Part 4 covers a simple method to use to engage with a couple/individual developmentally. The primary goal is always to help the couple restore loving connection with each other. It is NOT the mentor’s responsibility to solve the couple’s problems for them, but to be an assistive resource that walks alongside them as they learn to better solve their own problems. Any problem solving that occurs before loving connection is re-established only deals with the presenting symptoms of the problem, not the root.

For this reason this three step method is suggested as a broad framework:

  • Receive: Therapeutic listening:
  • Reflect: The mentor ensures they have heard the ‘root of the problem’ by checking assumptions with the couple.
  • Respond: The mentor’s responsibility is to partner with the couple for the purpose of growth, NOT to solve the problem for the couple.


Therapeutic listening 

This is the process of framing the problem effectively. It is the couple/individual that frames the problem, it is the mentors responsibility to listen, along with them, for the root of the problem. This listening allows the mentor to build a picture of the couple/person’s world and issue they are facing.

Listening to a couple or person means observing everything that is being communicated. Verbal communication is important, but this kind of listening includes taking into account body language, tone, attention span and even listening for what is not being said.

These observations draw together a picture of what the person or relationship looks like/ for example:

  • How they do or do not function
  • What is or is not important to them
  • In what areas they experience conflict

Below are two suggested areas to pay specific attention to when you listen, that may indicate reasons for break in connection: needs and themes.


Depending on the theory, there are usually a handful of basic needs which every person must have met to live a fulfilled life. We all rely on others to meet many of these needs, which is why healthy and mature relationships are so incredibly important. Unmet needs or expectations are a direct and leading cause of relationship breakdown. It requires emotional intelligence and insight to be able to identify and communicate our own needs, let alone discover and meet another’s.

For the purpose of this blog series we focus on Dr Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages, as covered in Part 3.2, as a way of understanding and communicating needs.

As you listen, ask yourself: which love language sounds as though it is not being provided for here? Sometimes, depending on the individual’s preferred love language/s, there can be two needs presented with equal weight. Often these unmet needs are presented in the negative – so listen out for outbursts of hurt, disappointment or anger.

As mentioned in Part 3.2, each member of a couple has two tasks: firstly, to discover and communicate their own needs; secondly, to seek out and meet the needs of the partner. This is a key area to be paying attention to when mentoring.

By way of general introduction, here’s an example of the five basic human needs, according to Dr William Glasser.

  • Self-preservation or survival
  • Love and belonging
  • Self-worth or power
  • Independence or freedom
  • Fun or enjoyment

For example:

  • Physical touch: “All I want is a hug and kiss when I get home.”
  • Words of affirmation: “You never have anything nice to say to me anymore.”
  • Quality time: “You just don’t have time for me.”
  • Gifts: “I can’t believe you were away for a week and didn’t bring me anything”.
  • Acts of service: “I always have to do all the housework myself.”


Themes are the repetition of ideas, feelings, words or phrases. This repetition is important because it suggests an emphasis of feelings, which may mean that the speaker is not being heard yet, or that the particular issue carries significant emotional weight for them. Themes help to weave together all the individual stands of conversation into a big picture that often will reveal an underlying issue, which may not even be explicitly understood by the speaker yet.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What kind of ideas, phrases of feelings repeat themselves in the language used by either each person or the couple?
  • Is there a common thread that runs through the problems they describe?

The themes usually cycle around some of the common areas of conflict within relationships: In-laws, sex, money, personal freedom, and of course, unmet needs.


Once you feel you have listened sufficiently and have formulated a picture of what the couple/individual is facing it is time to move on to the next step. Click the links below to go to the next post, which covers the process of checking assumptions.

Follow this link to continue to the next blog in this series – Part 4.2 – Reflect: Checking assumptions.