Do you feel that your long-term relationship could benefit from couples coaching but you are concerned that your partner is not open to the idea of seeing a coach? I am often asked, “how do I get my partner to come with me to do couples work”?
In my workshops and one-on-one sessions, I teach individuals and couples how to express their feelings and needs using the non-violent communication model by Marshall Rosenberg. The four step process ends with making a request—not a demand—to have your need met.
Couple’s therapist Ellyn Bader also has an interesting perspective on expressing needs to our partner. She points out that a lot depends on the wording we use. To translate that into NVC wording, we can express our need for something, but the request has to be a true request, not “I want you to”, not “I need you to”, and certainly not “You need to”.
Bader feels that saying “I need you to go to couples coaching with me”, will most likely result in your partner feeling he or she has no choice. They might feel cornered, resistant and get defensive, as there is no room to move. Fears or shame can be triggered for them around seeing a coach or sharing your private conflicts and challenges. They might not even feel they can express their feelings when approached this way. The more autocratic we show up when we express a need, the less likely it is that our partner will want to be open and cooperative.
Here is a better way of approaching the topic. “I really want to go to coaching. I hope you will join me. Here is why I want to go: I realize when you and I get into conflict I don’t handle it the best way possible. I want to learn to understand you better so we can create a better relationship. I want to become a better version of myself and connect at a deeper level with you.”
Notice that all of these are I-statements. You avoid blame or finger pointing. You simply take responsibility for yourself and the change you want to make. You give your partner a free choice to change or stay the same. Ellyn Bader even advises not to use the word “need” at all. Approaching your partner from a softer place allows them to give generously from an open heart and to express their own concerns or hesitations.
It can also help if you highlight the personal gain for your partner when going to couples coaching. You probably have specific topics you want to work on. Let your partner know that you are willing to also work on what they want to change in your partnership. For example, you want your partner to acknowledge your feelings more, and your partner wants to improve your sex life. Knowing they have a potential gain by agreeing to sessions gives them a motivation to come other than the fact that you want them to.
If despite making a request rather than a demand, your partner is not willing to come for sessions, you have the choice to make an appointment for an individual session to do your own relationship work. Even when only one person changes, the relationship itself changes. All relationships are a reflection of the relationship we have with ourselves. Others reflect to us what we believe, think and how much we love ourselves. Our partner always reflects our core wounds from childhood.
Some potential questions to examine in individual sessions could be:
– How has my partner disappointed or hurt me in ways similar to how I was disappointed or hurt as a child?
e.g. My father discounted my feelings and fears and my partner does the same.
– How might I have disappointed or hurt my partner in ways similar to how he or she was disappointed or hurt as a child?
e.g. My partner had a mother who was controlling and demanding. Each time I become controlling or demanding, I remind him of his mother. As a child he felt not good enough and guilty. When I let him know that he is not acknowledging my feelings, he is triggered into not being good enough again. He feels guilty.
– How do I let myself down in ways that are similar to how I feel let down by my partner?
e.g. I don’t take good care of my own feelings.
– Where am I expecting my partner to take care of me in ways I am refusing to take care of myself?
e.g. I expect him to acknowledge my feelings when I am not willing to sit and work through my own feelings.
– What am I making these disappointments mean?
e.g. My feelings, needs and fears don’t matter and will never be acknowledged in a relationship.
– What am I making our challenges mean about the possibilities I have for happiness in romantic partnerships?
e.g. I can’t be myself in a romantic partnership. I have to suppress my feelings and fears. I will never feel safe or accepted to be me.
– What is my limiting story around love and relationships based on my childhood wounds?
e.g. Men are not capable of acknowledging feelings and fears. Women need to make sure they don’t show up as “too needy”, or they lose their partner.
– How do I set my partner up to respond in a way that perpetuates my childhood experience?
e.g. I don’t express my feelings and fears calmly, and instead, I get very stressed and anxious. I express myself loudly and anxiously, using control to manage the anxiety. That triggers my partner into feeling the same way he felt when he was a boy.
Contact me for a free phone consultation on either individual sessions or couple’s coaching. I also offer packages for couples.
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