Denise Fitzpatrick joins Karen Covy to discuss the difference between marriage coaching and marriage counseling. They talk about how marriage coaching can often provide an effective alternative to marriage counseling, and how it can help you work on your marriage in a way that actually works!
Marriage coaching can provide couples with a focused, solutions-oriented approach to conquer their marriage struggles once and for all.
Denise Fitzpatrick is a licensed professional counselor turned marriage coach/mentor. She is passionate about saving marriages and keeping families together. Through private coaching she empowers professional, midlife married women (& married couples) to eliminate painful relationship patterns and master conscious communication so they can create the marriage of their dreams.
Where to Connect with Denise
You can connect with Denise on Facebook at Denise C Fitzpatrick or in her Facebook Group, Empowering Women in Marriage. She is on LinkedIn as Denise Fitzpatrick. You can also find her on her website at MyMarriageWorks.com or email her at [email protected].
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How You Can Work on Your Marriage in a Way That Works!
Karen Covy (00:00):
Hello and welcome to Off The Fence, a podcast where we deconstruct difficult decision making so that we can find out what keeps us stuck, and more importantly, how we can get unstuck and start making even tough decisions with confidence.
I'm your host, Karen Covey, a former divorce lawyer, mediator and arbitrator turned coach, author and entrepreneur.
With me today is Denise Fitzpatrick. Denise is a licensed professional counselor turned marriage coach and mentor. She's passionate about saving marriages and keeping families together. Through private coaching, she empowers professional midlife, married women, and married couples to eliminate painful relationship patterns and master conscious communication so that they can create the marriage of their dreams. And that sounds absolutely wonderful, unlike something everyone would want. So, Denise, welcome to the show.
Denise Fitzpatrick (00:50):
Thank you, Karen. Thanks so much for having me.
Karen Covy (00:53):
I am so excited to have you. I want to jump right in right away and ask the question that I've been dying to ask, which is, what is the difference between a marriage coach and a marriage counselor, a marriage therapist?
Denise Fitzpatrick (01:06):
Great question. Everybody wants to know that. So, really, the biggest difference is the approach to helping people. My experience as a licensed professional counselor and doing therapy was a lot of people want a place where they can talk about their problems and they can, I want to say vent because yes, there is a component of venting, right? So, they want a safe space to kind of unload, if you will, and be held and be supported and have empathy and compassion, which are all super important. However, if you are a married couple and you're in a really tough place and your marriage is struggling, and you might even be hanging by a thread, you need something more than just a place to unload and vent about what's going on. You need a focused forward path and something solution oriented, right?
In my experience, therapy doesn't provide that for couples. The problem is a lot of therapists aren't trained in couples therapy per se, and it's a very different skill set than doing individual counseling. Unfortunately, the average consumer doesn't understand that. So, they may go to a therapist that's not skilled in helping couples and find themselves getting worse, and then thinking, ‘Oh, we must be really bad if the therapist can't help us.’ And then they end up probably pursuing the path of divorce. When in fact if they had worked with somebody that was skilled in helping couples, then chances are they could have put their marriage back on a different path forward.
Karen Covy (02:56):
So, what I hear you saying is that the therapist you choose, the skill of the therapist you choose to do your marriage counseling or marriage therapy, I don't know what the right word is, ut that makes a huge difference?
Denise Fitzpatrick (03:12):
Absolutely. You could say marriage therapist, marriage counselor, they're one and the same. But I guess to answer your previous question too, so what does coaching look like? Coaching is much more about identifying what is the problem? What do you want your marriage to look like? And being really clear on that desire, because many people stayed so stuck in the problem for so long that they don't even know what they want or what their marriage would look like if it was different. So, in coaching, at least the process that I use with clients is we identify what does that look like? And then we map out the steps, the things that they each need to do differently in order to bring the kind of marriage they want, make that their reality.
