Self-Disclosure: How Much is too Much?

When I sit in church and listen to the pastor, I like it when there is self-disclosure. It helps me to relate to a real person. When they tell me a personal story, I listen more closely. I want to know how they applied the teaching concepts to their real life.

When it comes to mentors, there are only two errors: too much self-disclosure and too little.

When you are honest, open and transparent it can make you a wonderful resource for your couples. You come across as relatable and trustworthy. After all, people are more likely to be open and honest with people they feel are open and honest with them.

The challenge for marriage mentors is to be both “in the moment” with their couples and “outside the fray”. Meaning that couples are asked to offer and model grace and compassion, while keeping an eye out for opportunities to reinforce the skills taught in Connected Marriage.

My wife and I were working with a couple that was struggling to find their way forward after an affair. There was a moment when my wife said “I can see and feel your pain, and I can see you bravely trying to mend your marriage, but you seem to get stuck in a cycle of hurtful thoughts and that keeps getting in your way.”

The couple confirmed that was true, then my wife continued, “my husband and I have worked through tremendously difficult times, and there were times that we were both trapped by a cycle of negative thoughts, but we knew, that to move forward, we needed to choose each other and our future and we needed to choose to stop indulging in the negative thoughts.”

We discussed how my wife and I chose to be hopeful, to work on our communication and conflict skills. Finally, forgiveness and restoration of trust came. In that moment my wife showed empathy for a couple that needed to stop feeling so alone in their struggle. My wife also showed them that things can get better and that choosing to believe in hope, rather than negative thoughts, is one important way to choose to keep moving forward.

Many times self-disclosure can be an effective tool to recognize a couples’ struggle and reflect on how you use the Connected Marriage skills to overcome a similar struggle in your own marriage.

Too Little Self-Disclosure

When my wife and I were struggling it helped to talk to couples that had lived it. It helped me to understand that I wasn’t weird or somehow “out there.”

Mentors can be seen by their couples as a marriage and relationship authority. This can be helpful when it comes to teaching skills, holding couples accountable for their behaviors, and getting couples to buy into change.

However, without strategic self-disclosure, mentors can seem stoic and insensitive to the struggles of their couples.

Too Much Self-Disclosure

Make sure that what you are sharing is applicable to the couples you are working with, especially in a group setting. Being too specific about an example you are sharing or what you’ve been through may miss the mark with your couples. Then, you’ve missed an opportunity to connected at a deeper level.

Self-disclosure should be done with a goal in mind, and not for its own sake. For example, talking about an argument you had earlier in the week with your wife can be effective if you’re able to relate it back to your couples’ situation or to a skill you are trying to teach.  However, it can be damaging to the mentor/mentee relationship if you just seem like you’re venting about your spouse. A simple way to make sure you stay on track is by asking yourself “what am I hoping my mentee couple learns from this?” If it’s not aimed at accomplishing a goal, it should probably be avoided.

Self-disclosure, when done effectively, can inspire couples and give them hope in times of struggle.

Here’s a few suggestions:

  • Focus on the goal. What are you trying to teach? How does your story help the couple?
  • Disclose only as much as you are comfortable, but be sure to model emotional vulnerability to their couples.
  • Provide hope. When mentor couples talk to their mentees about their own struggles, and how they have overcome them, it can provide hope. Seeing that someone else has experienced a similar issue, has made it through and can talk about it, is especially helpful in times of frustration or struggle for mentee couples.


About Steve Salchert

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.