Don’t Do As I Do
Your Marriage May Be Great, But It’s Not For Everyone
There is a temptation for many mentors, myself included, to attempt to mold your mentees relationship into something that looks more like your own. After all, the logic follows, if my spouse and I are happy, our mentees would be happy too if they could just be more like us. In some cases, that instinct is at least partially correct, but in others it could be completely wrong.
In Connected Marriage, we discuss relationship dynamics, communication filters, and family of origin influences. There are specific skills and important conversations to have around each of these relationship areas. All of which lead to improved trust, forgiveness and deeper, more fulfilling intimacy.
What you, as a mentor, will begin to recognize after mentoring many couples is that the structure, rules, filters, influences and goals of each relationship are different. These characteristics can be displayed through the most obvious and overt actions or by the subtlest of body language messages. Because of that, how your couples interact with each other and the rest of the world around them will be necessarily unique.
One way to make sure that the help you are offering your mentee couples falls in line with what they want is to set goals. I usually do this in our initial meeting. It can be done simply by asking, “What do you hope to get out of our time together?” or, “How can we be most helpful to the two of you?”
These goals can then become your anchor and you can relate everything back to your goals. Including your couples’ between meeting homework, any additional reading, or to help your couple track progress.
If your marriage is strong, you communicate well and you have successful conflict resolution strategies, share the skills that have helped you to become the inspiring couple that you are. Showing your couples the skills of Connected Marriage, and offering the support to find their own unique way to be strong together is a powerful experience for everyone involved.
Lastly, helping a couple find their own path forward, with improved marriage skills and understanding about themselves and their relationship, helps the changes they make in Connected Marriage stick for the long term.
Skills Not Situations
When meeting with couples, there will be times when mentors comes face to face with intense emotions. In fact, it’s not uncommon for mentee couples to have an argument right in front of their mentors. That being said, it is critical for mentors to maintain perspective during these times.
It is easy for mentors to be tempted to “solve” their mentee couple’s problems. This can be especially true when mentors feel that one person is in the right and the other is in the wrong.
Rather than taking sides and attempting to fix the problem, successful mentors use these opportunities to encourage their mentees to use the skills being taught in Connected Marriage.
Countertransference is a dynamic that even skilled and highly trained mental health professionals need to remain mindful of. Countertransference is when a mentor couple is triggered by the emotions and situation of their mentees. This can lead to damage being done to the mentor/mentee relationship. It also means that mentors are now responding to a situation rather than focusing on the skills of the lesson. The best way to solve the problems of countertransference is to stay focused on the skills, coaching towards effective behaviors and avoiding giving direct advice.
Staying focused on the skills Connected Marriage also provides structure for mentors. If mentors are continually reacting to mentees situations, the original intent of the lessons and skills presented in Connected Marriage can be lost. The best way to ensure a positive learning experience for everyone involved is to focus on the skills.
Tips For Mentors:
- Set Goals – Set goals with your mentee couples in the first meeting. Then, refer back to those goals in future sessions.
- Don’t Fix Their Problems – It’s not our job to fix their specific situations.
- Focus on Skills – Help the couples to lean the skills taught in each lesson.
I have been a volunteer with Connected Marriage for five years. I started as a mentee, seeking to repair my own marriage. Once my own marriage was on surer footing, I began working with couples myself. I have taught and shaped content, led small groups and also led couple-to-couple sessions. It is because of that experience that I decided to go back to graduate school and pursue my masters in marriage and family therapy.
I am excited to be able to share with other mentors what I have learned from all of my experience: being a mentee, a mentor and a therapist. I hope to be a resource for mentors that feel overwhelmed or unsure of what to do next with their couples. Being a marriage mentor is challenging, but can also be deeply rewarding.