Today we’d like to introduce you to Kara Shade.
Kara, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
After I finished my master’s in conflict resolution I did a little work as a family mediator, helping couples have more collaborative divorces: working out child custody, splitting up assets, etc. The work was emotionally exhausting for me, and in many cases, I found at least one partner in the divorce was still “in it” and wanted to work on the relationship. I found myself wishing I could reach couples on the front end of the process, long before they ever got to this point.
My efforts to get a mediation practice off the ground weren’t very successful, and I continued working in higher education trying to figure out how to utilize my new mediation skill set. When my husband and I were engaged, he shared that he wanted to do some premarital counseling. I was a bit offended honestly. I was of the mind (like many) that counseling meant there was a big problem in our relationship. Nevertheless, he found a workshop for us to attend, and halfway through the class I went up to the facilitator and asked him what I needed to do to teach workshops like his.
The content was a great mix of information from my background in psychology, communication, and dispute resolution. I was intrigued. I had never taught before, but I started to see a path unfold before me. After making contact with the COO at the nonprofit that offered our class, what I thought could be a weekend facilitating gig turned into a full-time job offer. Quite unexpectedly, I decided to leave my job in higher education and take the leap into the nonprofit sector after we got back from our honeymoon.
I learned a lot through that experience and started to develop as a facilitator. About a year later, I decided to pursue my Ph.D. I knew I wanted a research-based, substantive foundation to work from with couples, and the idea of striking out on my own really appealed to me. I left the nonprofit and enrolled full-time at Texas Woman’s University in their family studies program which allowed me to focus on the prevention side of things academically as I built my business professionally. This summer makes four years since I embarked on both. I’m working on my dissertation about first-time parenthood now and hope to graduate in December!
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
While my concept for the business came together easily, the execution took a lot of trial and error. One of the early challenges was finding space to see clients. Since I only got sporadic inquiries for my services, I couldn’t justify paying for a full-time office space. I hosted some of my workshops at hotels early on, and I had a therapist friend who let me rent space from her as needed for sessions. Finding after hours access to space, primarily on nights and weekends, made things really challenging at first.
My biggest obstacle was in branding myself. People typically put me in the “therapist/counselor” box since most people are not familiar with relationship educators. I work in prevention, not intervention, so a challenge early on was convincing happy couples they needed what I had to offer them. I like to use analogies. So, it’s pretty clear you need a mechanic when the engine dies in your car, but it’s easier to let routine maintenance like oil changes slide when you’re not having major issues.
It goes without saying that cars that are maintained regularly run better and longer, but we get busy and things fall off our radar until they are on fire sometimes. I see my prevention work with couples like the routine oil changes, the minor tweaks that put you back on the road fast and keep things running smoothly. Therapists are often tasked with handling the engines on fire.
Please tell us about Verge Relationships.
I am a relationship educator, not a counselor or therapist. I still specialize in interpersonal relationships, but I approach them from a preventive, educational standpoint. Like anything else in life, relationships take a concerted effort and ongoing learning. I use research-based curricula to help equip couples with the proven tools and insights they need to live out their vows in a practical way.
I’ve had couples liken what I do to professional development for love. You go to continuing education to keep up in your profession, but few people get an “education” in relationships. Some of us were fortunate to grow up in homes where great relationship skills were modeled, as I was, but I find that’s not the case for the majority of people. So, how else do you learn about relationship red flags, tools for effective conflict resolution and communication, how to stay connected and maintain intimacy over time, how to navigate transitions and decision making together, and what the research-based principles for happy relationships are? Even if you had good role models, you may not know what they’re doing right and why it’s working.
Similarly, faith-based education can be incredibly valuable for couples, but many of those programs do not provide the nuts and bolts of how to “do life” together… the proven skills for weathering the storms and managing the inevitable conflicts and challenges together. I often tell couples that my services are a great complement to faith-based premarital counseling because our offerings are typically distinct and address the relationship from very different perspectives.
I offer private sessions and small group workshops for couples. I primarily serve engaged couples, although I see newlyweds and seriously dating couples too. I’m also trained in a Bringing Baby Home curriculum for couples who are becoming first-time parents. The transition to parenthood is a really vulnerable time for couples, and the majority of couples experience some drop in marital satisfaction after their first child is born. From the prevention side, offering education before the transition can help buffer couples from many of the potential pitfalls. I ascribe to the “when you know better, you do better” philosophy, so reaching couples early in their relationships – before the major transitions to marriage and parenthood – is my aim.
Professionally, it’s been an honor to be selected as a recipient of The Knot’s “Best of Weddings” the past two years for premarital education. That award is typically reserved for the top 2-3% of vendors in each category, so seeing so many couples take to The Knot to leave 5-star testimonials has been really encouraging. I also had an article published in the Gottman Institute’s blog a few months ago which was a cool professional achievement. I respect Dr. John Gottman’s work tremendously, and his 40+ years of relationship research is the foundation for my workshops.
More than those accomplishments, I honestly feel proudest and most fulfilled in my work when couples share their “a-ha” moments. I love hearing that something we covered in the previous session hit home and illuminated a dynamic or issue that’s given them trouble, or that they feel more aligned or connected as a result of the workshop or sessions. When I can tell they feel more confident and hopeful, it lights a fire in me.
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
One of my favorite memories growing up was with my sister. We were never allowed to come downstairs on Christmas morning until my mom verified Santa had come and we got the green light. Some years, my sister would come into my room early in the morning and we’d wait together. As we got older, we would throw balled up socks from the upstairs landing and try to hit my parents’ bedroom door to urge the process along. I think they heard us and chose to wait us out a while, but we enjoyed our little shenanigans nonetheless.
As adults, we’ve adapted this tradition to “kidnapping” the baby Jesus statue from our mom’s nativity scene each year and developing elaborate cover stories and alibis. We do our best to leave dad out of it, but it’s become a bit of a family affair now as we’ve had to raise the bar each year. Mom is always on high alert and monitors baby Jesus’ whereabouts closely for the entire holiday season. One of my favorite schemes involved a fake Etsy shop in rural Oklahoma we created to sell her statue.
- Website: www.vergerelationships.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org