In Preparing Couples, we’ve given you a detailed but flexible structure for coaching couples through mini-conversations about things that matter. Sometimes, the conversation might stray; they start with one topic (e.g., how they want to set up bank accounts) and soon find themselves veering off into something related but different (e.g., concerns over spending habits).
How task-oriented should you be? Do you bring them back to the original topic, or go with the flow?
There’s no single “right” answer; it’s a matter of judgment. But remember that the structure we’ve provided is only a tool, a means to an end. It’s not the end itself. The larger goal is for the couple to have a successful experience of discussing something that might otherwise be difficult.
What they’ve written on the Conversation Jumpstarter may be the doorway into deeper issues that are only implied by their responses. When the conversation seems to take a detour, one or both of the partners may be getting at something personally important. You may notice that the person speaking shows greater intensity or emotion. Coaching them through a successful conversation here may be of greater value than staying with where you started. It can create the feeling of being understood and accepted where it really counts.
If you’re not sure, check in with them: “It seems like we’ve taken a little bit of a detour here. We started by talking about bank accounts, and now, Diana, you’re talking about how Chuck spends money. This seems really important to you. Is that right? Then let’s see if we can have a constructive conversation about that before we move on.”
Don’t be a slave to the structure; be ready to go with the flow of what seems to be important to the couple. Successfully navigating such discussions will boost their confidence and sense of unity.