Karen Covy (04:06):
That's fascinating because I hear from a lot of the people that I work with who come to me and that they say, “We've tried counseling. We've tried marriage therapy. We've tried it X number of times, it just doesn't work,” right? And I've always wondered why? So, what my thesis was, and I could be wrong, I'm kind of rethinking this, listening to you is that by the time people go to marriage counseling, their problems are so big that they're unresolvable or they're really so far down the path that it's hard to drag yourself back. Is that a factor too or am I just like way off base?
Denise Fitzpatrick (04:51):
I think that's absolutely a factor. There's a couple things that happen. So, sometimes there's one person that's leaning out way more out, the other person's kind of leaning in. You've probably experienced that. The leaning out partner may say, “Okay. Well, we'll try therapy.” It's sort of this like, last ditch effort, but it's also the leaning out partner being like, “Well, we tried.” So, it's kind of just justifying that this in fact isn't going to work. So, I think there's a lot of that.
I think the other part of that, like going back to what I was saying before, there are a lot of therapists that aren't skilled in working with couples. And I've seen that in my own practice where I've had many of my clients who have met with therapists before and, and not had great experiences, and then they find me, and they can see from my website and everything that I write about that I have a very different approach. They see coach, they're not quite sure what that is, but then they read all my stuff and they're like, ‘Ooh, that's very different.’ So, they'll come to me and explain like, “We did therapy and it didn't work,” and then because I have a plan and I have a process to help people, it works.
Karen Covy (06:12):
That is so fascinating because one of the complaints that I hear from people who have been through marriage counseling is that they don't want to go again because they don't want to just agonize over the problem over and over and over. And I've had clients say to me, “I just can't sit there for another hour and get beat up over all the things that are wrong. We end up leaving Feeling worse.”
Denise Fitzpatrick (06:38):
Yeah. So, I have two things to say about that. One is, yes, again, if you don't have a skilled counselor that knows how to sort of mediate that stuff, and it's different than mediating. It's like teaching your clients how to communicate differently about the problems. Unfortunately, what happens is people get into therapy and they're just trying to problem solve. They're trying to deal with the fight of the week or the particular issue, but the content matters less than the process. So, if the therapist is only trying to mediate the fight of the week and they never actually learn the skills to have a better conversation, then of course, it's just going to keep repeating itself.
Karen Covy (07:26):
That makes so much sense. It sounds like what you do in your work is you go deeper into not what are you fighting about. Because I find this so many times, even in the context of divorce, when people are trying to settle a case and they both want like the same thing, like they both want the house, for example, or they both want something in the house or the car or the whatever it is, right? And they get into this fight that looks like it's about the thing, but it's not about that thing. I mean, once you dig down, you realize that there's so much more on an emotional level that's going on. And that until you get to that deeper level, you can't really solve the problem.
Denise Fitzpatrick (08:15):
Right. It's never about the thing. Just like you said, right? That sort of represents, like you say, sort of what's under that, what's deeper, right? Whether it's not feeling loved, not feeling appreciated, feeling unheard, like all of those things that happen that you keep repeating the same arguments, those resentments, the anger just builds and creates walls between people. So, unless you get to that and teach people the skills they need to handle these disagreements effectively, then yeah, they're just going to go around in circles.
Karen Covy (08:55):
Yeah. I want to follow up on something you said that when people build the walls between them, and then the walls just grow and grow and grow. A lot of people, they talk about this idea of there being a point of no return, like after you've gotten to a certain place, it's over. What do you think about that? Is that a real thing?
Denise Fitzpatrick (09:20):
I think it is a real thing for some people. I'm not going to say like, every situation can be resolved, because the thing is, at that point, if somebody is truly decided and they are just, but I guess there's two different things. There's decided like, I'm leaving because I no longer want this. I want something different. But I'm not doing it from a place of, it's all my partner’s fault. That's very different than “I'm leaving because I'm angry at my partner. They're the reason I'm so unhappy. Once I leave this relationship, I'll be happy.” So, it's like two different mindsets. If you do the personal work of like growing and evolving yourself, and then from a clear mind without anger, without blame, you decide, this is not the relationship I want. Then yes, there's no turning back. They've decided, but they're moving on in a good way. Right?
