This article invites you to learn about the landscape of relationship coaching for couples. For most of us, introspective work like this might be disorienting. I’m proud of you for doing research because it takes courage and action to even get here!
Before you go on any self-discovery journey or dive deeper into the more uncomfortable corners of your relationship remember to take care of yourself! Put on your oxygen mask first before assisting others. As you read I invite you to be gentle and compassionate. If you become aware of your heartbeat or breathing intensify, know that there are important messages in your emotions, most likely ‘the feels’ are coming up because you care deeply about your relationship.
The knowledge in this article is based on my education, my experience working with clients, and my own lived experience. I have been the client of many therapists and coaches over the years and I owe my life to them. There’s no right way to approach getting support for yourself and the great thing is you have options—we like options.
Who can save my relationship or keep my family together?
You can. Regardless of their resume, a coach, therapist, or relationship book can’t do the work for you and your partner(s) (the jury is still out on Cupid). A personal fitness trainer can’t tickle his abs and give you some – those crunches are all you, babe! Doing the work with a dedicated, experienced, and trained professional does, however, give you a fighting chance for a thriving relationship.
What’s the difference between a therapist and a coach?
Traditional therapy, also called psychotherapy or counseling, is an open-ended and long-term process in which a client works with a medical or healthcare provider to diagnose and treat. Note that there are many different types of therapists and I am speaking generally. For example, there is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) to name a few. Additionally, there are CBT Coaches, Trauma Coaches, and Addiction Coaches!
Unlike coaches who can work with clients living anywhere, therapy requires patients to find a mental health practitioner who is licensed in the area where they reside. There is no prescription for how long it will take for patients or therapists to work through their diagnosis so treatment could run weeks to years as the process is open-ended. While clinical therapy is a fantastic fit for many–I myself have benefited from therapy– this form of treatment depends on a couple’s needs and mental health.
Coaching is a cousin to therapy. When I explain the difference to my clients, it helps to use the example of a personal fitness trainer and a physical therapist. If someone has just gotten into a car accident and gone through major surgery, they will work with a physical therapist to get back on their feet because many personal fitness trainers aren’t equipped to help with rehab. Therapy is a resource if you need to heal so that you can return to a healthy baseline.
On the other hand, if a person free from an underlying physical condition has a fitness goal, they’ll seek the support and accountability of a personal fitness trainer. Coaching focuses on goals and solutions rather than a comprehensive understanding of why these issues might exist. Oftentimes, a couple just needs solutions to their problems and is less interested in spending their time and resources having a traditional therapist investigate the psychological roots.
Coaching is action-oriented and future-facing for people who want to move from flailing to fabulous! Most relationship coaches aren’t likely equipped to help parents who are suffering overwhelming grief from the death of their child, domestic abuse, or certain mental health diagnoses and coaching is not the route for couples that have deep-rooted issues that need attention before the relationship can flow forward. However, coaching can be a great complement to therapy!
What is relationship coaching for couples?
Coaching is to relationships what lube is to sex; it makes the process more efficient, enjoyable, and more likely to leave you and your partner satisfied! Relationship coaching for couples is a strategic partnership where a couple or couple+ relationship seeks support to get ‘unstuck,’ clarify goals and identify obstacles in a safe(r) space. As a team, a couple/couple+ and coach co-create an accomplishment strategy to achieve desired results. The coaching process helps align the partners as a team that is working together towards a common objective with the assistance of a trusted certified and experienced coach. The role of a coach might be to empower a couple to start understanding, supporting, and desiring each other again.
Who can benefit from relationship coaching and what are the types of results?
Practically everyone can benefit from relationship coaching (obviously, I am a bit biased). We’re not taught how to be in healthy relationships. We absorb what we learned growing up from our people of origin or family, and our nervous systems and minds carry that programming (unconscious biases, beliefs, habits, values, patterns) forward. If you’re like I was, this programming worked about as well as dial-up internet and was downloaded into your subconscious—and now you have no idea what to do with it. You likely don’t even know that it’s affecting you at all because it’s unconscious. Breaking news: it is. What’s the problem? We project those insecurities onto our partner(s), and our partner(s) do the same – not unlike toddlers throwing balls at one another in a McDonald’s playpen. Then we sit and wonder why we can’t feel like Disney princesses in a codependent BackStreet Boys ballad. As we grow through school, dating, work, and life, we just kind of figure it out along the way. We were thrown into the deep end when it comes to developing and maintaining a healthy sex life.
While working with coaches, therapists, and clients, I’ve learned that most people aren’t experts at how to be self-aware and how to communicate with confidence and compassion. It’s a skill to identify our own needs, wants, values, desires, dreams, insecurities, and boundaries, and another entirely to directly communicate them (with empathy) to our partner(s) while simultaneously anticipating or considering our partner(s) interests. We then must have acceptance and vulnerability skills to navigate the reality that comes with not being able to control their response yet having to take responsibility for how we respond to their reaction.
