Looking for insights into relationship coaching? In the following coaching scenarios, LCI’s Master Coach Terry Neal explores a range of strategies and skills to assist clients overcome relationship hurdles. Each scenario is headlined by common questions clients may ask you as their life coach.
 
How can I get my partner to understand my needs and appreciate me again?
 
This question quite often arises from one or both partners after the initial period of the relationship has passed. This could be only after a short time say after a few months or it could be after a period of some years. It could also be a wish expressed by one of the partners after a period of many years together in a relationship.
 
Relationships sometimes are entered into by one or both partners with a belief that their partner fully understands and appreciates them and their needs. Quite often, while acknowledging that those in a partnership will learn more about themselves and their partner over time and maybe apply it in their interactions with each other in an ideal situation, many people either haven’t been fully open in their discussions with their partner during the early phase of their relationship – or have assumed that their partner will know what they want and will act accordingly to support their needs.
 
Initially it’s important to ask what the client knows about their partner’s needs as well as their own. Therefore I would begin by asking the question: Do you know what your partner’s needs are?
 
If the answer is yes then you could ask: Are you supportive of their needs? From this you could also ask: How did you find out about what your partner’s needs are? Do you appreciate your partner for who they are? How do you let them know you appreciate them?
 
If the answer is no, you need to ask your client about themselves and their perceived needs. Do you know what your needs are that you’d like your partner to understand? Does your partner already demonstrate appreciation of you and how you are?
 
If your client indicates that their partner is aware of their needs and does demonstrate appreciation then you could continue with questions like: In what ways does your partner appreciate you already? How do you react to any appreciation of you by your partner?
 
The reasons for asking these questions is so that you can determine for yourself and for your client what’s already taking place with regards to awareness of their needs and appreciation of them by their partner. It’s also an opportunity to elicit from your client how they react to being shown appreciation and having their needs understood.
 
If your client indicates that their partner doesn’t appear to understand or appreciate their needs, then it’s time to look at two areas with your client. 

  1. The first is determining whether your client really knows what their needs are, and;
  2. Second the level of openness of communication between your client and their partner.

To assist your client be clear about their own needs you could ask them to write them down (if they would prefer to keep them private) or if they wish to say them to you while you write them down. 

To see if there’s any need that hasn’t been expressed, you could ask your client to think of any times in their life when a need of theirs was understood by someone else. Once again this need could be expressed to you or kept private by your client. If yes you could ask the question: Is this need still relevant in your life today? Do you want to add it to your list of needs?
 
After some time your client will have determined for themselves their current list of needs that they would like to be able to talk about with their partner.
 
The next and probably the most crucial step is looking at how your client can create meaningful conversation opportunities with their partner. Your client may indicate that they already exist and so you could question your client on when these opportunities take place. Do you know when the best times are to bring up an important matter that you want to talk about with your partner? Or how have you approached talking with your partner in the past about an important matter? This is then drawing on the experiences of your client in setting up these conversation opportunities to look at deeper personal issues.
 
If your client indicates that they and their partner have never really had a deep and meaningful conversation about personal issues then you could ask your client if they and their partner have had conversations where they talked about some activity that they enjoyed doing e.g. a sporting triumph or an academic achievement or something that their partner was passionate about, and to remember the setting (on holidays, at the beach, over a dinner, having a coffee whatever the setting was). Then ask if they’d be willing to invite their partner to a similar setting; start a conversation about a neutral but positive topic about themselves; and allow each other to talk uninterrupted for a period of time (say 5 minutes).
 
After listening to each other you could suggest to your client that they say to their partner what they notice that’s important for their partner about what they’ve said (e.g. winning at cricket is very important for their partner) and that they appreciate a particular quality of their partner (e.g. their keen competitiveness). Finally, your client could ask their partner if they notice what is important for your client through what your client has said.
 
While the scenario presented for your client may not go as smoothly as suggested here, remind them that if they and/or their partner are not used to talking this way about these topics, that the process may take time – but it’s worth giving it a shot.
 
What is the secret to having a loving caring relationship that can stand the test of time?
 
This question can come from a client who’s already involved in a relationship that may have changed in its dynamics recently, from a client who’s just started a relationship or from someone who would like to start an ongoing relationship and is looking for strategies to help create a long term loving relationship.
 
For the purpose of this scenario, I will assume that your client is already in a relationship that has changed in its dynamics and they are feeling concerned about this and wondering what they can do.
 
The activities that I will suggest to you could also be applied by those starting in a relationship. This could assist them to be prepared for some issues that could arise over time.
 
To begin you could ask your client to write down the qualities and values that they feel are important for them to give and receive in a relationship.
 
From this list you could assist your client to develop a vision or image of the way they’d like their relationship to be – a statement, description (something that it meaningful to them) or vision that indicates both what they are willing to give and what they’d like to receive.
 
From this personal statement I suggest that you ask your client to consider their partner and the level of communication that they have with them. You could ask questions like: How well do you think your partner understands what’s important to you? How well can the two of discuss a difficult issue? How often do you argue if at all? What interests do you have in common?
 
The purpose of these questions and others that you may ask as a result of your client’s answers is to assist them to acknowledge some of the feelings and thoughts they have about their current relationship, as well as for you to raise the important aspect of the need for honest and open communication between your client and their partner. This is an essential part of a long term, loving and caring relationship.
 
