Research Paper By Sara Janiczek
(Relationship Coach, GERMANY)
For a relationship coach, one of the main goals is to help individuals accept responsibility for their disturbances and failings and to work at correcting these while, at the same time, helping clients to understand and work actively at changing the marital or family system in which they are relating. The coach explores the conditions, that are contributing to their practical and emotional problems. Moreover, he/she helps to uncover what is sabotaging their love and is keeping them from creating a deep connection.
The theory is that we sometimes behave in a dysfunctional manner because of an irrational belief. These dysfunctional thoughts often come from families and the culture/environment we grew up in. According to Albert Ellis, irrational beliefs can be categorized into twelve categories.
- The idea that it is a dire necessity for adults to be loved by significant others for almost everything they do. This belief causes agitation in relationships because individuals assume that their partner has to be perfect, if not they should leave.
- The idea that certain acts are awful or wicked and that the people who perform such acts should be severely damned If a person does something bad that means that they are a bad person. For instance, if a partner lies about something, the other partner assumes that their partner is bad and will always be a liar.
- The idea that it is horrible when things are not the way we like them to be.
This belief manifests itself when a couple argues about who is right or who is wrong. They cannot see that there is another perspective or another solution to a problem.
- The idea that human misery is invariably externally caused and is forced on us by outside people and events. You often hear from couples “He made me feel angry,“ making the partner responsible for how they feel. Most of the time, the partner didn’t have the intention of hurting their partner’s feelings but was only misinterpreted. Sometimes we interpreted what was said negatively, even though it wasn’t meant that way.
- The idea that if something is or may be so dangerous or fearsome we should be upset and endlessly obsess about it.
Individuals who worry a lot believe that they must ruminate about some feared outcome. There is the belief that if they don’t think about it, it will happen to spite them. In relationships that could manifest in constantly worrying about the partner cheating.
- The idea that it is easier to avoid than to face life’s difficulties and self-responsibilities.
This belief manifests itself in wanting to leave the relationship, whenever there is a difficulty. It appears easier just to find someone else
- The idea that we need something other or stronger or greater than oneself on which to rely.
In a relationship, this person would want to do everything with their partner and expect to get all their needs met through them. Their partner inevitably fails because it is very difficult to fulfill all their needs.
- The idea that we should be thoroughly competent, intelligent, and achieving in all possible respects.
We have our limitations as humans. Some individuals think that because they made some mistakes in their relationship, they decided that they are not good at being a partner/wife/husband.
- The idea that because something once strongly affected our life, it should indefinitely affect it.
Often this regards the past. People who have this belief continue to use a past event as justification for dysfunctional behavior. For instance, one can blame their parents for being a certain way: “ I get angry easily because my parents used to be angry all the time.“
- The idea that we must have certain and perfect control over things
In partnerships, there is the tendency to want to control the other, whether it’s their actions or perspective on specific things.
- The idea that human happiness can be achieved by inertia and inaction
According to this belief, there shouldn’t be work required in finding happiness. These individuals have issues with having to work on their relationship which includes having to make compromises, sacrifices, and changes.
- The idea that we have virtually no control over our emotions and that we cannot help feeling disturbed about things
Individuals who carry this belief tend to blame their inappropriate behavior on their emotions: “I couldn’t help acting like a jerk.“
The innate drive towards self-actualization mixed with irrational expectations creates a challenge in a person’s relationship. Disputing a dysfunctional belief through realistic, and rational means is one technique that was used by Ellis (source, page 12). In a coaching session, the coach would ask questions such as, “In what way is this belief helping you?“ or “ How is continuing to think this way affecting your relationship?“ If the client experiences new awareness, this is when they usually realize that the belief is causing the issue and they might decide to let it go. The difficulty with irrational beliefs is that they are not easily uncovered and usually not conscious. An effective technique is to ask the person what they were thinking in a particularly troubling situation. Usually, individuals respond with an automatic thought, not their dysfunctional belief (page 16). An example of an automatic thought would be “My girlfriend can’t go out without me, because I don’t want her to get hit on by others“ you could uncover the irrational belief “I might not be good enough for my girlfriend, so I need to make sure that she doesn’t get tempted“.
Inference chaining is another technique to uncover irrational beliefs. The coach asks what would happen if the automatic thoughts became true and what it means for the client. If you take the above example again it could look like that:
Client: “ I don’t want my girlfriend to get approached by other men so she can’t go out without me“
Coach: “ What do you think would happen if she would go out without you and get approached by a man?“
Client: “ Then she might get more interested in him and cheat on me“
Coach: “ Let’s suppose that would happen. What might you think then?“
Client: “ I would think that I knew it and that I failed as a boyfriend“
Coach: “ What would it mean to you, to fail as a boyfriend?
Client: “That I am not good enough as significant other“
By allowing the client’s thoughts to become true in their mind, the client was able to discover what the underlying dysfunctional belief was, that encouraged him to become anxious at the thought of his girlfriend going out alone. From that point on the coach and the client can focus on options that will help the client to find a more realistic outlook on the situation and the best solution.
Another approach that can be used in coaching is the empirical dispute. This is especially effective if individuals express words such as „always“ and „never.“ The coach can ask about the evidence both for and against that something always or never happens. In relationship coaching, a client once claimed that her partner never helps out with household chores. The coach asked for evidence that proofs that her partner never contributes to housework and afterward for example where the partner did help out. To the client’s surprise, she was able to find several examples where her partner did help her out with errands. Consequently, the client rationally no longer thinks that her partner “never“ assists in housekeeping.
After successfully being able to dispute an irrational belief, it is helpful to exchange the old belief with more rational thought. Using the above example “My partner never helps out with household chores“ could be replaced with “Even though I wish my partner would help me more out with housework, he does contribute sometimes.“ The client is acknowledging that her partner isn’t perfect and sees that it’s not true that he never helps her out. This might create an understanding on both sides and open the space for a better solution.
Another powerful method is rational-emotive imagery. The clients need to close their eyes and imagine themselves in a recent difficult situation with their partner. They must imagine experiencing the same emotional response and dive into the feelings that they felt. When the client has done that, the coach asks them to change the emotional response to a more neutral feeling. He might ask: “What needed to happen for you to feel better in that certain situation?“ Usually, the client finds more rational reasoning and feels compassion towards their partner.
Most beliefs cause feelings that can manifest into an obstacle in someone’s life. As a coach, I can challenge my client and help to replace irrational beliefs with more realistic, feasible assumptions. Moreover, I can help the client to identify the realistic alternative to the distorted thinking she/he engaged in and develop realistic self-concepts that will allow the client to solve problems more effectively. It’s important to note that as a coach I am not going to use Rational Emotive Therapy but the understanding of it and parts of the tools to help the client breakthrough a roadblock. All in all, rational-emotive imagery, empirical dispute, and inference chaining are powerful tools that can help clients achieve breakthroughs.
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