A healthy relationship requires the appropriate interpersonal skills and attitudes to build and maintain a lasting connection (Nelson-Jones, 2006).
Yet we all know it’s not always easy! The situations we find ourselves in can be challenging, influencing how we think, feel, and behave. We stop sharing with, listening to, and understanding those we care about.
A relationship coach can help individuals identify areas of interpersonal awareness and growth and improve their relationship mindset and abilities (Ives, 2012).
In this article, we explore relationship coaching and offer valuable tools to support coaches as they foster their clients’ personal development in improving relationships.
“Human relationship skills are the skills involved in human connection.”
Nelson-Jones, 2006, p. 1
While relationships do not guarantee happiness for an individual, the more relationship skills an individual has, the more likely it may be that relating to another has lasting positive outcomes.
People in relationships — marriage, friendships, or acquaintanceships — have formed a bond. And over time, following personal growth and contextual changes, it will need to transform (Nelson-Jones, 2006).
Relationship coaching should offer clients “a semi-structured framework for reflection, learning and experimentation,” identifying gaps in their relationship attitudes and skills and providing opportunities for personal development (Ives, 2012, p. 89).
Relationship coaching vs. therapy
Relationship therapy typically explores psychological disorders involved in a client’s complex clinical presentation and requires a detailed understanding of conditions such as depression, borderline personality disorder, addiction, and trauma (Stevens & Arnstein, 2011).
Such therapy may be conducted by generalist psychologists, social workers, and counselors and requires accurate assessment and understanding of the complex dynamics between people (Stevens & Arnstein, 2011).
On the other hand, relationship coaching focuses less on clinical concerns, issues, and disorders and more on communication and action skills, attitudes, and learning how to relate effectively to others (Nelson-Jones, 2006).
Inevitably, there is overlap. Coaching in relationship skills is performed both inside and outside counseling and, therefore, may have clinical and nonclinical clients (Nelson-Jones, 2006).
4 Things Relationship Coaches Do
“Relationship coaching […] incorporates establishing a clear goal and effective action plan as well as facilitating personal growth” (Ives, 2012, p. 91).
Therefore, relationship coaches work with clients to identify and increase awareness of gaps in their relationship mindset and abilities, creating personal development opportunities.
They include (Ives, 2012):
Identifying gaps in relationship attitudes and skills
Working with individuals to identify areas where they may lack certain attitudes or abilities that can hinder their relationships. A good assessment provides an opportunity for personal development.
Helping individuals address specific attitudes or perceptions that may be challenging their relationships, including:
Conflicting or confused priorities in partner selection
Misunderstandings of how others perceive them
Inflexibility and difficulty compromising
Struggles with coping with imperfections in a partner
Poor conflict management
Developing communication skills
Working with clients to help them recognize and develop the communication skills required to build and maintain successful relationships.
Encouraging experiential learning
Typically focusing on the client’s experiences and prior knowledge, rather than an abstract or academic type of learning.
Coaches facilitate exploring and applying new attitudes and skills in practical situations, allowing individuals to learn and grow through firsthand experiences.
Through such methodologies, relationship coaches support clients in enhancing their relationship attitudes, acquiring essential skills, and fostering personal growth in the context of their romantic, emotional, and even working partnerships (Ives, 2012).
These detailed, science-based exercises will equip you or your clients to build healthy, life-enriching relationships.
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How to Coach Couples: 3 Techniques
When people relate, they do so at two levels.
At an “intrapersonal level,” individuals are in a relationship with themselves (Nelson-Jones, 2006).
Within the “interpersonal level” of relationships, “people outwardly relate to others in terms of their thoughts, feelings, physical reactions, and how they communicate and act” (Nelson-Jones, 2006, p. 3).
While this is true of any relationship, it is vital for romantically connected couples.
Coaches use several techniques to support relationships (Nelson-Jones, 2006).
1. Use of skills language
Coaches can help clients move from more everyday language to skills language to support relationship growth.
Everyday language: “When John and I disagree, I usually try to calm him down by listening and validating his feelings.”
Skills language: “I employ my active listening and empathy skills when John and I encounter a disagreement. If he appears upset, I utilize my techniques to acknowledge and validate his emotions.”
Everyday language describes the action the person takes when their partner is upset. In contrast, skills language highlights the specific abilities used (active listening and empathy) and emphasizes their conscious application in response to their partner’s emotional state.
The technique encourages clients to think about the skills they use in their relationships and offers a relatively simple way to analyze and work through problems.
2. Sending effective verbal messages
How we say something is as important as the words we use.
If one partner says to the other, “I think you are right,” but is speaking loudly at a high pitch, it may convey a different meaning.
Coaches should work with their clients to consider how they share their feelings.
The VAPER acronym is helpful and can easily be taught. While it is a general approach to improving communication, it remains vital within relationships (Nelson-Jones, 2006).
Adjust your volume to be loud enough to be heard without being overwhelming.
Clear articulation is crucial when presenting how you feel, as your partner may struggle to understand your delivery and content if you do not enunciate properly.
Pay attention to pitch, such as uncomfortable highness, lowness, or narrowness of range, as it influences what the other person hears when you’re sharing your thoughts and feelings.
Highlight your main points and convey interest and commitment.
Speak reasonably slowly when describing emotions, concerns, and problems, allowing yourself time to think and giving your partner ample opportunity to comprehend what you share.
Partners should also reflect on their body language messages, such as gestures, stance, and eye contact (Nelson-Jones, 2006).
3. Managing anger
When one individual gets angry, it can lead to a heated argument or the other person shutting down, possibly even walking away.