Karen Covy (10:25):
Yeah. So, it sounds like in both of those situations that you just mentioned one person, at least one person has made a decision, but the mindset around the decision is the differentiating factor. In your experience, so it all comes down to the mindset behind the decision, or am I not getting this right?
Denise Fitzpatrick (10:49):
No, mindset absolutely matters because I think for those that leave because they're angry and blaming their partner and they think they're going to be happy in another relationship, actually take that whatever work they haven't done on themselves and bring that to a new relationship. So, as a divorce attorney, you know that 50% of marriages end in divorce, a higher percentage of second time marriages end in divorce. So, I think that's a clear indication that they think the solution is a new relationship and it's not.
Karen Covy (11:25):
It's not. A hundred percent. I always tell my clients when they're going through a divorce, go get individual therapy. It sounds like it's, or maybe I'm thinking in the wrong way here, correct me if I'm wrong, but it's in the individual therapy that you do the work on yourself, that hopefully your therapist holds the mirror up to you and you can see, “Oh, I need to work on this area or that area or what have you, so that you grow from whatever the experience was. Even if it was a horrible experience, you learn from it and you grow. And if you don't do that work, you're much more likely to repeat the same mistakes again and again. So, it sounds like that even if you are going to couples therapy or marriage coaching, whichever you choose, that individual therapy on top of that is also a good idea.
Denise Fitzpatrick (12:24):
So, I'm torn on that. I think it can be, yes. But a lot of times, I might recommend actually if I'm working with a couple that people don't, because here's been my experience of that. Some people will use individual therapy like we've talked about before. Unless of course, the people that are doing the individual work are truly have some self-awareness and are committed to wanting the relationship to work. Sometimes the individual therapy can actually work against the couple.
Well, I'll tell you because when you go to individual therapy, like you are the client, not the relationship, right? And if you have a therapist that doesn't have kind of a relational approach, then they are kind of just seeing that person in kind of their silo, right? Just what they're bringing to the therapist. And so, naturally, the therapist is going to be supportive of that person. Sometimes what can happen is the person takes that, brings that back to the relationship and says, “Well, my therapist told me that, you know.” And of course, we all interpret things differently. So, this person might come out and say, “Well, my therapist told me like I should just leave the relationship, or what you're doing is not okay.” So, using that as sort of a weapon against the relationship, not always, but I have definitely had that experience.
Karen Covy (14:02):
That's fascinating. That is so interesting. What I hear you saying is there may be times if you're really committed to saving the marriage, that that becomes your focus but that if the marriage ends, there's no harm or the bump in the road ends and the marriage stays intact, there's also no harm in doing the individual work on yourself so that you grow in the process. Right?
Denise Fitzpatrick (14:29):
Right. A hundred percent. I think, again, that comes down to the mindset piece too. If you're somebody that's been in therapy before and you understand how it works, and you're really truly going to say, “Hey, help me be a better partner. Here's where I know, maybe I can't see my blind spots and I need you to help me.” Versus somebody perhaps that has never been to therapy and really just uses that as a place to get validation for their story, right? Then we bring that back and say, “Well, hmm, yup, it's not going to work. I went to my therapist and she told me XYZ.” And to no fault of the therapist. Again, like, that person is the client. Even when I'm working with women individually, because I do this work with women and I do it with couples, I am always holding a relational perspective, always. So, I want to know, what would your partner say about you if he was sitting in the room or she was sitting in the room? So, it kind of brings that in. So, they have to think for a moment about how do they perceive me? What is my impact in the relationship?
Karen Covy (15:44):
A hundred percent. I mean, that makes so much sense. So, it seems like there's a big difference between the people who want to do the work on their self and they’re self-aware, and they're bringing that to the relationship. I see this all the time, the person who wants to simply blame the other spouse, make everything his or her fault, whoever their spouse is, and they don't learn from that or grow and that makes it also very, very difficult not only to save the marriage, but to get a divorce because they keep expecting the other person to change. That doesn’t work really well.
Denise Fitzpatrick (16:25):
No, it definitely doesn't work. Which is one of the reasons that I've gotten very clear about who I work with, because there have been times where I may have brought in a client or an individual where they don't have that level of awareness and they're not interested in sort of that perspective shift and that personal growth. It gets really difficult to kind of drag somebody along, and that's not what I do, and that's not what coaching is about either.
