DH Relationships | Relationships Matter


Having a long, lasting, and meaningful relationship takes time and effort, and to do so, it has to matter for you and your partner. Dr. Trish Murray sits down with Howard Stanten and Erin Wright of Vanguard Coaching to discuss how relationships matter. They share what led them to do couples coaching and what sets it apart from marriage counseling. Pointing out the common themes among couples, Howard and Erin talk about relationship troubles and offer some ways to prevent these. Discover secrets to help keep your relationships going and so much more knowledge about making relationships matter on today’s show.

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Relationships Matter with Howard Stanten And Erin Wright

I want to welcome my good friend, Howard Stanten and Erin Wright from Vanguard Coaching. Thanks for coming on the podcast with me. We’ve talked before, you do a couples coaching is what I understand, correct?


The title we’ve come up with is, “Relationships Matter.” It’s important for people to understand and is something that we haven’t talked about in detail yet. It’s involved in health and you are going to be bringing that out. The first question I would like to ask my guest is, what brought you to what you’re doing? We all have our lives, our past, and our path to where we are now. What brought you to do couples coaching?

I stepped into the arena first, I was working as a nurse in a home care and hospice agency as their Clinical Director. I was introduced to a coaching model of care for people with chronic diseases. I fell in love with the coaching model of care that broke down hierarchy with patients and trained us to meet people where they were at. I said, “I want more of that, and I don’t want to give that up. I don’t want to focus on just here.” I went to training for a year at the Coach Training Institute and became a certified professional coach. When Howard saw the changes that were going on with me during that year he said, “What’s going on over there? Give me some of that.” He decided to go to school and become a certified professional coach and here we are.

During this, we were serial entrepreneurs. We opened up a coffee house, Good Vibes Coffee Roasters, then I started asking the question, “What is it that I love about being a small business owner?” At the time, the answer was I loved working with my team and developing people. Helping them to achieve their goals and dreams while they’re working for me. It was fun and it helped us to have a high retention rate in our small businesses. As I started going to coaching school, following Erin along, I realized that we have been doing a lot of these coaching in our businesses without knowing it. Coaching, in its essence, is about empowering and tuning people to the answers they have to their challenges that they already have inside them but their not fully aware of yet. It’s not telling people what to do, it’s working with perspectives, it’s working with limiting beliefs. It’s a process that gets people in touch with their own wisdom and is an honor to witness the changes and the transformation that happens when people feel more authentically connected to their selves.

To help people look in the mirror and help them try and find the answers that lie within them.

Help them align with their values is an important part of the work that we’re doing.

You mentioned the Coach Training Institute, what is that?

That’s an organization that has been around since the mid-90s. The founders were one of the first folks in the world. They invented coaching as something that was not therapy and that wasn’t consulting. They have trained over half the coaches in the world. It’s a rigorous two-year program and it’s highly experiential. We learn by doing. We learn through our personal growth in the program because we have to work on our own stuff if we’re going to work with other people. It was not only a way into a profession that we both have come to love, it was a way to grow personally as well, individually and together.

There’s a thing within shamanic healing that I do called “as within, so without.” The concept that you cannot be a help to others unless you’ve gone through the path. We’re all wounded healers. This concept that you learn from experiential doing and your own growth. There’s a thought concept within the counseling world that, you can only counsel people to the level which you are, psychiatrically healthy. You want to go the most healthy person that you can, and the person that’s constantly working on themselves. We all are working on ourselves, we came here and into these bodies to learn, experience and grow. You mentioned that coaching versus counseling versus therapy, what is couples coaching? How is it different from marriage counseling?

Couples coaching focuses on, “What’s here right now? What’s going on with this couple and this relationship right now and where do you want to go?” Where therapy or counseling works in the medical model. Sort of a, “What’s broke? How are we going to fix it?” It spends a lot of time in the past and gets to what’s here right now. We’re oftentimes disinterested in what’s going on in the past, and interested in, “What’s here right now? Where do you want to be?” Let’s point there and go.