Speak to the clients regarding what anger is and how they manage it. Anger can be packaged in many forms: mild, slight irritation, or full-blown rage. It can also be short or present over a long time (Nelson-Jones, 2006).
Ask them individually to reflect on the following questions and then discuss them within their relationship (Nelson-Jones, 2006):
How much of a challenge do you face in managing your anger?
Do you get angry with yourself more often than with your partner or others?
Aside from anger, what other emotions do you typically experience, such as hurt or anxiety, when you become angry?
What physical reactions, such as tension or other bodily sensations, do you usually experience when you feel angry?
How confident would you describe yourself as a person, and to what extent do you believe this affects your susceptibility to anger?
How successfully are you recognizing and embracing positive feelings toward your partner or others that could prevent or soften your anger?
What kinds of messages do you typically convey when you are feeling angry? This includes verbal, vocal, body language, touch, and actions.
Come up with a list of triggers and warning signals. Agree that the couple may need to give one another a cooling-off period when necessary.
12 Cards & 3 Exercises for Your Sessions
The following exercises target creating a shared understanding between clients in a relationship.
When did you decide to get married (or live together)?
Have there been any significant issues or obstacles in the relationship? What were they?
How satisfied are you with the relationship?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
What would it be if you could change one thing about the other person?
What are you hoping for from coaching? What are your treatment objectives? For example: improve communication, increase intimacy, improve parenting skills, etc.
Maintaining a good relationship and positive connections with others requires regular check-ins to see if both parties are getting what they need and identifying opportunities to make positive changes.
Without regular monitoring, we don’t know if we are doing things right or wrong for the relationship and avoiding unnecessary conflict.
Plan a regular checkup to attend to the health of the relationship. Take stock honestly and openly and make plans for keeping the relationship on track or shaking things up a little.
Ask each partner to consider the following questions (together or separately):
What is working well in the relationship, and what should we keep doing?
What is working OK in the relationship that we could improve?
What are we not doing that we need to start?
What are we not doing so well and need to stop, improve, or replace?
Relationship checkups should be performed openly, with each person feeling safe. This is not a point-scoring exercise, but an opportunity to move forward positively.
Relationship advice is not limited to those already married or in a long-term relationship. Journalist Olivia Petter explores some significant issues facing the contemporary dating scene.
4 Best Apps for Relationship Life Coaches
There are several helpful apps that relationship (and other) coaches can use to connect and encourage change in their clients, including:
Coach.me offers a valuable tool for developing new habits and setting goals and can be used to encourage positive relationship practices. It has an active community and access to coaches.
HabitBull is another helpful tool for building positive habits. Coaches can use this app to create goals prioritizing positive relationship-building activities and support improved communication and understanding.
Nudge is an excellent app for adding relationship exercises and interventions to your training, coaching, and education programs that support personal and interpersonal growth.
Quenza Software & App
Quenza provides an advanced and dedicated app and platform that supports the needs of both the client and the relationship coach.
Designed by and for coaches and counselors, it is ideal for sharing tools, activities, and exercises with individuals and couples to strengthen their relationship skills.
Quenza also offers a powerful and effective way to digitize and scale coaching businesses.
Tools & Resources From PositivePsychology.com
We have many resources for relationship coaches as they support clients wishing to address relationship issues and improve communication.
Connecting With Others by Self-Disclosure
Building solid relationships relies on feeling understood, accepted, and cared for. In this exercise, we explore the practice of self-disclosure to deepen existing connections and foster new ones.
The Sound Relationship House Inspection
Relationships thrive when they receive ongoing care and attention to cultivate friendship, growth, and trust. This tool helps evaluate how well a relationship is functioning by using the metaphor of a relationship house.
Other free resources include:
Anger Exit and Reentry Three steps to move from conflict to constructive communication in any relationship
From My Way to Our Way
When in a relationship, we must move from purely self-centered thinking to cooperative problem-solving.
Being a relationship coach is an extremely gratifying experience, as I’ve been told by a relationship coach! Relationship coaches can help couples identify limiting or challenging attitudes, develop communication skills, and support experiential learning. Unlike therapy, relationship coaching focuses on communication skills and action-oriented approaches rather than clinical concerns.
In circumstances when depression, addiction, trauma, or some form of personality disorder is involved, recommend a relationship therapist to the client.
Since any relationship that has taken time to build and nurture can be considered for relationship coaching, you could end up improving the relationships of friends, associates, and family members — not just romantic relationships.
As such, relationship coaches play a crucial role in personal growth and fostering relationship satisfaction, introducing techniques such as conflict management, understanding love languages, nonviolent communication, use of skills language, effective vocal messaging, and anger management to maintain and build further connections.
We recommend the tools and podcasts in this article for further learning, and check out the apps and resources available for boosting the relationship coaching you offer clients to help them foster personal and interpersonal growth.
Chapman, G. (1995). The five languages of love. Northfield Publishing.
Gottman, J. M. (1994). What predicts divorce? The relationship between marital processes and marital outcomes. Erlbaum.
Ives, Y. (2012). What is relationship coaching? International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 10(2), 88–99.
Nelson-Jones, R. (2006). Human relationship skills: Coaching and self-coaching (4th ed.). Routledge.
Rosenberg, M. B. (1999). Non-violent communication: A language of compassion. PuddleDancer Press.
Stevens, B., & Arnstein, M. (2011). Happy ever after? A practical guide to relationship counselling for clinical psychologists. Australian Academic Press.
About the author
Jeremy Sutton, Ph.D., is a writer and researcher studying the human capacity to push physical and mental limits. His work always remains true to the science beneath, his real-world background in technology, his role as a husband and parent, and his passion as an ultra-marathoner.