Interview by: Kim Green
Over the next year, stay tuned to the ILCT website. We will be spotlighting the remarkable work ILCT graduates are doing to change the world, one coaching session at a time.
For our first spotlight, meet Richard and JeannaLynn May, truly a couple to contend with. The Mays’ 30-year marriage has seen the good, the bad and the ugly but today they are better than ever! Through much prayer and using their own coaching tools, they have managed to transform their once dying marriage into a living, breathing blessing for themselves and others. The Mays have had their hands and hearts in changing the marriages of thousands of couples by sharing their own ultimate Good News: you can love your spouse with your whole heart despite your differences!
Once upon a time, Richard completely forgot to pack clothes for their honeymoon. JeannaLynn couldn’t believe it! She’s totally organized. Him, not so much. She’s very connected to her family. He could go for months without seeing his. And the differences went on and on…
“She had a lot of changes she wanted me to make. I just wanted her to stop being so negative,” says Richard May of his wife, JeannaLynn. That was then but now the couple can just laugh at their misguided pasts, despite the fact that they remain opposites in many ways. JeannaLynn, the ILCT graduate, has paired up with her now best friend and loving husband, to create What God Has Joined Ministries, a Marriage/Life Coaching, Christian-based, non-profit out of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Everything has changed since the dark days in 2000 when the Mays’ thought their marriage had reached the point of no return. Richard, a non-denominational Christian minister, had become wed to his church and congregation, leaving no time for home life. JeannaLynn, a Registered nurse had also strayed, falling in love with being at the hospital and working through the night. The misery of their married life had gone on for over a decade. There was even a night that JeannaLynn found herself in a field praying to God that he would let her die.
In 2010, they both quit their full time jobs to start the non-profit, What God Has Joined Ministries where they do coaching full time at their office, in Oklahoma City, or with clients all over the world by Skype. They have done presentations nationally and internationally.
Read on to see how God has joined The Mays, in their own words.
KG: Tell us what your own marriage has been through?
Richard May: We didn’t like each other. Despite our attempts, we finally discovered that we couldn’t change the other. We emotionally disconnected and wore masks so we would not be discovered.
JeannaLynn May: At times Richard took lower paying jobs, so I resented that he couldn’t adequately provide for our family like I thought he should. At another time, because of his independent nature, he bought a car without my input. I have a tendency towards angry outbursts and Richard doesn’t speak to angry people; and so I felt isolated and abandoned. I felt like a failure as a wife and mom of two. This led me to my work affair. At the hospital I was valued and affirmed. I liked being there so I poured a lot of my time and energy into my work, although this created guilt for not being a good wife and mother.
RM: During that time, I too had a mistress and her name was church. I had become a “yes man,” regardless of the imbalance that it brought to our life.
JLM: We also had sexual issues and we grew apart physically. We eventually lost a heart for our marriage. I lived in fight or flight mode. I decided I was leaving to become a travelling nurse. We both were ready for the divorce. It wasn’t going to make things right, but at least it would make them different. As we started to complete the divorce papers, we found we were working together. This stirred up something deep with us, something we had totally neglected for 15 years – companionship. For the first time, we were spending time together talking about us!
Now, when we are out and about, people say there is an “aura” around us. People like to be around us. Waitresses see us sharing food and they ask what our secret is? We were applauded by an entire Southwest flight as they announced we were newlyweds only because they witnessed us laughing and being affectionate with each other! We don’t do anything for show. We are totally transparent and authentic – no mask. It is just so energizing to wake up each day with the solid mindset of spending the rest of our lives together loving each other.
KG: How did you both get into coaching?
JLM: It was God’s idea. In 1982 I was majoring in Psychology at the University of Mississippi. I was a female in the South so I was “advised” to move into nursing and get my degree. Today I am very thankful for my nursing degree. Having my nursing experience was a blessing as Richard and I started making life transitions in 2005. One night I was praying and searching online and I ran across The Association of Marriage and Family Ministries (AMFM). They were having a conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. I woke Richard up and said I found a conference for us! We went and it really clicked. We saw couples that were presenting together. There, I met Christopher McCluskey, who is now President of the Professional Christian Coaching Institute. Christopher was the first person we met who made a living as a life coach! Then, we met other couples that were in ministry together. This opened Pandora’s Box for us.
