Amanda was ready to file for divorce when she wrote to me. What she learned in coaching changed her relationship and her life.
Her marriage was bad. Her husband wouln’t change. She didn’t see a reason to stay.
She explained to me that although her relationship had been really good at first, she discovered what her husband was really like. And, she reasoned with me–people don’t change, so staying in her relationship would just mean a lifetime of unhappiness for both of them. It was just an e-mail, but I could sense the choking feeling in her voice, as though she was talking to me in person. Over the years, I have received many such e-mails and heard a lot of such reasoning. Of course, she could have gone directly to a lawyer instead of writing me. I realize that when someone comes to me, it might be their last hope before ending their relationship. (I pray I never miss such an e-mail in my in-box).
I could have quoted statistics to Amanda.
I could have told her that while 40% of first marriages don’t work out, nearly 60% of second marriages don’t work, and nearly 70% of third marriages. Showing Amanda that people can’t simply divorce and do better next time really wouldn’t make her feel any more hopeful She didn’t need to hear that she was stuck between having a bad marriage and having a worse one. Amanda needed guidance, not statistics, and some reason to hope that her marriage wasn’t over.
“Did I marry the wrong man?” was not a helpful question for Amanda.
It could only lead her to one answer one answer and that answer pointed toward the door. I helped her to shift her question to “What is going on in my relationship, and am I really handling it the right way?” Looking at whether there was something she could do for her relationship opened the door to more possibilities. I could join with her in seeing her husband’s behavior as the problem, but we could also look at her responses for solutions. Most partners are not ready to willingly change and I knew Amanda would get stuck if we just focused on her husband.
Amanda agreed to take a closer look at specifically what she and her husband were doing.
She filled out an assessment (she chose the “communication” assessment) about what was going on with her and her husband, so that we could focus in on the main problem areas during our coaching session. As is typical, Amanda was able to find several ways that she could improve her relationship with her husband just by doing the assessment. Writing about she responded to her husband got her to look at her reactions more objectively. There was a connection between what she was doing and what her husband was doing. If I was to help her, it would have to be with changing that pattern. When we talked a few days later, Amanda was feeling less upset. Just knowing she was doing something positive was helping.
During our coaching time, I didn’t go into the history of Amanda’s relationship.
Our session was for helping her to move forward–not for opening up an emotional dam. What I really wanted to know was how Amanda wanted her relationship to be with her husband. Then, we reviewed from her assessment what the obstacles were that were getting in the way. For her, the obstacles mainly had to do with her husband’s criticism and negativity. For other Amandas, Alisons, Jims, and Roberts, the obstacles are different. But no one wants to live with a partner who is negative and critical. I would no more want that for Amanda than I would want it for myself. If we couldn’t find a way to change that, then at least Amanda could be more sure when she signed her divorce papers. I asked Amanda whether she would want to give her marriage with her husband a chance if we could change his critical behavior. She said that was the only way she would stay, but yes, she wanted that—if it was possible.
Having spent many years working with highly conflicted relationships,
I had some ideas about how we could help her husband to change. I had never met a man who wanted to be critical or to lose his wife because of his critical behavior. So I knew that her husband could be an ally in this process—though not at first. The first place to start was with the ideas that Amanda had come up with during her assessment. Of her ideas, the one that seemed the most promising place to start was ending conversations whenever her husband became critical. Amanda and I spent the last part of her session planning a good way for her to do that. Her husband would have to understand why she was ending the conversation. It would also need to be something that was completely under Amanda’s control and didn’t lead to more conflict. The first time Amanda tried this with her husband, she was to e-mail me right away about how it went.
Amanda soon learned what all men and women learn.
What they do makes a difference in the way their partners interact with them. For Amanda, her husband started to catch himself being critical—a behavior which was really encouraging for her. She realized that it wasn’t that her husband wanted to be critical—it was just that he didn’t realize that he was being critical. He had thought of his behavior as helpful or insightful. Amanda’s actions helped him to see that they were not helpful and actually harmed his relationship with her. He also saw quite clearly that Amanda was not going to tolerate it. Although she had tried to tell him so many times before, it was only her actions that helped him to finally get the message.
As Amanda and I continued our work together, she gave up the idea that her husband was the wrong man for her.
She helped her husband to be helpful and insightful and not to just shut off his words when he tried to talk to her. His intelligence was one of the things about him that attracted her in the first place. She learned how to help him get what he had been trying to have with his difficult behavior, but in a good way. I am very happy for Amanda. She did the hard part. She was willing to try again, even when she was on the verge of giving up. That takes courage. Many men and women lose that chance.
Like Amanda, you too have choices
If your partner is wanting to go to counseling with you, that’s a really good choice. If not, like Amanda, it may be better to learn how to motivate your partner, and become more hopeful, first. Relationship coaching is your best choice when it comes to learning skills that make the difference.