If you happen to be a pro at ‘knowing thy self’ and communication (that’s amazing and congratulations), your partner(s) might not be. Most of us can’t be in a satisfying relationship with ourselves. We don’t always know how to navigate conflict in a way that is constructive and repairable. For most of us, conflict makes us anxious or avoidant, and that’s not conducive to co-creating intimacy.
A result of relationship coaching for couples is often a deeper and more intimate connection between a securely attached couple. When we learn how to navigate our relationship with ourselves and our most intimate relationships our reality changes. The quality of every other relationship we have improves. Imagine if we all felt more confident, content, and compassionate in our professional and platonic relationships, let alone our relationship with our partner(s) and ourselves.
For people who aren’t in a partnership, who are single, or couples who aren’t stuck, relationship coaching can be a proactive, preventative investment. A divorce coach can accompany you as you navigate the emotional pain of a breakup. Different coaches have broad or niche services that depend on their interests, experience, and expertise. For example, there may be a dating coach who focuses solely on dating or a sex coach who accompanies couples on the journey of opening up their relationship, other relationship coaches focus on platonic and professional relationships. It all depends on the professional.
Sex & Relationship Coaching Topics
I work with couples, couple+ relationships, and 1-on-1 clients in a variety of areas within relationships as well as intersections of gender and identity:
- Dating, Marriage, Divorce & Breakup
- Preventing Betrayal & Infidelity
- Repairing from Betrayal & Infidelity
- Communication & Negotiation
- Trust Building & Bonding
- Empathy & Compassion
- Connection Strategies
- Self-Soothing Strategies
- Conflict Navigation & Repair
- Soft Skills & Cognitive Tools
- Relational Emotional & Erotic Intelligence
- Romance, Intimacy & Nurturance
- Desire & Eroticism
- Sex & Pleasure
- Coming Out
- Ethical Non-Monogamy, Open Relationships, & Threesomes
- Kink BDSM & Fetish
- Porn, Sex, Fantasy & Love Addiction & Compulsion
- Spiritual Sex & Sensuality
The Coaching Process
The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.
It is the coach’s responsibility to:
1. Discover, clarify, and align with what the client wants to achieve
2. Encourage client self-discovery
3. Elicit client-generated solutions and strategies
4. Hold the client responsible and accountable to their goals
I see this process helping my clients dramatically by improving their quality of life, unlocking their potential, and cultivating agency. In a two-person relationship, coaching is really about coaching three parties, partner A, partner B, and the relationship itself is a third entity. From a Gestalt Theory perspective, which emphasizes that the whole of anything is greater than its individual parts, at every moment either member of a relationship is also part of a larger environment (context) and personal reality (intersectional lens). I coach the relationship as a party in addition to the individual members.
Life coaches use processes with their clients that depend heavily upon the niche they choose (relationship, career, leadership, etc.) and may involve the use of a variety of tools, modalities, and frameworks depending on their education, training, and certification. For example, I work from an evidence-based perspective rooted in the sciences of applied positive psychology, appreciative inquiry, goal-setting theory, mindfulness, and solution-focused coaching. I create custom plans with my clients and other coaches may walk their clients through set programs. My service is non-judgemental, intersectional, shame-free, sex-positive, trauma-informed, neurodiverse-affirming, kink-affirming, and aligned with the International Coaching Federation’s Code of Ethics and Standards.
I offer my clients real-time, text-based, and call support outside of sessions because sometimes we need someone to hold our hand, and I know that life happens on its own terms. My clients find my ‘more accessible and less clinical’ approach to be extremely helpful.
Finding the Right Coach
Like dating, personality, trust, and communication style is important because finding the right relationship is crucial to getting therapy or coaching to work properly for anyone. Coaches are capable of working with clients regardless of where the coach and clients live. Traditional therapy will require you to find a licensed therapist near you. It might be challenging to find a therapist that both you and your partner(s) vibe with and most don’t offer complimentary first sessions as coaches do for the interviewing/dating process.
Before I worked with my first coach, I researched and then spoke with four different coaches prior to deciding who I felt the most comfortable with. Ask yourself how you feel in your body when you read the coach’s content, hear them speak, or watch their videos.
- Look for someone who speaks to you
- Research the coach’s professional and lived experience
- Have a conversation with the coach
- Ask questions
A great relationship coach is fundamentally a powerful communication coach. The quality of our relationships depends on our ability to communicate. What is it about being an intersectional sex coach that’s important even if the coaching topic isn’t sex related? The fact that the coach has a depth of communication skills and an understanding of how to talk about sex and intimacy with ease and delicacy. A sex-literate communication coach is able to illustrate the nuances of sexuality that not everyone has the vocabulary for.
