Don’t Make These 5 Mistakes, Like I Have

In Your Marriage Coaching, Avoid These Mistakes

Have you made any mistakes speaking with couples? I know I have.

I’ve made most of those mistakes a number of times. Sometimes, I cringe a little when we finish meeting with a couple and I think back over how our conversation went.

I have to remind myself that it’s a learning process and I’ll keep getting better. I’ve been doing this for almost 15 years and I am still learning.

Here’s some of my most common mistakes.

Mistake #1: Not Giving People Time

I recently spoke with a woman that learned that her husband of over 30 years had been visiting prostitutes for much of their marriage. This was completely devastating. She was very angry with her husband.

She met with someone in her church that does counseling. The counselor told her that she needed to forgive her husband and to get over her anger.

I asked her if she felt that her anger and pain were validated. She immediately reacted and said that she felt completely dismissed.

I don’t know the counselor, so it could be more to this story. However, I do know that she didn’t feel understood.

I’ve learned that healing takes time. A big trauma, like learning about infidelity, involves processing a lot of emotions.

Was it wrong for the counselor to talk about forgiveness? Maybe it just wasn’t the right timing.

Mistake #2: Not Letting People Be Where They Are

One of the first times that we met with a couple, they told us they were thinking about divorce. My immediate reaction was to say, “No, don’t do that.”

I actually didn’t say that, but I certainly felt like it. I’ve learned that I have to accept where people are at.

I need to listen.

I’ve come to the conclusion that love is about accepting people where they are at and listening to their thoughts. If you don’t do that, they won’t be open. If people can’t get real with you, then it just heaps shame on them.

Accept them where they are.

Mistake #3: Fixing

Fixing doesn’t work well. I tend to be a fixer. When I say fixing, I’m also talking about offering advice too quickly. I have to work very hard at not jumping in with advice right away.

Have you ever offered advice that is sound, but the person didn’t listen? Odds are that the person wasn’t ready to hear it. Offering advice at the wrong time can be dangerous. 

People change when they recognize that what they are doing isn’t working well.

Whenever I jump into advice before someone has asked for it, they usually aren’t ready to hear it.

It’s far more effective to help them to become aware of what they are thinking and feeling. They need to understand the consequences of their behavior.

When someone asks you for advice, they are more likely ready to change.

Mistake #4: Not Listening Below the Surface

When I first started to work in marriage ministry a psychologist gave me some great advice. She said, “People always have a good reason for the things they do. They may not understand their own reasons, but the reason is there.”

That statement has stuck with me. When I listen to someone, I try to hear what’s below the surface. How are they feeling? Is there a thought or assumption tied to that feeling?

When I’m trying to understand what’s the below the surface, I help the person to understand themselves.

It allows them to come to the conclusion that they need to change.

Mistake #5: Being Judgmental

This one’s tough to explain. What’s the difference between stating the truth and being judgmental?

I’ve come to the conclusion that’s it’s in the eyes of the person that you’re speaking with. Do they interpret it as condemning, shaming, accusatory, or critical? Are they ready to hear it?

Personally, I will react to someone’s statements depending on who they are and when they say something.

I have a group of guys that I have breakfast with once a week. I trust them. If one of them were to say to me, “You need to treat your wife better.” I would be curious why he said that. I wouldn’t feel judged because I understand that he is looking out for me. We have a strong relationship.

That works because we have a level of trust. Sometimes, I need to be confronted.

That is much different than if I met with a pastor or a mentor that I don’t know. If they listened for a short time and then said, “You need to treat your wife better.” I would take that as a very judgmental statement. I would be thinking, “Who are you to judge me?” I may not listen much further.

I used to be surprised when I heard about affairs, addictions, abuse, poor communication and poor behaviors. My default was to revert to my knowledge of scripture. Usually, it was something like, “We know that adultery is a sin. You need to repent.” My statement’s true, right?

What I’ve learned is that if I don’t listen, show empathy, demonstrate mercy and act in humility, I’m not acting in love. The better option is to listen, ask questions and confront when the relationship is stronger.

Tips for Marriage Coaching:

  • Listen, Listen, Listen – You don’t have to have the answers. It’s more important to demonstrate love by listening and having empathy.
  • Allow Them Time to Process – It takes time to heal from wounds. Learning a new way of behaving takes time to think and to apply concepts. God is gracious in giving us time to change.
  • Be Slow to Offer Advice – Be aware of when people are asking for advice and when they aren’t.