Karen Covy (16:55):
Speaking of coaching, I want to just touch on another difference between coaching and counseling. It comes up in my practice all the time as well, because therapy can be covered by insurance. Coaching is not covered by insurance. So, a lot of times people will say, “Well, I'm just going to go to a counselor because it's covered by insurance.” What are your thoughts about that?
Denise Fitzpatrick (17:24):
I have a few thoughts about that. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with therapy. I mean, I practiced as a therapist for 15 years. If somebody truly wants to go there, I'm going to help them find the right match. I truly want them to find a therapist that's going to help them with their marriage, if that's what they want. No shade on them. I think when it comes to coaching, at least from my experience in my practice, I have a very small number of clients at a time because I want to give my full attention to the people that I'm working with. I also make myself available between sessions. So, if you're a therapist and you're seeing 30 clients a week, and this is what the mental health system has become. And now I know for myself, I've invested in a lot of my own coaching and I know that I get the support and the individualized attention. I don't feel like therapists have the capacity to do that because they are so overwhelmed with their client caseload.
Karen Covy (18:40):
That makes total sense. I know that sometimes it sounds like what you're saying without saying it too, is you get what you pay for. I know from my own experience too, right, wrong or indifferent, we're all dealing with the same human psyche, right? If you've paid for something, you tend to work harder at it, you value it more. I mean, it sounds terrible. It's like, well, of course you value the marriage counseling, you want it to work and blah, blah, blah, but people care more if they've bought in. That's been my experience, and it looks like you would agree with that
Denise Fitzpatrick (19:18):
A hundred percent. I know a coach used to say to me all the time, when you pay, you pay attention. I think that is so, so true. Right? If you've invested financially, then you are, you're serious about it. And that's what I love about the clients that are attracted to me is because they are serious about it. They're committed to the work. They're doing the work in between sessions. When you're not investing anything, nothing financially, you're just like, ‘Yeah, if I make it, I, I make it. If I do the work, I do the work. If I don't, I don't.’ There's definitely a less committed attitude in my experience. And so I love that. I know the people that are coming to work with me are really ready to do that work.
Karen Covy (20:04):
That is awesome. I expect that even though it sounds like you've got a much more focused plan and process for couples to follow, there are going to be couples where the relationship just doesn't work, right? And they're trying to decide what to do, or the relationship is on the fence, as they say, and the couples are trying to figure out, do I stay married? Do I get a divorce? I know that that's a question that you must help them with. What kind of decision-making process do you use to help your clients make those kinds of decisions?
Denise Fitzpatrick (20:40):
Well, if somebody comes to me and they're uncertain, and usually it's because things feel so painful. They've probably been repeating the same patterns for so many years. Often the issues that they're dealing with are not deal breaker issues, but they've caused each other so much pain over the years, and they don't know how to fix it. They don't know how to get out of these patterns that they feel like the only solution is divorce. So, what I will say to a couple that's come to me and say, and like throwing their hands up, like, “Something has to change or we can't do this anymore,’ then what I'm going to say is put divorce off the table for six months and do some work. Because a lot of times the people that are even in that decision, haven't done any work, right? They maybe have tried to change things on their own, they've waited, hoped it would get better, read the book, done the podcast, but haven't actually done the work. So I say, “Take the divorce decision off the table for six months. Let's do this work together. And then you can decide after that,” because with that threat of divorce hanging over your head, it's really hard to feel safe in the relationship and do the work.
Karen Covy (22:01):
True. You alluded to this before, like you have the partner who says, “Okay. I'm going to go with you. I'll go to marriage counseling or marriage coaching, or whatever you want to do.” But they're leaning out, they're really not a hundred percent committed, right? So, in that situation, is there any hope that you can bring that person around, or their spouse can bring that person around to where they're actually doing the work?
