Jim Osterhaus is a well-respected leader in many circles. He has the unique ability to bring a group of people to a deep sense of personal ownership, which he’s put to good use as an executive coach and public speaker. He holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from American University, degrees in counseling from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Catholic University. His book, Questions Couples Ask Behind Closed Doors, offers helpful, practical tips to help people understand their relationships better, and begin the process of making it more fulfilling.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a clinical psychologist who has worked extensively with couples and families in the past. Currently I’m a partner in a consulting firm that deals with leadership and organizational change in many different types of organizations (from government agencies, to private companies, to non-profit organizations). I’ve found it interesting that all organizations are quite similar and have similar processes of relationship. In other words, you can look at a family, a government agency, a club or a multinational corporation, and see very similar processes developing.
I’ve taught at the graduate level on four continents and written eleven books on family, couples, leadership, and a novel on the Civil War. I’ve been married for forty-five years to Marcy, have three married children and four grandchildren.
When did you discover your interest in coaching and leadership?
My interest in coaching and leadership evolved from my counseling experiences over the past seventeen years. Living in the Washington, D.C. area, many of the people I saw for counseling brought questions about leadership and organizational issues. My friend, with whom I’ve worked in various settings for some forty years, and I decided it might be useful to explore consulting, and we formed The Armstrong Group (TAG) in 1998. Coaching has flowed organically from so much of the organizational issues we’ve faced. In order to drive change down into the organization, leaders need to be coached into new ways of seeing things and behaving.
What are some of the most common conflicts couples face?
When talking about conflicts for couples, most experts point to money, sex and power. And these things certainly are there for most couples from time to time. But when it comes to long-standing conflict that becomes intractable, each person has usually tapped into a deep-seated issue within themselves that has never been resolved (e.g. You don’t accept me. You’re trying to control me. You don’t think I’m competent). These are issues that haunt people in all of their relationships, not just marriage. As a result, these issues will constantly emerge in our most significant relationships until such time as we are able to get more insight into how these arise and the influence they exert on our dealings with others. It is only then that people can begin the hard process of taking responsibility for themselves.
How have you seen couples overcome some of these conflicts?
Always, always it is critical to do the counter-intuitive thing: to focus on self rather than the other. This is fundamental, but also very difficult to do. It’s always much easier to see another person’s faults and foibles rather than our own. And I’ve watched couples struggle for months, even years trying to convince the other that it is actually all that other person’s fault. Conflict is actually one of the most important arenas for us to get a better understanding of ourselves. Unfortunately, we’re usually more focus on the other person than ourselves.
Growth and maturity has to do with being able to take responsibility for ourselves, our choices, and our reactions. Accepting responsibility for our behavior allows us to change the behavior that is inconsistent with our most personal values (congruence/ alignment). Accepting responsibility for our own behavior protects us from inappropriately accepting responsibility for other’s behavior.
What do you hope your readers will gain from reading Questions Couples Ask Behind Closed Doors?
I hope couples are able to gain new perspectives on themselves and their relationships—to think about things in the way they may never have considered. The eighteen chapters in the book contain the most important issues that I have heard over the years. And hopefully I’ve been able to render insights and activities that will begin to change the way people live in their most important relationship.