Prior to entering my current academic career, I was a counselor and worked with families, couples, and individuals struggling with drug addictions. I really enjoyed helping people address challenging situations in their lives, set goals, and develop plans of action to make meaningful changes in their work, habits, and relationships. Although counseling was very rewarding to me, I also loved research—which precipitated my career change.
Recently, I have combined my research and counseling interests. In addition to my Adventures in Dating column, where I apply relationship science to my personal dating life, I have also really enjoyed answering questions submitted by our readers—primarily because it reminds me of what I miss about counseling—helping others. This has led me to start coaching people about their intimate relationships.
Can coaching help make you better at your relationships? Coaching has been used for many years in the corporate world to get employees to not only increase productivity, but also by improving their overall well-being (life is good!) and engagement on the job (I love my job!).1 Coaching in business settings can involve employees spending a few hours or days completing a number of real-life work simulations (either in mock settings or in virtual on-line environments), such as answering phone calls from angry customers or running a meeting with employees. These simulation activities are designed to bring out behaviors that are important for one’s job, such as being able to communicate well with customers.2 After employees get feedback on how they did, a coach then helps the employees improve their performance.
Wouldn’t that be cool for dating? Imagine interacting with actors during a simulated date and getting feedback on your performance. As a relationship scientist, I know the skills that differentiate dating gurus from novices, such as being able to flirt effectively and decipher a date’s mixed signals. I turned to the scientific literature to see if anyone has done this. I found only a few published papers on coaching about relationships. Coaching has been used to help parents handle difficult children, such as children with autism or developmental disabilities, and coaching is one strategy that counselors may use to guide clients to make specific changes in their lives, but coaching has not really been studied in comparison to other therapeutic approaches (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy).3 One set of researchers argue that relationship coaching begins by training clients to become objective observers of the roles that they play in their relationships—meaning they try to get them to be aware of their own behaviors. Coaches then help to motivate clients to change their behaviors so that they can get what they want from their relationships.4
So where can people go to get objective feedback about their dating performance? How can you be a better dater without getting straight feedback about what you are doing wrong? How can you set achievable goals without knowing what you need to work on in the first place? I decided to give Google a shot. I typed in “dating coaching” and got over 18 million results. “Relationship coaching” yielded over 5 million. Yikes. That’s a lot of coaching. What I did not find were any coaching services for relationships or dating that used some form of assessment service based on what industrial and organizational psychologists know are important for improving performance.
This all has led me to the co-development of a service designed to help people become better daters: DateSim.net. Using exciting simulations designed to help bring out skills that psychological science knows to be important for dating success (e.g., identifying similarities, complimenting dates), you can, for the first time, get objective and constructive feedback from certified assessors and coaching services to improve your dating game! The goal of the service is to help people put their best foot forward…obviously the walk and swagger is up to them. I know I could have used this when I re-entered the dating market last year–I know all about the science, but being objective about myself is challenging at times. Having other trained professionals help, however, would have probably made the last year a little easier for me as I navigated the dating game again!
My hope is that this service can help others avoid some of the pitfalls that many of us experience when our dating skills are new or rusty. Check it out and pass on the word to anyone who you think might benefit! Launch Date: Valentine’s Day!
1: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 5, 74-85.coaching Coaching
2Thornton, G. C. III, & Rupp, D. E. (2008). Assessment Centers in Human Resource Management: Strategies for Prediction. Mahwah, NJ: Laurence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
3Andersson, L. G., Butler, M. H., & Seedall, R. B. (2006). Couples’ experience of enactments and softening in marital therapy. American Journal of Family Therapy, 34, 301-315.
4 McGoldrick, M., & Carter, B. (2001). Advances in coaching: Family therapy with one person. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 27, 281-300.
Dr. Jennifer Harman – Adventures in Dating… | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Harman’s research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.