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Coaching Separated Men, Part I: An Interview with a Coach Who’s Been There by Jeff Williams

Nov 9th, 2009 | By | Category: Family Coaching Center Guest Posts

Some coaching ministries evolve out of painful experiences.  This is exactly how Rich Wildman[1] developed compassion for separated men.  He and his wife Sharon were separated 16 months before a successful reconciliation.  Today he serves men that are enduring the painful and scary challenge of reconciling their marriage by coaching them.  Together Rich and Sharon have formed a ministry, Stubborn Pursuits, a name that reflects the tenacity with which they pursued God and a reconciled relationship.  What follows is an interview with Rich about his coaching ministry to separated men.

Jeff: Rich, how did this become a ministry for you?

Rich: A couple of years after our reconciliation I sought to lead a Divorce Care group.[2] During the group I realized that some men in there had some similar stories of separation to other men I knew, so I asked if they wanted to get together to share.

Jeff: How have these share groups been helpful, and how have you facilitated them using a coaching approach?

Rich: I have only facilitated one group. I started it before I began my major coach training and continued it while I was in training. The men seemed to appreciate being prompted to get together to share with one another. I was the one who usually arranged the meetings which is not normal coaching protocol. The other times I have helped men it has been one on one. They appreciate having someone to listen to them, especially someone who has been there.

Jeff: What needs do you see that need to be met for separated men?

Rich: Loving listening allows them to vent. Testimonies, either mine or others give them hope. Revelation 12:11: They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.

Jeff: How is a coaching approach suited to be helpful to them?

Rich: They need a lot of support and encouragement just to survive. Accountability is trickier in that sometimes they are in so much pain and things spiral out control so fast, that action plans can go out the window.

Jeff: You mentioned pain.  Typically, coaching isn’t thought to be appropriate or effective with clients that are in pain.  What do you have to say about that?

Rich: I think the listening part of coaching is very helpful in these situations. Just feeling heard often reduces the intensity of the pain. Once pain is reduced to manageable levels there may be enough emotional energy to make some positive action steps. That is when the support, encouragement and accountability of coaching can be really helpful.  If you have not been separated or divorced, it is important to be aware that the pain can be excruciating.  Normally highly competent individuals can go through times of near paralysis.  Just being there for such a person, is huge to them.

Jeff: Rich, it seems that there is another possible departure from a pure coaching approach in that you mentioned that there are things you learned from experience that you think separated men need to know.  I have two questions: 1. How do you maintain a coaching posture when it is obvious that a separated man doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, and that it would be helpful to share some information from your experience, and 2. Once you get their permission to share from your experience, what do you find yourself telling them?

Rich: Part of the coaching approach is to share ideas when asked, and often these men are desperately asking for ideas even more so than regular clients. I still try to put it back in their lap that they have to choose what things are most applicable for their situation.  In regard to your second question, I tell them that they have to concentrate on their own relationship with God, and that if they change, they automatically change the marriage.

Jeff: How do you use your expert knowledge from your experience as a separated man?

Rich: Basically I share my own testimony and point to resources that I used or have been exposed to since the beginning of our separation.  Also, I find that I have extra patience with the intensity of men’s emotions and their struggle to get the focus off of their spouse. I think I’m most helpful to separated men by combing patient and compassionate listening with sharing about my personal experience and resources I found helpful.  My experience gave me three core sets of knowledge. One is my personal experience of having been separated. I try to remember to be extra patient, because some people were extra patient for me. The second set of knowledge is the resources I personally used during our separation. The third set of knowledge is the many resources that I have been exposed to since our separation and have received training in such as coaching[3], marriage coaching[4], and PAIRS®[5], etc.

If there were just a couple things I could do for a separated man, though, it would be patient and compassionate listening and encouragement to persevere with hope and faith that the marriage can be reconciled.

Jeff: Rich, I want to come back to the question about how you see your conversations as coaching conversations?

Rich: Well, conversations with separated men are heavily focused on listening. Again, what this does for them is that it helps them to feel heard and that their feelings of anger, sadness, fear, etc. are valid.  A lot of times these conversations may not be pure coaching conversations in that often it is hard to get commitment to a goal because of the severe pain involved.  But still, I find that using a coaching approach is best and most effective because ultimately they have to realize that their future life is going to be shaped by the choices they make in this tough situation and they are the one that has to do the ultimate choosing, I cannot choose for them. There are a lot of complex scriptural issues involved in the whole separation, divorce, remarriage arena, scriptural issues about which a lot of sound theologians have significantly different views. They become very real issues for men during periods of separation when divorce is being threatened or considered.  Each person has to  live with their own conscience about the decisions they make.  The coaching approach is helpful to men in the midst of evaluating the pros and cons of their various options.

Jeff: What do separated men say about how you are helpful?  What is their testimony about how you have been helpful to them?

Rich: They appreciate my commitment, and my listening.  I think they feel encouraged and inspired to keep trying by the fact that I am willing to spend time with them when the message they are getting from their spouse is often that they are not worth spending time with. Often times I will drive to meet them, and they really appreciate that. I think that just consistently being there gives them hope to carry on.

Jeff: Could you illustrate the effectiveness of coaching a separated man with an illustration of a good outcome?

Rich: When I have someone who is really eager to learn and to try many different things they have better outcomes.  I can name several men who took my suggestions to heart.  They focused on working on their own heart attitudes and they are the ones who eventually got back together with their spouses.

The most discouraging situations go like this: A man came to me one August as an emotional wreck, saying he would do anything to save his marriage.  By late fall he had a legal separation.  By Christmas he was dating though still married (the state he lived in had a one year waiting period before a divorce was final).  Then he let the divorce go through without ever having made a significant effort to pursue reconciliation.

Obviously the best outcome is if the spouse eventually returns to the marriage and the marriage is reconciled. I also consider it a good outcome if a man ramps up his relationship with God, stays functioning in his job, does right by his kids, treats his wife with love and civility, and a brightness returns to his eyes and a lightness to his step.  That man has hope for tomorrow and a reason for living regardless of the ultimate outcome of his marriage.

*Next month will be Coaching Separated Men – Part II: Challenges, Opportunities, Resources and Other Approaches

[1] Rich and his wife Sharon were reconciled in January 2005.  They are co-founders of Stubborn Pursuits,

[2] See for a group in your area.  Don ‘t let the title fool you.  There is a strong message for reconciliation in the materials.






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