What keeps people from not connecting is not being present with each other. Click To Tweet

Erin and I will work with couples who know that they’re committed to the relationship, that they’re in love with each other and they just feel stuck. They feel like they want something more out of the relationship. They feel like there’s something missing. They feel like the relationship might be good and they want it to be great. We are not therapists. We respect therapy. I’ve been in therapy before. I know what it’s about, I know it has its use, it’s a different thing. That’s all that we’re saying, we’re not therapists. If you can think of that model, from good to great, is the sweet spot of the work that we do. We believe in the name of this episode, Relationships Matter, that everybody should have a great relationship. Why not, we’re spending our lives together?

It’s couples relationships, but I’m sure the concepts you’re working on works with almost any relationship.

We didn’t start out working with couples. We started out working with individuals and teams, ultimately, we’re working on relationships all the time in the work that we do.

We’ve done a lot of work inside of organizations. We still do with executives and emerging leaders. We realize that our sweet spot is we’re always working on relationships, even in the business world. It’s about how to be a better leader. That’s about relationships if you get down to it.

What do you believe is important to a healthy and fulfilling relationship?

There are so many things. One thing is that, there’s this thing called the relationship. There’s me, there’s Erin, and then there’s a third entity. That’s the relationship. It’s when Erin and I come together as a couple in deep connection and produce something that’s more the sum of the parts. That’s what a relationship is. What’s important is for couples to realize that there’s a thing called a relationship and it needs to be attended to, to be nurtured, to be fed. That’s more than just me doing what’s in my interests or Erin doing what’s in her interest, it means asking the question, “What does our relationship want right now? What does our relationship need?”

There’s an intentionality about paying attention to the relationship. I can pay attention to Howard and he can pay attention to me, but when we change that up and pay attention to the relationship, we start asking ourselves, “What does the relationship need right now that’s different?” We find that third entity to be transformational for the couples that we work with.

It’s about not taking that for granted. If you do, it will die.

What would be the top three methods, or suggestions you would give a couple? How do we attend and nurture it? What experiential recommendations would you give them?

It’s not something that’s easily understood in the head when you say that. Some people get it right away, some people do not. We have a process that we put people through and the bottom line of it is, each person will stand up and we will ask them the question, “What does the relationship know that you don’t know?” We’ll ask them the question, “What does the relationship want here?” It accesses more on the creative side of the brain. When you sit somebody down and ask them while they’re sitting in a chair, that’s one thing. If you get them up and you say, “I want you to be the relationship. Feel what it’s like to be in that relationship,” people come up with amazing answers. Oftentimes there are a lot of tears and that’s a good thing.

DH Relationships | Relationships Matter

Relationships Matter: Couples need to realize that there’s a thing called a relationship, and it needs to be attended to, nurtured, and fed.


We think we’re rational, but we are emotional beings first and rational beings second. In order to make a difference in us, we need to touch our emotions, the creativity part.

Imagination, tapping into that whole creativity and imagination piece which is a different place when you think about couples work.

We’ll access that on the creative side of the brain. One time, we said, “There’s a pot of soup in front of you, and that’s the relationship. What do you want to put in it to make it good?”

“What are the ingredients that you need?” Howard and I aren’t telling you what ingredients are to put in the soup because our values might be completely different than your values or somebody else’s values. Everybody’s ingredients are going to be different.

It’s the idea of getting into the creative, getting into the emotional and even into the mythic, like poetry or music. Things like that, what do you want in the soup? We get out of, “What was your childhood like or what was this like in your past?” That’s not where you start and not where you want to go. That’s the problem, that’s not the focus. “What do you want? What do you want to create? This relationship, what does it want?” That’s not an individual, that’s a mythic thing. It allows people to get out of their head, even beyond their emotions into their creativity, and into the mythic.

It’s awesome to witness.

What is something you’ve witnessed that have happened? Couples come in with this or that at first, of where they feel they are now, and what have you seen?

