A coaching client approaches you with the following question: “How can I become the best partner possible?” As his coach, what would you suggest? Zahava Starak, LCI Master Coach, answers…
 
We will be addressing this question on the assumption that ‘partner’ in this question refers to the partner in a ‘couple relationship’.
 
Upon hearing this request the coach would initially be on alert as to the motivation behind this desire, as before working with this client the coach would need to briefly discuss the client’s relationship and ascertain if there are any serious problems that will need specialist attention.
 
An individual may want to become the best partner possible out of a fear that if they don’t they will lose their partner, or they may have an exaggerated dependence on their partner and are so completely enmeshed in the other person’s identity that they no longer have a self. If this is the case then it is the coach’s ethical responsibility to inform the client that they may require the specialist services of a relationship counsellor.
 
This not being the case and the client wanting to enrich what is already a healthy and well functioning relationship, then the coach can applaud this objective and begin the journey.
 
A Reality Check may be the starting point. And it would be beneficial to determine at what stage in their partnership the client is at and what is happening for them at this stage. Relationships go through developmental stages and there are challenges and opportunities at each stage.
 
These stages wear different labels but they basically are: the initial idealistic stage covering the first two years – often referred to in marriages as the honeymoon stage; the realistic stage – covering the 3rd through the 10th year – in which the task is to hang unto the relationship after reality strikes; the comfortable stage – covering the 11th through to the 25th years – in which the task is to maintain an individual identity along with a couple identity; the renewing stage- covering the 26th year to the 35th year in which the task is to rediscover intimacy after years of wear and tear; and the transcendent stage – the years thereafter in which the relationship transcends the tasks of the previous stages.
 
Most individuals seeking to improve their relationship will likely fall into one of the first three stages, and this can be explained to the client.
 
To continue the reality check the coach needs to determine the current state of the client’s relationship and what they feel they need to enhance in this relationship. Questions such as: “If you were the person that you wanted to be in this relationship, what kind of person would you be?” “Is there something missing in your relationship?” “What are you doing now to be the best partner possible?” What is stopping you from doing what you say you want to do?” “What do you see for yourself in this relationship now and in the future?” are the way forward.
 
These types of reality-based questions can start the client thinking about what it means to be a ‘better partner’ and how they can attain this objective.
 
The discussion so far serves as a background and the coach is now ready to introduce some more directive steps to help the client become the best partner possible. They could start by implementing a creative exercise in which the client produces (on paper) an image of themselves as the ideal partner.
 
This image can be represented in words, colours, a flowchart, a diagram or glued pictures and/or words cut from magazines or newspapers. Often clients are hesitant to draw as they are embarrassed by their lack of artistic skills – so cutting and gluing can be the answer.
 
This activity can take a while and often clients welcome the opportunity to continue the exercise at home. The end result becomes the starting point for verbalizing what this ideal partner looks like.
 
The visual depiction can lead into a discussion and such questions as “in this ideal picture what does the daily routine look like? If there are children what are your responsibilities? How do you relate to your extended family and your partner’s extended family? Are there any problems around finances? Is there fun in this relationship? How do you relax with your partner? And how is intimacy shared?” can add additional details to this picture.
 
For each aspect of the client’s relationship it becomes evident that there are certain criteria that have to be met and these are now systematically listed so as to become the client’s vision.
 
Now knowing what the client wants to happen the obvious step is to set goals. Before this however the coach may ask the client to undertake another activity to determine their values. The client is provided with a list of values from which they tick those that are important to them and then rate these values so that they have a list of their top five.
 
It is interesting to see what these values are and if the client’s vision supports these values. If not, then a new discussion explores the client’s reality once again. If values and vision are not in sync then the client works against themselves not only in their relationship but also in every avenue of their life.
 
Once there is a synchronicity between values and vision the client now begins translating the criteria necessary for them to become the best partner possible into goals. When looking at something as intimate as an interpersonal relationship it may sound a bit mechanical to work on goals, but if these goals are looked upon as practical steps to achieve the ‘Big Picture’ – an enriched relationship – this process is softened.
 
Goals are now set to fulfil all the needs listed and various strategies are introduced to help the client reach these goals. For example, if a goal is set for the client to undertake more chores in the daily routine then a time map may be implemented to help the client prioritise their time to allow this to happen.
 
If the client tends to have difficulties in maintaining a budget and thereby puts financial stress on the relationship then budgeting skills can be learned. If there are children and the client’s relationship is strained due to differences in parenting skills these skills can be taught along with basic communication skills and problem solving.
 
If the client wants to enjoy more quality time with their partner common interests can be discussed and introduced or reintroduced to the relationship. And if the client wants to bring the levels of intimacy to a higher level spiritual beliefs and ideologies can be explored.
 
The client has now taken the first steps towards becoming the best partner possible. As the client begins to feel the benefits of the changes they are introducing they will be motivated to continue this journey. For not only will they be enriching their relationship they will be enriching themselves as individuals.
 
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