Your client is in a relationship but has doubts about the validity of his emotions. He asks you the following question: How do I know if I really love my partner? As his coach, what would you do? Master Coach Terry Neal answers…

Initial Questioning

A client with this question needs to be treated sensitively. The client may be in a position of concern about ‘what is love really’ which may have come from comparing themselves in their relationship with other couples that they know personally or have observed in recent times.

Their concern may also have come from reading, hearing about or seeing reports on celebrity couples who are quite often held up in the media to every possible scrutiny and public comment by those who claim to ‘know’ what is and isn’t “real love” in a couple relationship.

On the other hand, your client may be asking this question because he is feeling that the fire or spark that may have been in the relationship in earlier times now seems to have diminished or even disappeared.

The feeling that they may now have towards their partner may not have much or any resemblance to the feeling that they experienced in earlier stages of the relationship.

Initially, you would need to let your client talk about what they see as the core of this questioning. Through careful listening, you will be able to begin to determine some important aspects of their relationship at this time and why they have come to you for coaching.

Perhaps they’re in a relatively newly-committed relationship that has begun to settle into the daily routine (that’s part of most relationships at some stage) or perhaps they and/or their partner have talked about commitment and living together and your client is wondering about their current feelings towards their partner (and whether this will be enough to make this move and to support them in the next stage of their relationship).

Thus, sensitive questioning will help you to establish where the relationship is according to your client and some of the challenges that it’s bringing.

Strategies

Now, if you realise that issues were raised through the initial questioning stage which need to be addressed by a relationship counsellor, then you would be ethically bound to let your client know this (and therefore you will need to talk with your client about a referral to such a practitioner).

However, if you believe that your client is wondering in general about whether they really love their partner, you could begin by asking them to write down what they think and/or feel are the qualities that express love in a couple relationship.

Ask them not to limit themselves with or judge the expressions they write on this list: ask them to write down as many qualities as they can think of, including those they’ve heard others say to be such expressions. This list could consist of actions, words, thoughts, feelings… whatever they feel or think constitutes an expression of love.

Next, ask them to indicate which qualities they consider to be the most important expressions of love in a relationship. Finally, ask the client to indicate the qualities they are expressing or doing now within their current relationship.

Encourage your client to look at the complete list, particularly noting those that they’ve indicated as important in general and especially those that they use now as expressions of love towards their partner.

You could then follow the creation of this list with questions like:

  • What do you notice about your list of qualities in general?
  • What is the correlation between the expressions you’ve considered to be important and those that you actually express now?
  • How do you feel about this correlation?
  • What aspects (if any) of your expressions of love that you already use now towards your partner would you like to change?
  • What would you like to include from the larger overall list?

Once again, sensitivity would be required as your client could start to make negative comparisons about themselves through how they currently express love towards their partner by comparing themselves with their ideal list.

However, there are three things you could do to alleviate this comparison:

  1. You could remind your client that the list of the expressions of love came from them and so this means that they do have the awareness of what love and its expression can look and feel like. If they reply that they were just saying what they’ve heard others say to be expressions of love, suggest that this is OK as initially you asked them to list as many as they could think of or felt were expressions and not whether they would use them.
  2. You could ask them if there are any qualities in the most important list that are ‘shoulds’ for them ie: “I should express this or feel like this”.
  3. You could also suggest some web research about love and relationships from reputable sources that present a ‘down-to-earth’ approach e.g. Relationships Australia, Counselling Connection Blog (www.counsellingconnection.com), etc.

By the end of the session, your client may at least have a more positive perspective around the qualities of love that they already express and can be supported to see that they are perhaps already expressing some or many of those qualities that they regard as important to their partner.

Further sessions with you may assist in highlighting those expressions of love that your client may choose to include and express within their relationship.