Shortly after, I joined Richard in his ministry and we presented at retreat for 50 couples. The couples didn’t have a clue that we had experienced a 15-year miserable marriage or that we had spent the last four years reconciling our lives and our marriage. This message of hope opened up the platform to serving others in a powerful way that we had never considered. In 2006 we talked to Dave and Dawn Lind, who were leaders in the Couples in Ministry segment of AMFM and they suggested we take on life coaching. Soon after I signed up, I fell in love with the whole concept!
KG: You are a nurse. How does your nursing complement your coaching?
JLM: Having a 30-year foundation in nursing has equipped me for Coaching in many ways. Practicing the skill of creating a relationship of trust and respect is a given. Being fully present to hear not only words but to cue in to body language and tone comes naturally. Having an inner belief that people can set and achieve goals and know how to hold to their goals and walk alongside them is a strength I learned through nursing.
KG: Why did you choose ILCT for your education?
JLM: Why not? It is the best place, in my opinion, for fully equipping yourself for such a much-needed, sought after profession. I like their connection with ICF - The International Coaching Federation. To know that I have an organization of this magnitude behind me is comforting. I appreciate the way they lay out of their program, allowing you to discover your niche, broaden your skills, and choose levels of certification. I didn’t want to be a coach out of a box. I wanted something that was going to advance my knowledge, challenge and grow me, and offer me more than an education, which is exactly what ILCT did and continues to do through my CE classes.
Ellen Neiley Ritter is incredible. We connected very early in my journey and I have always known she had my back. She has been there to support me, challenge me, encourage me, and be my friend. She genuinely cares and takes a personal interest in the success of all who come to ILCT!
KG: Richard, what role did you play while she was learning?
RM: Although, I didn’t go through the ILCT training, I was watching my wife going through this incredibly challenging and rewarding program. It is intensive at times. Like I said, I was there to make sure that she was going to do it all the way. This is where I got my training. I have learned a lot from JeannaLynn about powerful questions, goal setting, and core competencies of Life Coaching. My contribution to our Ministry is spiritual direction, which helps our clients identify their values and live them. Together we offer a sweet blend of Life Coaching and Spiritual Formation.
KG: Is your coaching practice strictly for Christians?
JLM: No. I am pleased with the Coach training I experienced through the Christian track at ILCT, and I am pleased that I shifted to the secular track through ILCT to become a well-rounded, eyes-wide-open Coach. I do not stand to judge another’s beliefs and values. If I ever felt that I would not be best for Coaching my client around their goals then I would happily refer them to someone better suited.
KG: You mention that becoming a coach was challenging. What made it challenging?
JLM: There were times that I didn’t feel like I was good enough or felt like I was a failure because I didn’t think I measured up to the others in my classes. There were some students that were just so eloquent and natural. I would get nervous and what I wanted to do, I didn’t and what I didn’t want to do, I did! It was so frustrating! I eventually realized that I did have what it takes, I just needed to be refined and polished around the edges – probably still do! LOL!
KG: What do your clients say about you?
RM: What we always hear is: “Now, we have hope.” Typically, when a husband and wife come in one of them has lost hope. They also talk about the tools we use, our tools for advancement. They appreciate the way that we hold them up when they experience a struggle.
JLM: We hear, “You two are real people with a real passion for real marriages.” “You guys are good at what you do.” We love knowing that if we have a pulse we will have problems! Problems don’t have to be the focus, but instead it’s how we deal with each other to resolve the problems, that makes all the difference.
They say, “You give us Hope.” Or, “This is different than anything we’ve ever experienced, and we like it.” “What you offer is so practical– It makes sense!”
Coaching is a different approach, and it works. It is very positive thinking and forward focused.
KG: Is it difficult working with couples?
RM: Yes, because it involves two totally different personalities trying to create one relationship. When you are coaching two people at the same time, often one is pumped up and the other one may be low energy, so we have to Coach them around choosing a healthy mindset, and then building momentum. There are hurts, habits and hang-ups from the past that people many times just need to accept, forgive, and move forward.
Our goal is to help individuals focus on themselves and their behaviors rather than being fixated on the shortcomings of their spouse. We ask them to look in the mirror each night and ask themselves, “Would I have wanted to be married to me today?”
JLM: Yes! Very often couples get stuck in their story! They just keep telling it over and over through their own lens to as many people who will listen. It can be very challenging to get them to stop telling the story or stories. We coach around shifting their focus on what happens after that story.
We ask them, “What story are you wanting to write at this point in your lives?”
How can you accept your past, embrace today, and create your future together.
KG: What is the most common issue with couples?