One of the common themes is they come in feeling stuck. They come in middle-aged, they watch their kids, “We don’t know what we want to do next. We know we don’t want to be here but we don’t know if we want to move or travel. If we do move, where are we going to move to? Where are we going to travel to?” It’s beautiful to watch people go from feeling they can’t do or go anywhere to, “We just booked a trip to Paris or we bought a law firm and we’re moving to Illinois.”

What we find is that couples that have the capacity to dream together and they go to the how way too soon. The how grows the creativity. It doesn’t mean at some point you’re not going to come upon an idea and you’ll need to figure it out. That’s always true but don’t do it in the beginning. Play a game. If anything was possible, what would you do? Where would you go? What would your life look like? If you could wave a magic wand. You’re not allowed to say, “Yeah, but.”

It’s a rule for us. When you’re in that dream space, you do not say, “Yeah, but.” You say instead, “Yes, and.” You continue to create that dream with, “Yes, and.”

If you take the relationship for granted, it will die. Click To Tweet

There could be some critics saying, “That’s probably good but we’ve got four kids.” That’s not the point. The point is go through the dream process and allow yourselves to dream together. You’re going to get all kinds of crazy ideas that are impossible, but you’re going to allow that one idea that’s possible to emerge that may not have emerged if you are just shooting down the ideas that you have. It happens all the time.

If you don’t put the ideas out, the universe is not going to support something, because there’s no energy behind it. If you put it out there, the universe is going to take it and run with it. The universe is here to support us and throw us what we want, not what we don’t want.

What happened with the universe with one of your clients?

This was an individual client on maternity leave. She said one of her dreams is to make it easier in a company for people to transition back into a company from a maternity or paternity leave and to create a bridge back into the company. She said, “Maybe that’s down the road, that might be too big for me.” I called her out on it and said, “Pursue that, have a conversation and see what happens.” Later she comes back and says, “The head of learning and talent development came to me and said, ‘Do you want to work for me? I know you’re looking for a new role and we’re looking for somebody to help people transition after they had a baby.’” She didn’t even ask anything. You’re getting paid to do your dream. See how easy that was. It exemplifies what you’re saying.

At first you’re shocked, the more you play with it for years. There aren’t any things that make my head shake anymore. It’s I believe in my relationship with the universe. I believe in my relationship with all my power animals, my support guides, my angels, whatever you want to call them. They’re here in supporting me and everyone in your life and your relationships. Put it out there. Ask for it. Don’t be shocked when you get what you’re dreaming for.

Allow yourself to be tickled with fantasy.

Allow yourself to be surprised.

What do you believe is important to a healthy and fulfilling relationship?

Intentionality around the relationship. Paying attention to the relationship, not just to your partner and to yourself. Nurturing, watering, and loving on that relationship. That’s one of the important things. The other thing is finding joy within each other.

Joy isn’t just for dessert. Joy is not something that you’re going to do after you do your to-do list. Joy, celebration and fun, it’s not a reward. It’s essential to a relationship. If you wait until you finish that to-do list, which you know that you’ll never get done, you will never have fun or joy. Your relationship will not be great, which you are after.

DH Relationships | Relationships Matter

Relationships Matter: Joy, celebration, and fun are not rewards. They are essential to a relationship.


Focus on the relationship and not as an individual person or yourself. If we do that, then there’s always something to fix. Folks on the relationship, it’s the idea of how do we nurture this? How do we make sure there’s joy, love, and empathy in it? All those kinds of stuff. It’s easy to say to ourselves, “I have to do this and this.” When you say, “What is the relationship?” you don’t feel guilty, because you’re giving the relationship what it needs. It’s not about me. It’s about the relationship. What are some of the things that you see that are keeping couples from connecting?

What keeps people from not connecting is not being present with each other. To make it real, when you’re having dinner together, have dinner with your partner and not with the person who you’re having a tough time with at work that you just came from. Not with the meeting that you’re worried about tomorrow. We do that. We have dinner with those people and our partner is right across from each other. Look into each others eyes and connect. The biggest thing we hear is, “There’s no time.” All of our suggestions generally don’t involve extra time. You have to eat. You might as well eat with the person you love rather than the person that you’re pissed off at. There’s a good practical place to start. Let it go.

