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Helping couples strengthen their relationship remotely: A guide to working with couples online

As many organisations close their doors, schools close and public places deserted, many of us are forced to remain home and practice social distancing. With that, anxiety levels rise, fuses become shorter and frustration prevails – our routines are turned upside down and additional stress is placed on relationships and families leading to spikes in demand for family and relationship services.

The need for relationship education is escalating, service access is becoming more limited because of the increased lock-down and social isolation. Providers of support services must adjust to the conditions and search for innovative ways of working, to help those facing adversity – from the comfort of their own homes.

The following guide can help you work with couples online:

  1. Setting up the Meeting: Teleconferencing and videoconferencing are easy and effective tools, but there are often issues. Ensure you test your audio and visual technology prior to meeting and dial in early and be ready to deal confidently with issues the couples may have with their technology.

    Body language is important. Ensure you can see both couples. If they are in the same location, you need to be able to view both couples from waist up. Ask the couple to adjust their camera to assist with this. If they are both remote, same story, you want to be able to see them from their waist up – they can then also see each other clearly and their body language.

    Ask if they have removed distractions in their home. If possible, other family members, children, pets. Tell them that it is important that you have their full attention for the duration of the call. If another time is better, rescheduling to a time when they are both ready is important.
  2. Environment – safe, confidentiality (limits to confidentiality): Explain that the discussion is confidential and discuss the limits to confidentiality, such as if there is disclosure that someone is at risk of harm. Ensure the couple feel comfortable and safe, establishing an environment where topics can be discussed openly.
  3. Build rapport with couple – establish a relationship: Building rapport with the couple is crucial. Introduce yourself and start to get to know the couple. For example, ask the couple how they met; how long they have been together; what drew them to each other.
  4. Share relevant information: Give the couple praise for taking intentional time out to focus on their relationship. Always seek to identify and emphasise the positive aspects of their relationship. 
  5. Do they have any questions? Any reservations? Explore these and use examples of where the process will assist to explore these issues. Use an ice-breaker exercise to emphasise this.
  6. Explain the process: Summarise the process and topics that will be discussed. Explain that you are keen to understand each couple and where the ‘edges’ are between them as a couple. Emphasise that the process is one of developing awareness and learning new skills.

With online facilitation, most of the same rules apply but it can often be harder to build rapport and really connect with couples. From setting up your technology (and the couples) through to developing awareness, learning new skills and working through exercises.

Read on for various resources to assist you at this time. Finally, please let us know how you plan to deliver your services in these challenging times. 

For more information on the virus and the steps that can be taken to minimise its impact, visit the Australian Government Department of Health website.

Marriage and Relationship Education is a learning opportunity, much like you would do in any other important life event. Check out the video for couples on YouTube: https://youtu.be/xyuUl-JnIhM.

Tune in next week for more discussion about relationships and mental health. 

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