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Coaching Men to Reconcile Marriage Separation – Part II: Challenges and Effective Strategies by Jeff Williams

Feb 9th, 2010 | By | Category: Family Coaching Center Guest Posts

Part I focused on how to coach separated men based on the experience of Coach Rich Wildman.  Rich was separated from his wife Sharon for sixteen months, from 2003 until 2005.  Today he serves men in similar situations by compassionately befriending them.  The heart, skills and disciplines of Christian Coaching are the foundation of his approach, though he will utilize whatever is indicated to support, encourage and educate men to learn and grow through the excruciating experience of being separated from their wife.

The Challenge

Rich emphasizes that this can be a very hard group of men to help.  “There is so much pain that even normally competent men struggle to function and struggle with their anger.”  The intensity of these men’s emotions, which include profound fear of loss of their marriage, can radically alter their ability to think and act rationally. It’s as if they enter a phase of pre-grieving a tragic loss before it actually happens.  The fact is that it is happening to an extent, as evidenced by the physical absence of their wife (and sometimes children).  Many report that they feel worse than they would imagine feeling if their wife had been tragically killed.  “At least in an accident it wasn’t their choice to leave you. But with separation and threatened divorce it is clearly their choice, and it often feels like you can’t do anything to stop it”, said one separated man.

Counseling, Coaching or a Combination?

Richard has made some observations about counseling separated men. “A counseling approach, where they are told what to do and what not to do sometimes doesn’t work all that well because some men bristle at being told one more thing to do, especially if their wife was the kind of person who constantly told them what to do.” His own testimony is that counseling was helpful to the extent that it helped him to develop some insights into himself and how others perceived him, but in his opinion he started to heal quicker and make better decisions the more his counselor utilized a coaching approach. Rich does acknowledge that some men need a counseling approach in addition to peer or professional coaching.  “Some guys need some insight into the way they think and relate that can come most efficiently through a professional with psychological training.  Still they need opportunity to evaluate what they learn about themselves, and relational support and encouragement to make changes in their thinking and behavior. That’s where coaching is a good supplement for men who do need some counseling, too.”

“I have been a farm owner/manager most of my life.  In those roles role I have been accustomed to receiving advice from a number of different sources, making my own decisions, and then reaping the rewards or consequences of my choice. I think coaching worked for me because my coach practiced the discipline of believing in me and treating me as if I had the right and ability to make decisions about my marriage.  This felt right to me because my choices were going to profoundly affect my life, not his. Basically, it was his confidence in my ability that increased my confidence to evaluate my situation and make my own decisions.  When the results were positive it even further bolstered my confidence, and when things didn’t turn out so well, I still found acceptance and support in coaching to help me regroup to try again.”

Mentoring like a coach

“Mentoring can be helpful if the mentor is a great listener and does not have his own agenda”, Richard asserts.  “The fact is that men like me who have gone through separation DO have experience that can be helpful for men currently in the situation.  Truth be told, this is a lot of what I do with separated men.  I share what I found helpful and what I didn’t in terms of coping, but also in terms of how I re-built a bridge of communication with my wife.” Still, Richard holds to the coaching value of not offering unsolicited advice.  “I either ask them if I can share some ideas about how to cope and to relate to their wife, or they ask me for ideas.  Then, after sharing, I ask them what they think about those ideas and if they would like to try any of them.  To my understanding, that is a coach approach.”

Listen, listen, listen

Rich strongly emphasizes the value of listening.  “The listening part of coaching is great help to these men. For them to get to the point of deciding to act on any ideas to help their situation requires a ray of hope that it will be helpful. Listening gives them an opportunity to evaluate their options and to plan action they believe will help.” Rich is realistic about the time it takes for some wives to get to the point of being willing to try to reconcile their marriage.  “The key to supporting these men is to help them to survive the wait, and to continue living with hope when doubts creep in and they begin to believe that the wait is going to be futile.” One of the best case scenarios happens when a man transfers the listening he is receiving to be able to listen better to his wife, and that helps her to see that he really can do differently in their relationship.  “But, even if they don’t reconcile, you’ve done well by a man to befriend him with the gift of listening.”

Responding to Requests for Advice

Often men are so desperate for an answer that they ask the classic question to the coach. What should I do? “While I do try to ask them what they think they could do, I don’t frustrate them by refusing to share ideas.  They don’t know what they don’t know.  They haven’t walked this path, but I have.  I choose to hear their question as a request for information rather than an invitation to take control of their life.” Rich explains that he tries to lay out options that he used and that he has seen other men do.  “And then I ask them to evaluate those ideas, ‘Is that something you would like to do, or something you think would work?’” Rich’s experience, however, is that separated men often tell him why those ideas won’t work in their situation. This author’s experience in this is that most separated men are desperate for the one thing they can do to quickly “FIX” the situation.  But it isn’t that easy or quick, as Rich testifies.(1)

“My final encouragement to men in this situation is to seek God, hold out for hope (others have done this), and always remember that if they make changes in themselves that it has to result in changes in the relationship.  If they change the way they communicate, listen, and take 100% responsibility for their part of the situation and will refrain from accusations and blame they increase their chances of their wife seeing and responding to the differences they are showing. This can be a very long and painful journey, and there are no guarantees, but patient God-seeking and commitment to personal growth can result in both a reconciled marriage and a better relationship with God.”

*Rich and his wife Sharon were reconciled in January 2005.  They are co-founders of Stubborn Pursuits, www.stubbornpursuits.wordpress.com.

1. copy and paste this link for Rich’s blog and listing of recommended resources,  www.stubbornpursuits.wordpress.com/stubborn-pursuits/blog

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