Denise Fitzpatrick (22:34):
I think that's a tricky one because I often will screen people at the beginning before I even take them in. Because if somebody is so leaning out, I've done some discernment work in the past, I think it's really hard to pull people back around if they've really, really decided. So, I will often screen for that before I bring people into work with me because I want to work with couples that know that they want to try and make it work.
In my experience, if somebody is leaning that far out, I think it's not easy to bring them back around. Sometimes that might be they're interested in somebody else outside the relationship. They think that's going to be the answer or it's just been so many years of such painful stuff that they just can't move past it. And in that case, I get it. Like I'm not going to work really hard for a relationship that the other person's already decided they're out of. Does that make sense?
Karen Covy (23:42):
That makes total sense. And it's interesting because among divorce lawyers, I mean, sometimes we work, especially in the alternative dispute resolution space where you're talking mediation, collaborative divorce, and the professionals are working so hard to get the couple to make agreements to get them across the finish line. We have a saying among the professionals, we kind of joke that we shouldn't be working harder at this than the couple themselves. Right?
Denise Fitzpatrick (24:13):
Karen Covy (24:14):
So, it sounds like it's the same thing on the other side of the fence as well, that you don't want to be doing all the work when there's no hope of actually saving the relationship.
Denise Fitzpatrick (24:25):
It took me a while to get there because I've been doing this work a long time. So, there were times in my practice, probably when I was working as a therapist where I was working with couples who I was definitely working way harder than them. And so, you learn, right? And you evolve and you grow. And then you have different I guess standards if you will in place where it's like, “I'm really going to screen for the people that I really want to work with.”
Karen Covy (24:57):
A hundred percent. It makes total sense. I do the same because you can't help everybody. So, to choose the people who are in the lane where you work and it sounds like you really want to work with people who want to save their marriage, they want to work on it, they want to try that makes total sense that you would screen them. And those people who aren't there, you say, “That's cool. Totally fine, but I'm not the person for you.”
Denise Fitzpatrick (25:28):
Karen Covy (25:30):
So, just to sort of throw you a curve ball here, it sounds like in the work that you do, you help people make decisions, you give them tools to help work on their marriage. What tools do you use when you're facing a difficult decision of whatever sort, what tools do you have in your toolbox that you would use to start making that decision? Is there a specific process that you go through with yourself or your clients? What do you use to help make those kinds of big decisions?
Denise Fitzpatrick (26:07):
So like, just big decisions in my own life?
Karen Covy (26:10):
Yeah, in general.
Denise Fitzpatrick (26:11):
Well, it's so funny you asked that because I've always been the kind of person that's like, “Oh, I'm not good at decisions. So, I've gotten better with time because I think making good decisions is about self-trust. So, part of the reason that I would waffle on decisions is because I didn't trust myself enough. And so, as I've evolved and grown and done a lot of my own personal work, I have come to trust myself much more. And so, decisions naturally become easier. So, when I'm working with a couple or even a woman, a couple, that's really what I want to empower them to do is to really trust themselves. Because when we trust ourselves, like everything becomes so much easier and certainly decisions too.
Karen Covy (27:05):
That is beautiful. I've never heard it put that way in the context of self-trust before, but that makes complete sense. One of the things that I hear my clients say, especially once the divorce is over and now, they're trying to move on and create a new life, so many times they question, “How can I trust myself? I chose this person. I thought I was making the right decision, or I made the best decision I could at the time. How can I ever date again? Because how can I trust my picker, so to speak? I think my picker is off. What would you say to people that that's the head space they're in?
Denise Fitzpatrick (27:48):
Well, I think you said it there, you said, “They say it was the best decision at the time,” and I think that's true. It was the best decision at the time. And then at some point in time, it became not the right relationship. So, I'd imagine when you're fresh on this path of divorce and fresh out of a marriage, that there is going to be a lack of trust and a questioning. But I don't think that because the marriage didn't work out doesn't mean that you made the wrong decision. So, that, again, isn't like another mindset shift. You can say, “Oh, I must have been off. There must have been something wrong with my decision. Or I just think people evolve, people grow, people change and want something different.” And so, if you work on your mindset around that, like, ‘Okay. I decided to get married. That was the best decision at the time. I also decided to get divorced. That was the best decision for me at that time. And really leaning into trusting that you are making the right decisions for yourself.
