9 Techniques for Marriage Mentors

When we were new to mentoring, we often weren’t sure what to do next. Someone would say something and I would think, “What do I do now?”

I wasn’t very proficient at recognizing techniques that I could use.

So, I came up with a list of common techniques that we use when we are working with couples. It helps me to think about this list when I’m either leading a group or working couple-to-couple. When I get stuck, I apply one of these techniques.

Technique 1: Empathic Communication

This is my default. I reflect back the thoughts and the feelings that I have heard. This is also called active listening or reflective listening.

Benefits to this include:

  • Safety – When someone feels that you heard them, they feel a sense of safety. This is true even when you don’t agree.
  • Respect and Value – It demonstrates that you respect and value their thoughts and feelings.
  • Increased Openness – When someone feels that you want to understand, they are more likely to be more open.

It is also important for marriage mentors to model empathic communication for the couple.

We have more training on how to do this in our couple’s training program.

Technique 2: Stay Curious

I used to feel uncomfortable when I didn’t understand what someone was saying. I didn’t want to pry.

I’ve learned that it’s more helpful to remain curious. If you don’t understand a response, ask clarifying questions. It’s OK to say, “I’m not sure I’m understanding you, would you elaborate a little more?”

If you don’t understand, ask.

Technique 3: Silence

I was recently training a group facilitator and he expressed how difficult it was to wait in silence for an answer.

I’ve come to understand that people need time to think about an answer, especially if you are asking a thought provoking question. When you wait for an answer, you get better answers. If you are leading a small group, this can help the group to open up and start talking.

If you ask a question, jump in and answer it and ask another one, you’ll never get a group to open up.

Technique 4: Observation and Feedback

This technique can help to uncover things that aren’t being said. This gives you a chance to read body language and reflect back what you are seeing.

I think of three steps:

  1. Describe what they are doing
  2. Reflect their emotional state
  3. Interpret the underlying dynamics of what is going on

“When your partner said that, you seemed to stiffen a little. Are you uncomfortable with what they are saying?”

It can also be used to interpret any pattern that you see the couple falling into. I will often let the couple go back and forth for a few minutes.

“It seemed to me that I saw one of your criticize and the other defended. Then, I saw a counter-criticism. It seems like you’re both feeling attacked. Is that right?” ”

Is that common?”

Just remember, be tentative. Your interpretation may be wrong!

Technique 5: Outcomes

When they are ready to commit to an action, we’ll set work with them to set up goals and then design steps or actions to reach outcomes.

Technique 6: Push to be Concrete

This is particularly important when you are setting up outcomes. When we ask a someone what they would like to work on, they typically give you a broad answer.

Mentee: “I am willing to offer words of appreciation to my spouse.”

Mentor: “How many times over the next week will you do that?”

Mentee: “Every day.”

Often, the person, or couple, will go for an aggressive goal. We often will back them down a bit in order for them to feel successful.

Mentor: “How much do you do now?”

Mentee: “Not very often.”

Mentor: “I really want you to be successful at this. How about 3 times over the next week?”

Technique 7: Skill Building

We will frequently have a couple practice validating each other. My wife and I even do this in small groups. We’ll have a couple practice empathic communication.

When we hear a particular thought or feeling we’ll say, “Would you say that again to your partner? Partner, would you repeat back what you’re hearing? Thoughts and feelings?”

Some couples have an easy time with this. Other couples will find this very difficult.

Frequently, this will trigger deeper emotions. When that happens, we can explore what was going on and why did they react that way.

Technique 8: Get Spousal Input

I use this all the time. There are usually two perspectives of an issue. I will often ask the spouse what they think about what was said.

First, I reflect back what I heard from one person and make sure that I understand it, then I’ll ask the spouse, “How do you react to that?”

Technique 9: Ricochet a Question to the Group

I use this technique in a group setting when I’m either not sure how to respond or I would rather the group give their input. I use particularly use this when someone wants my opinion.

I don’t want to appear to always have the answers. So, I’ll say, “That’s an interesting question. What would others do in that situation?”

This allows the group to explore an issue without the “expert” being perceived as telling someone what to do.


When I’m stuck, I think about this list and usually one of these responses will work.