There’s a dose of mindfulness to that. Let’s be present, right here, right now. It’s just you and I at the dinner table. Maybe the kids are there or not, but my boss is not with us. The lady at the grocery store that was a jerk, she’s not with us. The person that cut me off at the four corners, they’re not with us. We’re here, right here, right now.

What do you recommend to couples? You have worked together for a long time in your business, you own businesses together. I find myself doing this a lot. We’re at dinner then all of a sudden the conversation revolves around the business. It’s easy for me as a physician, I’ve learned a long time ago to leave the patient’s problems. Walk out of the hospital, walk out of the office, and I’m done with that. That’s not hard for me, but harder for some people when you’re in a relationship with your partner and there’s businesses involved. It’s easy to say, “What about that? Did you take care of that?” What do you recommend for that situation?

I would only recommend changing that if it’s a problem for some. For somebody like Howard and I, we don’t do a lot of separation. It’s all meshed for us, except when we need it separated. We’re intentional about separating it. “I feel that I want to leave the business at home. Let’s have dinner and talk about this.” We’re designing how we want to be together. We’re designing our conversation before we even enter a conversation.

A good ritual that we do that helps us in getting into connection in a deeper way is that we always light a candle or two during dinner and just talk about what we’re grateful for. If we end up talking about the business after that, it has a different feel to it. Bringing that sense of gratitude opens up a space for connection with yourself first, then with each other. In this culture or society, gratitude goes a long way towards bringing people together, especially when we share it with each other. All of this stuff is intentional, and sometimes you bring in some rituals and practice.

Can you give our readers something to work on to help their relationships right now?

I’m going to give you a statistic and this is from John Gottman. He and his wife have done years of research on couples and they are one of the authorities on relationship. He says that 69% of all issues between couples are unresolvable and 31% are resolvable. There are things that you can work on. We often run in this hamster wheel of arguments that are the same arguments all the time. What would happen during those arguments? Sometimes, somebody would out of the blue say, “There’s that bird you were talking about the other day.” Right in the middle of the argument, talk about something completely different.

Subconsciously, there’s a recognition that this argument is going nowhere, we have to focus on something else. It’s called a repair bid. It’s a bid to repair the relationship in the moment. It could trigger you, but if you could gain an awareness that 69% of all disagreements have no resolution and recognize that sometimes it’s important just to get off the hamster wheel. It’s a healthy thing to do for a relationship. Couples that repeatedly reject the repair bids are more likely to separate. Repair bid is not an unfamiliar thing for your audience, we all do it. When we do it, to bring it in awareness, “It’s a thing, it has a name.” Try to go with it and see what might be different.

Recognize efforts being made to repair what’s going on.

Pay attention to the relationship, not just to your partner and to yourself. Click To Tweet

If it is one of the 31% that can be fixed, it will come back up. That’s a time for a different conversation but two-thirds of the time you’re never going to get resolution anyway.

If you take any two people, whether they’ve lived together and been in love with each other, or raised kids together, they‘re still two different people, two different frames of references, two different value systems. Obviously, they have meshed but they’re still two individuals and you’re never going to agree on everything in life. It’s not possible. Remember we’re emotional beings first. If we get into a disagreement or a fight and you’re in it, you have to shift. You have to walk away to be able to have your rational to come back on line. What you’re saying is throw a little twig on it, a repair bid. Let’s get our brains and our emotional side to say, “What?” Shift back into a different part of the brain to get you back out of that hamster. You brought an article that talks about relationship and how that plays in health. You were somewhere in England.

This study was done by Dr. Douglas Nemecek. He was studying loneliness. Chronic loneliness, as it has now been characterized as chronic illness. In Britain, Theresa May appointed a minister of loneliness.

This study says that loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking fifteen cigarettes per day. It’s powerful. When we say relationships matter for health, they matter.

