Want to save your relationship? This is how it's done.
As a Denver marriage counselor, getting a call from someone around town wanting help for their relationship is not unusual for me. But this situation was different: It was a call to help repair the relationship between two morning talk show hosts of a local radio station. (92.5 The Wolf, Denver’s Modern Country, in case you’re curious.) Of course, I was totally intrigued.
I learned that the hosts of the Wolf Wakeup Show, Jenny and Greg, had been personal, platonic friends for over 11 years. They called themselves “work husband and work wife.” While their sassy on-air banter made for great radio, underneath the surface their real relationship was actually struggling. But because they cared about each other so much, and wanted their relationship to be successful, they were open to getting professional help.
Our On-Air Relationship Coaching Session
I got to the radio studio before 6am, coffee in-hand, to do some on-air relationship coaching. As with all couples we work with, the first place to start was with a relationship assessment to figure out what the heck was going on. Here’s the story that unfolded:
Jenny and Greg, in addition to hosting their morning show, often did live events together to promote different artists and mingle with their listeners. However, Jenny often felt that Greg “took over” during these events, and told her what to do. At these times she felt more like his assistant than his partner, and it hurt her feelings and angered her. When this happened she experienced Greg as self-focused and controlling. When Jenny felt this way, she shut down to avoid confrontation leaving Greg feeling confused about why she was upset.
From Greg’s point of view, he experienced Jenny as mysteriously moody and irrationally angry. He had lots of experience doing live events, and knew exactly what needed to be done. He also wanted to help Jenny, who was pregnant and often feeling tired or ill. When there was a job to do Greg went into his “getting things done” zone, but then felt confused and frustrated when Jenny would get angry with him for doing things that just made sense to do. When Jenny finally told him what was bothering her, Greg often felt defensive and unfairly attacked. In his defensiveness he often minimized or dismissed her complaints.
As I listened to their story from each of their perspectives I saw patterns that are so common in the couples we see in our practice: Different personalities, different strengths, different ways of giving and receiving love, and communication strategies that created more problems rather than solving them. Just like almost all the couples we see for marriage counseling or relationship coaching, Jenny and Greg were two good people both wanting the same thing: to love and be loved.
Relationship Repair Strategies
I’ll share with you what we did on the air, in hopes that you too can use some of these same tools and strategies in your own relationship.
1) I gave them a personality assessment. Dr. Helen Fisher has developed a fantastic tool to help couples discover their primary relational types. It's called The Anatomy of Love Personality Test, and here's the link if you want to take it for yourself. As I suspected, Greg turned out to be a “Director” – a personality type that is task oriented, goal directed, and very direct. Jenny was clearly a “Negotiator” with the type of personality that prioritizes connection and closeness. I helped them understand that their personality types are fundamentally compatible, provided they could understand and accept each other.
When Jenny learned that Greg’s natural way of being was not selfish or controlling, but rather a strength that allowed him to be extremely productive and competent, it felt less like a personal slight of her, and more like a strength she could lean on.
When Greg learned how important it was for Jenny wanted to feel included by him, and like his partner, he could slow down and intentionally ask for her input and ideas. Doing so helped her feel like they were a team and that her feelings were important to him.
2) We talked about love languages. When I told Greg that I suspected he was the type of guy that was out at 5am scraping the ice off his girlfriend’s windshield so that she would be safe on her way to work, his jaw dropped. “How did you know that?” he said. By framing his action-oriented style as the way he showed love, Jenny was able to see his “controlling” behavior as his way of trying to take care of her.
I also helped Jenny talk about how conversation was the primary vehicle for her to feel connection. Greg learned that when he did things without talking to her about it, it made Jenny feel alone. By giving her the opportunity to talk through ideas with him before taking action, it strengthened her feelings of connection and partnership.
3) We did communication coaching. Jenny had good intentions. When she started to feel angry and upset, she became quiet because she didn’t want to create a scene or have a nasty argument. But she also didn’t realize that the absence of information made it difficult for Greg to understand her or meet her needs. We talked about ways she could help him understand how she was feeling, and communicate what she needed in a non-confrontational way that felt safer for her to try, and easier for Greg to hear.
Because, in the past, Greg only heard about how Jenny felt after she was super-upset and feeling fed up, he’d gotten an earful about how he’d been “mistreating” her. Because his intentions were genuinely good, he’d felt like he’d had to defend himself from her accusations. But in doing so, he also made Jenny feel like he was invalidating her feelings, dismissing her concerns, and making it harder for her to talk to him. I helped Greg learn how to listen to Jenny’s feelings and respond to them more sensitively instead of becoming defensive.
We talked about how, in their pain, both Jenny and Greg were accidentally engaging in some toxic communication patterns that created more problems between them. In learning how to communicate more effectively, they could prevent much of the hurt feelings and misunderstandings that had been making it hard to stay positive with each other.
Though we didn’t have much time together in the context of one morning radio show, Jenny and Greg still learned new ideas that helped them understand each other differently and take concrete steps to improve their relationship with each other.
There is Hope For Your Relationship
I wanted to share their story with you, so that you can learn more about how marriage counseling and relationship coaching actually work. Jenny and Greg had major strengths in their relationship, and as people: They cared enough about each other to work on their relationship AND they were both coachable and open to new ideas.
If that is true for you and your partner, great things are possible for your marriage too…
With love to you both,
Listen to Jenny and Greg's On-Air Relationship Coaching Session
P.S. Thanks so much to Jenny and Greg for letting me share their story. In most situations confidentiality prevents me from disclosing details about what actually happens in the counseling room. In being so open with their “growth process” Jenny and Greg allowed their listeners (and you!) to peek through the window of something that's usually very private, and demystify the process.
P.P.S. Greg wanted me to make sure you know that he was right. 😉