A common, and unfortunate, deterrent from accessing or continuing with marriage or family work is the disinterest or unwillingness of an individual’s partner or spouse. The label of “marriage” or “family” coaching suggests, of course, that it’s intended only for the married couple or all family members. And while, yes, it is ideal to have both partners or parents participate in services proven to strengthen their relationship or family, it’s not a necessity.
This Q&A Monday, I want to address the misconception that it’s everybody or nobody when it comes to coaching.
Can I do couples coaching even if my partner/spouse won’t?
The short answer: Yes. Absolutely. 100%.
I have consulted with countless spouses or partners over the phone or in my office professing their intimate concerns, worries, and goals for their relationship or family. A husband calls because he and his wife have been married for a few years and are struggling through their first big rough patch. He hope to get through it stronger and more resilient for any and all rough patches to come. But, his wife says that she doesn’t have any problems that need to be addressed and doesn’t need to go.
A wife will schedule a consultation because she and her husband have recently welcomed their second child into the home and the work and stress of caring for two young children is becoming overwhelming for the couple. The wife wants to work to support her husband better and vice versa. But, her husband says this is just a normal phase and they don’t need anyone telling them how to raise their kids or manage their home.
The scenarios are endless, and all equally worrisome to and heavy on the heart of the people brave enough to pick up the phone and schedule an appointment. But, they all end the same: their partner isn’t interested or is unwilling, leaving the already strained situation more isolating and overwhelming.
Or, one partner’s discouragement is enough to invalidate and convince the concerned partner that they are wrong and should be able to just work through it. And this is often even more worrisome: if the only partner rallying in defense of the relationship is quieted, who will speak up for the relationship?
While, yes, it is ideal to have both partners or all members of the family participate, it is not necessary to making improvements. You are 50% of your relationship or marriage. If your 50% is enhanced with greater understanding, skills, and tools, your relationship will benefit. As a better communicator, problem solver, and conflict resolver, you will communicate, solve problems, and resolve conflicts with your partner more effectively.
Sometimes, seeing these improvements in their spouse is enough to convince the doubting partner to participate as well. Even if not to learn themselves (because, as they’ve said, they have no room for improvements), they will show up to support your improvements. Whatever gets them in the room.
Unfortunately, other times, the gains and improvements one partner makes are discouraged and worn down over time by the less effective approaches of the other partner. Or, out of resentment or frustration that they have exerted so much more energy and interest into preserving the relationship without any reciprocal efforts, their new, more effective ways will be discarded. Sometimes, tit for tat is hard to resist. (This risk is something I address with the participating partner, providing additional tools and solutions to prevent the ultimate demise of their hard work.)
At the end of the day, if you’re contributing and supporting your relationship as a better version of yourself – a better quality 50% – you will see improvements within all dimensions of your relationship. Utilizing enhanced, more effective approaches will solicit different, and generally more positive, reactions from your partner. Ultimately, approaching all situations and interactions with improved skills, tools, and a greater understanding of your own and your partner’s needs will result in noticeable and lasting gains. So trust your gut and do what you can for your 50%.