The best relationship coaches are also trauma-informed, intersectional, identity-conscious, and erotically intelligent communication experts. Additionally, the best coaches don’t have a strictly monogamous heterosexual lens, are aware of how non-traditional relationship structures flourish and the sensitivities of attraction, and are well-versed in fantasy, addiction, jealousy, and intimacy. Shame and sex are intimately connected and not even all therapists are trained to talk about some conventional sex topics. Unfortunately, some do leave clients with guilt or shame which is ultimately more harmful and traumatizing and will take more resources to overcome.
When looking for a relationship coach it is imperative to find someone who knows a thing or two about comprehensive sex education and sex and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI). Even if you don’t identify as someone who is BIPOC, 2SLGBTQIA+, Consensually-Non-Monogamous, Kinky, or Fluid it is important to work with someone who understands the complex and vast ecosystem of human identity, power, sexuality, desire, pleasure, attachment theory, and the science of love.
I recommend looking at Lumia for a coach because a quality trauma-informed, intersectional, relationship, communication, identity, and sex coach can be hard to come by. That said, some of the most talented coaches I know aren’t accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). This is why it’s important to meet with a coach to see how you fit together.
When looking for a coach, ask yourself…
- How does the coach’s lived experience qualify them for this work?
- Do their testimonials relate to me?
- What are the values of the coach and how do they align with mine?
- How do I feel when I read their content or watch their videos?
- How does their voice make me feel?
When looking for a coach, ask the coach…
- What is important to you about doing this type of work?
- What are your certifications or are you working towards being certified?
- How long have you been coaching and what were you doing before?
- How did you support a couple to achieve a goal that is similar to the goal I want to achieve?
- If you aren’t the best fit for me can you recommend me to someone else? Any good coach is currently working with a coach or therapist themselves to continue to stay self-aware and show up for you! They should also have a network of other colleagues in the supportive profession.
- How do you incorporate anti-oppression/anti-racism/intersectionality/accessibility/confidentiality into your practice?
- What are your feelings about sex work/non-monogamy/BDSM/etc.?
- What are your policies?
- What else would you like to share with me?
Measuring Progress with Your Coach
When working with a personal fitness trainer progress might be measured by how much strength you lose or gain. When working with a physical therapist the metric might be increased mobility. Relationship coaching deals with intangible skills that aren’t always quantifiable in the same way that being able to lift 100 pounds is. Some goals may be a ‘feeling’ goal.
What is a ‘feeling goal?’ An emotional goal can be something like being more resilient to rejection, feeling sexier, having greater control over your anger, practicing acceptance and being at peace, or embodying confidence. A feeling goal can help you improve your overall emotional well-being.
An accomplishment strategy for a feeling goal incorporates awareness and celebration of milestones to track growth; for example, when a client recognizes how easy it was for them to communicate their feelings of shame to their partner or how quickly they are able to constructively repair after an argument. The coach will help a couple be present to the fact that their arguments used to look a lot like flailing, screaming, and sleeping on the sofa and have graduated to more diplomatic disputes of active listening, empathy, and resolve.
Progress is determined by the couple and metrics are established and agreed upon in the process of setting the coaching contract at the beginning of each session. A good coach asks permission to suggest options or recommendations to expedite a couple’s progress, but the couple has the agency to decide what pace they are comfortable with.
- You are not alone! While working with coaches, therapists, and clients, I’ve learned that most people aren’t experts on how to be in secure and thriving relationships.
- Remember your agency and values. How you navigate your support strategy is your decision.
- Relationship coaching for couples is a strategic partnership where a couple+ seeks support to get ‘unstuck,’ clarify goals and identify obstacles in a safe(r) space. As a team, the couple and coach co-create an accomplishment strategy to achieve desired results. The coaching process helps align the partners as a team that is working together towards a common objective with the assistance of a trusted certified and experienced coach.
- Only you can save your relationship–a therapist or coach can’t do the work for you. Doing the work with a dedicated, experienced, and trained professional does, however, give you a fighting chance for a thriving relationship.
- Therapy is a resource if you need to heal so that you can return to a healthy baseline. Coaching is action-oriented and future-facing for people who are at baseline and want to thrive.
- Couples coaching focuses on goals and solutions rather than a comprehensive understanding of why these issues might exist. Oftentimes, a couple just needs solutions to their problems and is less interested in spending their time and resources having a traditional therapist investigate the psychological roots.
- Relationship coaching often deals with intangible soft skills and ‘feeling’ goals.
- Finding the right relationship is crucial to getting therapy or coaching to work properly, like dating. Personality, trust, and communication style are important.
- The best relationship coaches are also trauma-informed, intersectional, identity-conscious, and erotically intelligent communication experts.
- It’s important to do research and ask questions.
Certified Sex, Identity, Communication, & Relationship Coach