RM: Many of our couples begin saying that their issue is poor communication and they want to work on that. Our practice is different. We don’t begin with issues and skills; we begin with the heart. What couples really need is to focus on themselves and determine they will be the right person regardless of what their spouse does. We have had couples that have big hearts for their marriage, big issues and few skills; and thrived. We’ve also seen couples who’ve had great skills, few issues, and were failing because their hearts weren’t in it.
JLM: We see a lot of what we have identified as “MADD” Marriages: Marriage Attention Deficit Disorder. The treatment: “DPT” - Daily Predictable Time. This creates powerful chemical reactions from hormones released when two people come together to live as a married couple. Dealing with issues first in relationships is like treating bedsores on a patient who is flat-lining. You don’t ignore the issues. You have to change positions, shift your posture. You have to initiate behaviors of healing while reviving a healthy heart in the marriage.
Many couples divorce based on their feelings. We say that your feelings are an emotional reaction to the moment that can change in a heartbeat! If you don’t like your feelings – 1st acknowledge them as just feelings – not the voice of God. 2nd Choose a healthy, positive mindset. 3rd Allow your healthy mindset to lead your behaviors that then create healthy, positive feelings!
KG: What would you say is the state of marriage these days?
RM and JLM: We are hearing that some see marriage as a legal inconvenience or just a piece of paper. Some have lost faith in marriage or the meaning of marriage. We hear many 20 and 30-year-olds say that they are terrified of marriage because it only lasts for 2-3 years or their parents’ marriages lasted for 15-25 years and still end badly. Fear has some giving up on marriage, but it doesn’t work within their hearts as they are still hungry for strong, secure, committed, connected relationships that are found in marriage.
KG: In the simplest terms, what do people need to do to save their marriages?
JLM: FOCUS on your heart. FOCUS on your role in your marriage.
Be Forgiving, Others centered, Committed, Unconditionally loving & respectful, and Steadfast. Never let your pride get in the way of seeking out a good Marriage Coach – you will be thrilled you did! Coaching works!!
KG: Tell me about the costs associated with your coaching practice?
RM and JLM: The meet and greet is free, our gift to their marriage. The cost of our coaching is $600 per three sessions. However, we never want a couple to feel we have put a price tag on their marriage, so that’s why we are incorporated as a non-profit.
Ultimately, people pay what will work for their budget. We see them every three weeks. We also offer our cell phone numbers so that they can have 24-hour access to us within reason.
We believe it’s about what happens between the sessions, as much as in the sessions that makes the difference. We want to be there for them when real life happens so they learn when and how to use tools that keep them aligned with their goals and dreams.
KG: What can a couple expect if they come to you for coaching?
RM: We explain the difference between coaching and counseling. The first 3-5 sessions are focused on the heart and not pointing the finger at the other. We ask them to consider what their role is in the marriage. We ask them, are you coming with a whole heart to work on yourself, not your spouse? We ask them to think about their internal value system. We want them to consider: What holds you and commits you to the relationship?
JLM: We have created a “whole, healthy, holy marriage” model where each person must own their own issues. We want to help couples stop blaming their past because the past is an excellent school, but a horrible home. We coach them on how to get their ‘whys and buts’ out of their vocabularies. That is the Whole part of our Life Coaching.
We look at every aspect of health as we Coach. Most of our couples need to get a medical checkup. We had a wife with testosterone level of 0. A man who unknowingly had a hot appendix that was really shortening his fuse. He thought he just hurt because he was a rancher. We referred him to a doctor who discovered the cause. He went in for emergency surgery. This is the Healthy part of our Life Coaching.
We help people get back into letting the word of God be a lamp to their feet and a light to their path. This is the Holy part of our Life Coaching.
Combining Whole, Healthy, and Holy behaviors our couples create a Sacred Legacy from their marriage that not only allows them to live Heaven on Earth, but to give HOPE for the future for generations of marriages to come! We see couples, couple-to-couple, so with us couples get the complete – whole, healthy, holy package of Marriage/Life Coaching and Spiritual Formation.
KG: What would be your advice for aspiring coaches?
JLM: Stay the course – Fight the good fight – Don’t quit!
Connect with your goals and dreams for pursuing Coaching (writing these makes them real).
Keep your actions aligned with your goals and dreams (visit your list often).
Have a strong support system that holds your goals and dreams with and for you (be open and honest with them sharing challenges and celebrations).
Have your own personal Life Coach at times to keep you focused and aligned with your goals and dreams.
Always be aware of what doors of opportunity open around you!
To learn more about the work of What God Has Joined Ministries, or to support their outreach, visit their website.