What is Relationship Coaching?

Relationship Coach Training by Relationship Coaching InstituteWhat exactly is Relationship Coaching? Relationship Coaching is the application of coaching to personal and business relationships. While many become motivated to seek help when struggling with their relationships, coaching and relationship coaching are positive, results-oriented professions.

Coaching helps functional people achieve their personal and relationship goals. It is not a substitute or replacement for therapy provided by a licensed clinician trained to treat mental, emotional, and psychological disorders. While relationship coaches might be experts in relationships, the art and science of coaching is to facilitate success for the client without providing advice or “professional opinions.”


The label “relationship coach” has been used for many years by professionals; Psychotherapists, Psychologists, Marriage and Family Therapists, and Social Workers and entrepreneurial para-professionals with a wide variety of backgrounds.

With the evolution of personal/life coaching as a recognized profession in 1995 with training standards and certification initially established by the International Coach Federation, relationship coaching as a coaching specialty with its own professional training, standards, certification and methodologies was first developed by David Steele, a California based licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who founded the Relationship Coaching Institute in 1997.

Relationship Coaching Specialties

Singles Coaching

44% of U.S. adults are single.  27% of these adults live alone.  (Source- census.gov)  If this trend continues, soon, the majority of the population of the western world will be single.

Helping singles have fulfilling lives and successful relationships requires understanding that not all singles are alike. Most singles do not fit the stereotype of being lonely and desperate for a relationship.

The Relationship Coaching Institute identifies the following seven types of singles:

  1. Temporarily Single. Someone who is actively seeking a partner and in between relationships.
  2. Recently Divorced or Widowed. Someone recovering from loss and not ready for a relationship.
  3. Frustrated Single. Someone who wants a partner but is not able to find one and gives up.
  4. Passive Single. Someone who wants a relationship but not actively seeking a partner.
  5. Single But Not Available. Someone who has a self-perception of being single and desires a lasting relationship, but “hooking up” to get needs met.
  6. Busy or Distracted Single. Someone absorbed in being a single parent, career, school, etc. and doesn’t have the time nor the desire for a partner.
  7. Single by Choice. Someone who has no desire for a partner. Being single is a conscious permanent lifestyle choice for many reasons, including-
    • “Been there, done that, don’t want to do it again”
    • “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”
    • Ascetic or other religious or spiritual reason
    • Is a Loner
    • Values independence more than couplehood
    • Polyamory or alternative lifestyle that doesn’t lend itself to cohabitation
    • Celibate or asexual
    • Financial reasons
    • Aging
    • Health

Each type of single has their own unique developmental goals and challenges. This requires specialized skills and strategies to effectively coach each individual so they may experience relationship success, independent of the advice-driven approaches of other professions.

Couples Coaching

As with singles, not all couples are alike. Relationship Coaching Institute identifies the following four types of couples:

  1. Dating Couples. Someone who self-identifies as “single” but has an on-going, non-exclusive relationship. “Friends with benefits” is one common way of describing these couples. These couples see the purpose of their relationship as fun and recreational. Dating couples often seek coaching when one or both partners want to take their relationship to the next level.
  2. Pre-committed Couples. Both partners have decided to stop dating others and become an exclusive couple. While co-habitation is common at this stage, no formal or explicit long-term commitments have been made. These couples often desire commitment and are testing their relationship for long-term compatibility. Pre-committed couples often seek coaching when they encounter a “deal-breaker.” A “deal-breaker” is referred to by Relationship Coaching Institute as a “requirement.” This could be preventing their ability to enter into a long-term committed relationship without sacrificing something important; such as whether or not to have children.
  3. Pre-marital Couples. Both partners have decided to become committed, but haven’t yet acted to formalize their commitment (marriage, commitment ceremony, etc). Many pre-marital couples are acutely aware of the high failure rate of committed relationships and seek coaching to acquire the skills and practices needed for long-term relationship success.
  4. Committed Couples. “Commitment” can be defined as both an “attitude” (belief) and a “fact” (formal, symbolic, even legal act). While most couples might think of their relationship as “committed,” if they haven’t acted to formalize their commitment they have the attitude but not the fact of commitment. Couples who have made a formal commitment sometimes bring up divorce in response to a problem, which is a less-than-committed attitude. This can be a cause of confusion, consternation and conflict. Most committed couples are married or have formalized their commitment in a ceremony of some kind. These couples often seek coaching because they desire to find a way to successfully solve problems and “live happily ever after.”

Family Coaching

Family coaching includes nuclear and extended families, parenting, siblings, family businesses and co-housing arrangements.

Business Relationship Coaching

Productive businesses require effective relationships. Business relationship coaching can include workplace relationships such as manager to employee, peer to peer, between corporate divisions, between teams, as well as customer and vendor relationships.

Comparing Coaching and Therapy

Relationship coaching is a professional client-focused service. The individual or couple is assumed to be healthy, powerful, and able to achieve relationship goals with effective support, information, and guidance. There are significant and sometimes contrasting differences between therapy and coaching. These differences better highlight the strengths of coaching.

In short, coaching is a results and goal-oriented methodology. Coaching assumes the client is functional and fully capable of success. Meanwhile (psycho)therapy is a healing profession trained and licensed to diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and psychological disorders. Coaching and therapy can complement each other very well. It could be said that coaching starts where therapy ends, making coaching a good fit for personal growth-oriented therapists.

Therapy Coaching
Assumes the client needs healing Assumes the client is whole
Roots in medicine, psychiatry Roots in sports, business, personal growth venues
Works with people to achieve self-understanding and emotional healing Works to move people to a higher level of functioning
Focuses on feelings and past events Focuses on actions and the future
Explores the root of problems Focuses on solving problems
Works to bring the unconscious into consciousness Works with the conscious mind
Works for internal resolution of pain and to let go of old patterns Works for external solutions to overcome barriers, learn new skills and implement effective choices

Table adapted from Hayden and Whitworth, 1995

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