There have been definitive scientific research studies on the immune system. They study people that are alone the majority of their time versus people that are not. They tested their high sensitivity C-reactive protein, which is a marker of inflammation and other immune markers. There’s a statistically significant increase for folks that spend more of their time alone or are lonely. We are social beings. We are meant to be in social settings. One thing with the broken medical system is that insurance is supporting the concept of group visits. If your insurance fits, Medicare fits well, someone with private insurance or commercial insurance where you have to pay a copay every time and you have a high deductible, it may not work well.

We do group visits where if your insurance fits, you can use it. If it doesn’t fit, we determine flat fee that’s reasonable. We see an unbelievable improvement in people’s ability to be successful in the goals they set because they’re coming in and interacting with each other and they’re learning from each other. They’re learning from the health coach and myself. We’re part of the group. Everybody is getting fit. Many systems out there, from the government to the medical system, are starting to realize and allow ways within the system for social interactions and relationships to take place better. Tell folks about Vanguard Coaching and how do they find you? How do they get in touch with you?

We have a website.

It’s www.VanguardCoaching.life.

You can email at [email protected]. You can call (603) 986-0153 and we love to talk about this stuff. If you just want to chat about something interesting you heard, you may call.

What is your secret to living a healthy life? What would each of you say is your individual secret? What would you say is the secret for your relationship’s healthy life?

DH Relationships | Relationships Matter

Relationships Matter: If you decided that you want to take off in the middle of the day and go do something fun, do it. It’s essential to have a life.


A healthy life for me is finding joy every day. I find that in many different ways, but setting the intention to be joyful as often I can be.

I would throw in self-compassion. If we are hard on ourselves, it doesn’t serve anyone, not us, not the people we care about. It’s all about old beliefs and old patterns. If you decided that you want to take off in the middle of the day and go do something fun, go do it. It’s essential to have your life.

What would you say is the one major secret that keeps the relationship going?

There’s this leadership concept that we learned in this program that we took called Stay. Which means, sometimes it gets messy. Sometimes you want to run away and hide, while sometimes you want to lash out in anger. Neither of those is stay. If you can stay as present as you can. When emotions come up, breathe, and be with the person and don’t run away. Running away can take different forms. You can literally run away, shutting down or lashing out in anger. If you can find a space to take a deep breath and stay. Mean what you’re going through, “I’m feeling angry right now. I’m feeling confused. I don’t know what to say right now.” Anything is okay, just try to stay in connection if you can. That doesn’t mean that there are not times that getting up and taking a break isn’t the best thing to do. We can get into habits when it starts feeling sticky like, “I’m going to run.” The relationship is not going to move forward if you stay in that habit.

You’re focusing on the relationship when you stay. It’s not focusing on the person you might be angry with but you’re staying with the relationship then you’re able to get above it.

When you get above it, you shift your perspective. It’s not all about me. It becomes what’s best for the relationship.

Thank you for coming on. This is one of the topics that you don’t talk about every day even though we’re all in them every moment of every day. If you’re in a couple and have a loved one that you cherish, why don’t we focus on them more? Relationships matter. Make sure you check out VanguardCoaching.life.

There’s a Couples Coaching page there to click on that will get you right to what we’re talking about.

Thank you. I appreciate you coming on. I hope this podcast has helped empower you on your journey to restore and optimize your health. If you would like to know more information, my clinic is Discover Health Functional Medicine Center. My website is DiscoverHealthFMC.com. On our website, is a great deal with more information educationally as well as information about our services and an opportunity to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with one of my team. During this 30-minute free consultation, you can get to know us and we can get to know you. You can learn about our services and see if it would be a fit for you to improve your journey towards restoring and optimizing your health.

Another option is to go to our Facebook page, that’s Discover Health Functional Medicine Center and to join our Facebook group. Our group is filled in creating a community of people just like you that you can talk with and interact with, about your questions. You can also ask us, your most burning questions. Please go to my website, DiscoverHealthFMC.com, or join our Facebook group at Discover Health Functional Medicine Center. Let’s work together on our journey to restore and optimize health.

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