Social isolation has changed a lot of things about the way we live today. One of the most subtle and yet most significant is how it has changed our love lives. If we may state the obvious, it’s a weird time to be in a relationship. For that matter, it’s a weird time to not be in a relationship. And it’s maybe especially weird to be trying to get into a relationship.
Nevertheless, human beings persist. No matter how awkward, tedious, or even threatening we find other people to be, we still crave connection so deeply that we’ll do just about anything to achieve it.
That’s why we thought now might be the perfect time to introduce you to relationship coaching.
If you’re familiar with relationship coaching already, the odds are that you heard about it through a female friend, not because you looked into it for yourself. Women are statistically much more likely to seek out objective feedback on their romantic life, and anecdotally, most of the relationship coaches I spoke with for this piece confirmed that the majority of their clients are women.
It sort of makes sense. For a long time — like, eons — men were the sole arbiters of relationship dynamics. That’s a lot of power, and we can probably all agree that it’s been frequently misused. As a result, even though the culture’s shift toward equality has been glacially slow, it’s normal for guys to feel a bit frustrated with how the rules are getting changed on them. It’s putting men in a position they’ve never been in before when it comes to navigating relationships: They’re having to ask for directions.
It doesn’t help that the coaching industry, in general, is rife with posers, dumbasses, and charlatans. Because coaches aren’t required to go to school for what they do, and there’s no regulation of their industry, the field abounds with bullshit coaches hawking aphorisms that they claim will change your life in just six easy steps, for just six easy payments.
However, that doesn’t make relationship coaching a bad idea. No worse, anyway, than muddling along in an unhealthy, unfulfilling pattern and hoping things will change. If your relationship status isn’t what you’d like it to be, but you don’t know why or how to change it, finding the right relationship coach might be the breakthrough you’ve been looking for.
Google “relationship coach for guys” and you’ll find a dizzying array of approaches to curing all manner of romantic woes. There are coaches who promise to help you get a date after one online seminar, and coaches who tag along on these dates to take notes on your performance. There are coaches who will teach you to project a more “alpha” image that (they promise) all women are drawn to, along with psychological manipulation tactics to override a woman’s resistance. On the other end of the spectrum, there are coaches who espouse a more mystical approach, offering to help you harness an unseen energy in order to draw women into your life without any effort on your part.
And then there are the ones who are more like relationship consultants. Relationship coach Mark Groves, who prefers to call himself a “human connection specialist,” practices in a middle ground somewhere between therapy and talking to a friend. Combining elements of psychology and psychiatry with self-help techniques, this style of relationship coaching usually requires spending a lot of time on yourself before you shift your attention to putting another person in your life.
Relationship coach and ManTalks founder Connor Beaton follows a similar path. “Most men want to succeed in relationships, but haven’t ever been taught the foundational principles of what can cause them to sabotage themselves and the relationship without even knowing it,” he explains.
Beaton’s approach includes an element called “Shadow Work,” which focuses on the part of the psyche that people normally hide, reject, or avoid: “This is the part of the mind that causes all sorts of confusion, insecurities, and setbacks. I will dig into their past relationships, family system, and walk them through specific exercises to uncover the part of themselves causing the sabotage. Then I create assignments that coincide with the work each man needs to do to change his core habits and actualize more of his potential.”
Most guys who work with a relationship coach show up focused on fixing a specific issue, and many coaches design their entire practice around one or more such issues. Some clients are looking for help getting their love life off the ground, i.e., approaching women, getting a second date, meeting the type of woman they could introduce to their mom. Others are hoping to revive a stagnant long-term relationship, or even fend off a break-up or divorce.
This last group represents a significant number of male clients, according to Beaton. “A lot of men hold out on working with [a coach] until their challenges and problems become overwhelming,” he says.
Groves adds that men tend to have a harder time seeing when things aren’t right in a relationship than women do. His experience matches the statistic that women initiate break-ups and divorce much more frequently than men. “Usually she’s been trying for years to fix the problem. By the time she says divorce, she’s already made up her mind, and there’s nothing you can do.” It’s an interesting flip of the traditional power dynamic in romantic relationships. After being the historically subordinate group for so long, women have (for their own survival) learned to sense and adapt quickly to a relationship’s unspoken cues, subtle shifts, tensions, and traumas that hide below the surface.
“You can’t work with a coach if you’re in a victim mindset.”
Men, by contrast, often flounder when they encounter something they don’t understand. And when their vulnerabilities are exposed, they either lash out or self-sabotage. “We cheat, lie, disconnect to protect ourselves from going past our limits, to protect ourselves from getting hurt,” says Groves.
We also go back to the same type of relationship over and over again, unconsciously seeking out the same problem over and over again in a misguided effort to finally get it right. “We tend to match with people who are triggers for us and we are triggers for them,” says Groves. “But a good relationship should help you find yourself in a place where you’ve never been.”
If you’ve noticed these self-sabotaging patterns occurring in your relationships, it’s a good signal that you’re ready to work with a relationship coach — as long as there’s one more element.
“I don’t work with anyone who isn’t ready to change,” Groves says. “You can’t work with a coach if you’re in a victim mindset. Most people say things they want out of relationships while living in a way that’s totally out of alignment with that. I won’t tell someone to do something they don’t want to do, but I will push them toward outcomes they say they want.”
Every relationship coach works differently, which means there’s usually an option for every personality and learning style. Some coaches offer online seminars and courses, so you can go at your own pace. Others pair this DIY approach with a regular one-to-one session via phone or video chat, to offer more targeted advice and accountability.