It could also highlight areas that your client may need to discuss with their partner, and indicate areas within their relationship which a referral to a relationship counsellor may be required for further investigation and resolution.
 
Depending upon what your client has said, you could ask them to consider what areas they feel they would need to improve to help strengthen their relationship. This could be both personal activities that nourish your client as well as activities that involve both partners in the relationship.
 
Finally, you could assist your client to understand that their needs, vision and ideas of supportive activities will not necessarily be the same as their partner – but that in their willingness to listen to and communicate with their partner they create a real opportunity to nourish a long term, loving and caring relationship.
 
I love my partner and don’t want to leave but I’m bored. What do I do?
 
This statement and subsequent question can quite often come from a person who feels two conflicting aspects in their relationship with their partner: there’s a need for space and autonomy, of being able to do “their own thing” as well as wanting to be close to someone, to know that they are loved and accepted for who they are – in other words, there is a longing for intimacy.
 
The opening statement of such a scenario could also arise due to a number of possible changes that can occur in a relationship over time. These changes are usually associated with changes in the pattern of a relationship (e.g. having children) or they could be associated with a particular stage in life that one or both of the people in the relationship may be experiencing (e.g. menopause or loss of their sexual drive).
 
Changes caused by unexpected events in a person’s life may also have contributed to this feeling of boredom and lack of direction (e.g. the death of a parent or child, the loss of their job or the diagnosis of a life threatening illness).
 
So if your client presents you with this statement, you as their coach would initially need to get some background information of both your client’s personal life situation and the general situation within their relationship. If you determine through initial questioning that there is a major difficulty or challenge within your client’s relationship with their partner, then you would be ethically bound to talk about a referral to a suitably qualified relationship counsellor.
 
This area of general relationship “health” is vital to explore because the actions that your client will choose to take in the future will depend on how and where they see themselves both as an individual person who happens to be in a relationship and also as a person who is part of a relationship. Their future actions could depend on having an understanding of how a particular stage of life, their relationship with their partner or an event that has happened or is happening in their life now, is impacting on them.
 
If all seems well in the relationship in general with no specific issues that need the attention of a relationship counsellor, you could start by encouraging your client to talk about how they see themselves at this stage as an individual and then as an individual within their relationship.
 
You could also ask specific questions to clarify what they’re saying to you and the use of the NLP technique of “Healthy Questioning” (more on questioning) your client in relating as clearly as possible how they see themselves as individuals as well as being a partner in their relationship. Questions at this time could focus around the areas of communication, work, money, children; in fact any area that your client may hint at and assist you and your client to focus on the current reality so the you both can have an honest and clear picture of your client’s current situation.
 
Once you’ve gathered basic information and then used paraphrasing and summarising to check back with your client as to the accuracy of what they’ve said, you could then ask your client if there is an area of particular concern that they feel that they’d like to address first. If there’s more than one (this could be quite possible), ask them if they can see any common links between these areas of concern that they have expressed.
 
With the focus of main concern identified, the next step would be to assist your client to develop a vision of what it will look like – what will be different when this concern has been addressed and solved. This could be done using the miracle question, a letter from the future or some other similar technique that projects your client into a future scenario where their issue or challenge has been dealt with and they are living exactly the kind of life they’d like to live.
 
With this vision in mind you could then ask your client if there have been times in the past where this issue or challenge didn’t exist or appeared to have been taken care of, and ask them to describe those times even if it was only for the briefest periods of time.
 
Ask them to talk about what happened then and what did they do to help create this situation either knowingly or without any apparent action on their part only. For example, your client could suggest that a change in their partner’s behaviour caused a momentary change in their own life.
 
If this is stated by your client, you would need to point out to them that while the different action of their partner felt appropriate at that time, that how your client chose to react to this different action was their own choice.
 
Therefore it’s important to keep on making sure that the client is focussing on what they have done in the past as although the actions of your client’s partner for example can orchestrate a change in your client’s life, that ultimately it is only your client who can decide on and create the changes that they’d like to see for themselves in their life.
 
From this questioning, encourage your client to acknowledge those actions that worked for them in their relationship as well for themselves as individuals in the past. If they say that they are unaware of any exception times in the past, ask them about any times when they could have done something that felt positive for them but which they chose not to do at that time. You do not need to go into the “why” they may not have chosen these actions but simply that this may have been a possible way of acting then and perhaps could be in the future if they so choose.
 
So assisting your client to decide upon some suggestions that they’ve used, could have used and/or have worked in the past, could help them to change the way they act within their relationship which in turn could change the feeling of boredom they have expressed about their relationship into something positive.
 
You could then ask them to state how willing they are to act on at least one of these suggestions in the next few days and to observe how they and how they feel their partner’s reaction is to this action and to be willing to report back to you either over the phone or via email or face to face and if they agree to then set a date and time to do this.
 
A final reminder to your client would be necessary around the fact that it can take time and persistence for change to happen naturally; that is it will take some time before any new action chosen by them will feel comfortable and more importantly that they are making a commitment to change their own actions and/or create new actions and not change and/or create any actions for their partner.
 
However their commitment to change and then carrying it out, may be the very catalyst that their partner uses to make their own changes within the relationship with the result that they both may help create a more positive relationship with themselves individually, and as a couple.