How G.R.O.W.-method coaching helped my marriage

It was the stereotypical beleaguered-husband scenario: the Wife’s hair had been mangled at the hairdresser’s. The air in the living room was thick with cliché. It felt like the setup for an I Love Lucy episode.

Actually, the cut was fine. But the color was way off. Even I, the clueless husband, could tell. Hair is part of your self-image, and to an actor, like the Wife, self-image is both brand and stock-in-trade. A bad dye job is a problem at several levels.

It’s at times like these when a husband earns his stripes. I, however, was resolutely stripeless. I could tell from the Wife’s mounting frustration that my affectionate cooing and reassurances were not cutting it. I also knew, from past experience, that offering advice was not a good idea. Besides, what did I know about dyeing hair?

The mood in the room continued to sink. But then something inside me decided to change gear. This scenario, someone coming to me with an emotionally laden problem that they had to solve themselves, it just felt so familiar. At a level just below my awareness, my recent “Essentials of Coaching” training started to speak through me.

“Honey, that sounds awful. I can tell that you’re feeling a terrible blend of disappointment, frustration, and confusion. But I’ll bet that two smart people like us can figure this out. Tell me again what your ultimate goal is here?”

She pondered, and decided that her goal was to be at least a little closer to the shade of red she’d originally picked out (and not to return to blond).

“Great. Red is going to look fantastic. Let’s talk about the reality of where you are now, and what obstacles we need to get around.”

Well, the reality is that her hair is way too dark, almost black. At the length it is, it’ll take months to grow out, and will look ridiculous the whole time. Her hair budget for the year is almost completely blown out, and my parents will be visiting in a few days, so any failed fix attempts will need time to be resolved before then.

“Yep, that’s the landscape. Not easy, but totally doable. Tell me again about what options you had in mind for moving forward.”

She could call the salon and try to get them to fix their mistake. But they seemed none too concerned about it before.

She could try to find another salon to fix it, but that would effectively double her sunk costs. Plus, they would probably have to strip her hair with bleach first, which is damaging in the long run.

Or she could try a drugstore remedy called “Color Oops”, which works some chemical magic to lighten the effects of dye. But it tends to give mixed results, and with every passing minute the dye is setting in further and further.

“And maybe one more?”

She could just try to live with it. Plenty of women live long, healthy lives with hair the color of deoxygenated blood. Like goth chicks. Or Rihanna.

“Okay, great. So out of those four, same salon, different salon, Color Oops, or toughing it out, which direction are you leaning in now?”

Well, the Color Oops solution is the cheapest, it’s completely in her control, and she can act on it the soonest.

“Yes, that makes sense. So if we go with Color Oops as the way forward here, what would be your next steps?”

A trip to CVS.

“And when could you do that?”

Monday night.

And she did. I’m now married to a beautiful redhead.

See, I had always thought that my choices when dealing with a crisis at home (large or small) were to either listen supportively and “emotionally” or to offer advice on tactics.

What I see now, having been trained in coaching, is that most of the time my wife doesn’t need my “help” at all. Sometimes she just needs to be “facilitated” (to use a buzzword); she needs another person there to grease the skids of her own awesome intellect, which is being hampered by the closeness to the problem.

In this case, it was sufficient to help her articulate her goal in the context of current reality, identify her options, and establish a way forward, with a specific next action identified.

The realization for me was that this set of practices we call “coaching” is actually just formalized, healthy two-person problem solving, and that it can be accomplished without toxic power dynamics or emotionless list-making or unproductive venting. The role of the coach is to simply lift the lantern high enough so that the obstacles and the paths around them are visible.

My point is not to treat your spouse like an employee, but rather to see a coaching relationship and a life relationship as both being about the maximization of agency, happiness, efficacy, and harmony on all sides, and whenever we can help fertilize that process, that’s when we become our best selves, not as managers but as people.

“Were you…’managing’ me just then?” my wife asked later.

“…Maybe a little,” I said, and I explained what coaching was.

My wife said, with no small amount of exasperation, “I have literally been asking that from you for years!”

I shrugged. “Thank your local corporate training department.”

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