Karen Covy (29:01):
That’s amazing. It seems like we've come full circle and it comes down to, in so many instances, mindset. How are you looking at this? And also, it sounds like, you're saying for people and not exactly in these words, but to give themselves a little grace. If you made the best decision, you could at that time, don't beat yourself up now when you have the benefit of hindsight. Things have changed, people don't stay the same all the time. Right? And the person you're married to now may be a very different person from the one you said I do to X number of years ago.
Denise Fitzpatrick (29:45):
Yeah. And you may be a very different person too, because that sometimes happens, like one person evolves in a different way and maybe the other person stays the same, and then it just doesn't feel like a great match. But for sure, this idea of giving yourselves grace and compassion and just allowing things to be what they are without judgment.
Karen Covy (30:10):
Denise Fitzpatrick (30:10):
It's so hard, but it's the best gift that you can give yourself.
Karen Covy (30:16):
Yeah. That is beautiful. So one more putting you on the spot question, what do you think either personally or professionally, doesn't matter, what's the best decision you've ever made?
Denise Fitzpatrick (30:28):
Oh, boy. Okay. Well, I'll go with the first thing that just popped into my mind was starting my own business, which I did back in 2007. And why? Sometimes I'll stop and I'll think about this. I'll tell you, I was talking with a friend of mine the other day and we were talking about how fast the weeks go by and she said, “Yeah, something about, yeah, just waiting for Friday.” And I said, “You know what? I don't feel like that. I don't feel like I'm waiting for Friday. Like I'm waiting for the weekend. Why? Because I get to make my own schedule. I have time freedom, which is just the most important thing to me.” I have so much time freedom and there's nothing like that. And so, no, I'm not desperate for the weekend. Every day feels amazing. I mean, sure, I have my ups and downs. I have my down days, whatever. But I look forward to the days, I look forward to what I'm doing. It's not a grind. I'm not like punching a clock. So, it's like that truly is working for myself as best decision I've ever made.
Karen Covy (31:39):
That’s fabulous. And I second that. I mean, I have been working for myself for more decades than I can even think at this point. People say, “Oh, I can't wait till Friday. I can't wait till the weekend.” I'm a hundred percent with you. It's like, I love what I do and I do it on my terms and my way and because of that, people sometimes they'll say, “Oh, you work so much.” But to me it's not work. When you do what you love, it's not work.
Denise Fitzpatrick (32:15):
Karen Covy (32:17):
I think that's a great way to wrap this up. But before we do, where can people find you?
Denise Fitzpatrick (32:25):
Yeah. So my website, which is www.mymarriageworks.com, so that's my website. I also have a presence on Facebook. I also have a Facebook group for women, which is empowering women in marriage. If anybody wants to check that out, I do trainings in there, offer lots of value, and have some freebies too that you can opt in for.
Karen Covy (32:51):
That sounds wonderful. I would definitely recommend to everybody listening that they go check out your site if they're on the fence about their marriage. You can definitely help them. Just one more thing, I was thinking, because I know you are a licensed therapist in Maryland, Massachusetts. I knew it was one of the M states. So, Massachusetts. But as a coach, are you limited to Massachusetts or can you work with people everywhere?
Denise Fitzpatrick (33:19):
No, as a coach, I can work with people anywhere around the country, outside the country, anywhere I want, which also is an added benefit of not kind of practicing under my license. It gives me a lot more opportunity to work with people around the country.
Karen Covy (33:32):
That sounds awesome. So, no matter where you are in the country or in the world, if your marriage is on the rocks and you really want to save it, highly recommend that you look up Denise. Her work is amazing.
So, Denise, thank you again for being here. I mean, this was such a great conversation. I am definitely going to have to have you on for a follow up session later on.
Denise Fitzpatrick (33:55):
Absolutely. Thank you.
If you’ve enjoyed today’s talk, don’t forget to like and subscribe to this channel. I’m Karen Covy and I look forward to being with you on the next episode of Off the Fence.