Groves uses a combination of individual- and group-oriented techniques, offering his coaching through courses as well as workshops, conferences, and a wildly popular podcast. For him, the multi-platform approach is an opportunity to teach on a global scale, leveraging not only his own voice and ideas, but also the voices of experts with whom he dialogues.
Other relationship coaches work more along the lines of a therapist or a personal trainer, meeting one-on-one with clients for extended sessions every week. Beaton follows this more intimate, bespoke approach: “Men generally work with me on weekly hour-long calls and assignments in between sessions.”
Groves says that the prevailing cultural narrative about men — that they’re shallow, commitment-phobic, mainly concerned with sex — poses a serious obstacle for those who genuinely want to get better at relationships.
“Men live in a prison of their own feelings. They’ve been told to be strong and silent, to avoid showing weakness. And now we want them to be open and emotional, and yet don’t encourage that with societal structure.”
That’s why, rather than focusing on helping a guy dress better or develop a radar for the openings to a woman’s heart, Groves focuses his work on a client’s interior life — their emotional availability, their openness to receiving care, and the baggage they carry from their upbringing, such as the multitude of taboos around sex. Without the opportunity to unpack those issues, they go through one relationship after another feeling confused, unfulfilled, and frustrated. Worst of all, they develop a subconscious expectation that this is what a normal relationship feels like. That expectation trains them to hit the brakes whenever the relationship threatens to expose their vulnerabilities.
Beaton agrees. “Most men want to succeed in relationships but haven’t ever been taught the foundational principles of what can cause them to sabotage the relationship without even knowing it.” What coaching can offer these men, he says, is “a very clear path for cultivating self-leadership and self-awareness. Having someone who can guide and mentor them can be incredibly beneficial for a man’s confidence and self-worth, and can even help him find a clearer sense of purpose in life.”
One common claim among relationship coaches is that their programs “work” in just a matter of weeks, if not days. Even Groves and Beaton said that their clients achieve results with remarkable speed. That is, as long as those clients do the work.
“In just two weeks, you can uncover so much incredible information about what you were taught and raised with, why you have certain patterns,” says Groves. “But you have to be ready to face the truth of who you are, and how you show up.”
“All teaching is just asking ‘Are you ready to take responsibility for your life?’ When you are, your life will change.”
Beaton adds that the “results or your money back” guarantee commonly offered in the coaching world is an indicator of low quality. “It’s a way to sell people into programs that they may not normally buy and to give people an out when things get hard. I’ve seen countless people pay for big-ticket coaching, put in 70% of the effort needed for the work, not get the results they want, and then blame it on the program or coach.”
He compares it to an Olympic athlete hiring a coach who offered a money-back guarantee if they didn’t win gold. Moreover, Beaton adds, the coach mentorship dynamic is itself a relationship. If you’re going into it looking for a money-back guarantee, it doesn’t say much about your approach to romantic relationships.
In other words, no matter the tangible results a client is looking for, the speed of their coaching progress depends on their commitment to doing the work.
“Ultimately,” says Groves, “all teaching is just asking ‘Are you ready to take responsibility for your life?’ When you are, your life will change.”
It’s important to seek out a coach that doesn’t guarantee an external result (a new girlfriend, a full social schedule, a revived marriage) in some specific length of time. It’s also a good idea to work with someone who has personal experience of what you’re going through. In other words, you don’t want to be coached by a guy who claims to spend his life stepping over women who fall at his feet. You want somebody acquainted with heartbreak, loneliness, and the tedious horror of the dating scene.
That said, a lot of coaches use their personal transformation stories as a claim to credibility. So don’t just look for the story — look for what they say they learned from it. Our culture has taught us to idolize the wrong kind of relationship, says Groves: “‘I’m with you because you make me feel like I’m perfect’ versus ‘I’m with you because we are good together and make each other better.'” If a coach is pointing up his external circumstances as proof of his expertise, that’s often a marker of his program being more about gimmicks than growth.
Obviously, the current state of global affairs makes it hard to put many of these relationship principles into practice — or does it? When I asked Groves and Beaton whether guys can do anything to work on their relationship issues during this pandemic, they surprised me with having an answer at the ready. No matter what your love life looks like — dating or married, on the prowl or recently broken up — you can instantly begin improving it by practicing emotional fluency.
“Emotion is the currency of the future,” Groves says. “We have to build emotional intelligence, to learn and understand ourselves, to start putting words to feelings. It’s a new language, and if you’ve never been taught to feel, or seen a conflict navigated with intimacy, how would you know how to do it?”
As a result of not being given license to feel, says Groves, men tend to express their inner experience through just one or two emotions. All negative feelings come out as aggression, rather than fear, grief, or even pure anger.
“Emotion is the currency of the future.”
“Many western men blame their problems on everything else but themselves,” says Beaton, “and then wonder why their lives aren’t working. Many of the men who come to work with me are emotionally constipated and have never been taught how to feel, let alone understand their emotions. This is important data in a man’s life, and should not be ignored. They need to learn how to read the data, to speak the emotional language within themselves.”
“We have to teach ourselves that our vulnerability and emotion are not connected to our masculinity,” Groves adds. “Learning to express your pain through words, as opposed to shouting or stomping your feet or punching a hole, is a revolution.”
It’s time, he says, for men to stop shirking the responsibility for how they feel as individuals. “We can’t expect women to save us — we have to show up for ourselves and for each other.”
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