It is common for one partner to seek coaching when they need 1:1 support for something they’re struggling with in their relationship and are not yet ready to include their partner. We don’t need to reject coaching them unless both partners participate, we can help the partner who wants help and support them to work towards including their partner.
It’s best if both partners participate in coaching but that is not the real world. It may or may not mean that the couple is dysfunctional and needs a higher level of intervention than coaching, so you do the intake and use your judgment about whether to take on this client and if they are a good fit for your services.
As a Marriage and Family Therapist turned Relationship Coach I’ve coached many, many individual partners of a couple and their reasons for seeking individual help are varied and need to be approached on a case by case basis. Often they end up being great relationship coaching clients as they need your help identifying their needs, strategizing how to get them met, asserting their needs and boundaries, etc, which is great individual relationship coaching of someone in a relationship.
Let’s break this down by stages of relationship:
Dating Couple: A relationship doesn’t yet have an agreement to be exclusive (my definition of “dating couple”), the partners are really two singles hanging out. If one of those partners seeks coaching they are most likely unsure of themselves, are probably settling for less than they really want, need a reality check and support to Be The Chooser, get in touch with their Vision, Requirements, Needs and Wants, etc. It is probably best to coach them as a single person using RCI’s Conscious Dating program.
Pre-committed Couple: If they are in an exclusive relationship but haven’t discussed or decided commitment and one partner seeks coaching, everything mentioned above about the Dating Couple applies here as well. The difference is if they experience a lot of attachment and alignment, are experiencing fear and are simply needing a reality check and the courage to make a big decision. After gaining clarity about their Vision, Requirements, Needs and Wants and determining that this relationship might be a fit, the next step would be to include the partner in pre-commitment coaching using RCI’s Partners in Life coaching program.
Pre-Marital Couple: If they have discussed and agreed upon becoming committed but haven’t formalized it yet, it is common for an individual partner to seek coaching for a reality check because they are experiencing fear or reservations (“cold feet”). Everything mentioned above about pre-committed couples applies except the decision seems bigger with higher stakes as they are on the verge of taking an irreversible step. If they are aware they are settling and that one or more Requirements are not met, OR if they know it’s a good fit but are simply experiencing fear, they need you to be neutral and allow their decision and path to emerge as a result of gaining clarity about their Vision, R/N/W, etc. When an individual pre-committed or pre-marital partner seeks your help it is best to support the individual partner’s decision making before including their partner.
Committed Couple: If a couple is married or otherwise committed and one partner seeks coaching it is usually because they are experiencing a stressful problem they want individual help with, or they are unhappy and considering divorce and may or may not be open to putting effort into making the relationship work (see info about “pre-divorce coaching” here). It is also common for one partner of a committed couple to be motivated to work on the relationship and seek coaching but the other one doesn’t want to or doesn’t see the need or value.
Let’s address these situations individually:
Stressful Problem: usually conflict, but about what? Normal differences around money, parenting, etc. are stressful but livable and don’t usually drive people to seek professional help, so be sure to clarify exactly what is happening in this relationship. A stressful problem big enough to seek professional help such as dealing with addictions, various forms of abuse, violations of requirements (infidelity, etc.), mental health issues (depression, anxiety), are indications of dysfunctional relationships that are best referred to specialists and are NOT good candidates for coaching.
Considering Divorce: if one partner seeks coaching because they are considering divorce it is usually a situation they have been living with for many years and their level of unhappiness and frustration is usually very high and their willingness and energy to work on the relationship is usually very low. This is not a good candidate for coaching as we work with functional, motivated people and couples. Depending upon your experience, skills, and their situation, you may decide you can help them. Be sure to review this info carefully and please note that we do NOT recommend focusing on Requirements with married couples as we assume their higher agenda is for the relationship to continue and improve, not come up with reasons why it doesn’t work that they already know, which would be promoting divorce and not neutral.
Unavailable Partner: This is the most common category of working with one partner of a committed couple that is actually a good fit for coaching. Support the partner that is motivated and has energy for working on their relationship using RCI’s Couple for Life coaching program (Vision, etc), introduce RCI’s Radical Marriage/advanced partnership paradigms and tools, help them strategize what they can do to improve their relationship (Communication Map, increase connection, intimacy and romance, initiate rituals and celebrations, etc.), and usually they are able to get their partner to participate in coaching when they realize that it is a safe, supportive, positive activity that will enhance their life and they won’t be criticized, judged or blamed.
Please note that Conscious Dating®, Radical Marriage®, Couple for Life™ and Partners in Life™ are registered trademarks of Relationship Coaching Institute to be used exclusively by members of RCI in good standing.