise known as sub-personalities or secondary identities. You might think of them as the different hats we wear. At home, for example, we might be the nurturer, but at work, the controller and with our friends we might wear a different hat altogether. Uncovering these different aspects of self might be fun for partners and might deepen their relationship or even spice it up as they discover new information about each other that they didn’t encounter before in their relationship history.
Other secret roles might be
Ghost roles: these are people or events from the past that are still affecting the relationship today. Examples of ghosts impacting the relationship could be: the ex-husband or wife, the ghost of a past injury or illness or how we used to be before kids.
Time Spirits: These are Global issues or historical events that impact either the entire world or certain regions of it. Examples might include: The pandemic, World War 2, Arab Spring, the era of a certain dictator, or the Palestinian Israel conflict. Also anything ending with “ism” such as racism, sexism, homophobia and so on.
All of these different layers and the roles that live in them can impact a relationship very deeply. A relationship coach is trained to work with all of these roles and can help the clients deal with their impact on the relationship.
That’s not the only way an ORSC coach helps couples, there are so many tools and skills available to the coach within the ORSC model. Tools such as the third entity exercise which helps partner’s walk in each other’s shoes and listen to the voice of their relationship and the wisdom it has to offer is one of the most powerful tools that a coach can use while coaching a couple. There are tools that help the couple explore each other’s worlds and see them in a new light, some tools help people see the values that they have in common which helps them see the strengths of their relationship. There are tools that help couples deal with change, and other tools that guide them in giving feedback to each other in a safe way.
There are so many tools I could write about here, but this article might expand into a book!
Bottom line is, couples coaching has so much to offer to couples who are willing to “face the music” in order to change and grow together as a couple and create a happier and more fulfilling relationship.