When couples first arrive at my clinic on Harley Street, their marriages are often hanging by the slenderest of threads. They are lost, confused and upset. They have been through multiple therapists, have scoped out divorce lawyers and are on the very brink of separation.
That’s why my office has been called ‘The Last Chance Saloon’. As a marriage crisis coach, it’s my job to pull couples who should be together back from the brink and help them heal, so that once again their marriage is strong, loving and capable of lasting the distance.
It’s my aim not only to revive the spark but see it flare back into life. I don’t have much time to work with these people. My clients include Britain’s top CEOs, A-list celebrities and even royals — wealthy and successful people with lifestyles andpersonalities that demand almost instant results.
They don’t want to examine their childhoods or lie for hours on couches; they want to know what to do now. They don’t know how to get past the combative patterns in their marriages and they think it will take too long to change the dominant emotions of hurt and resentment.
As a marriage crisis coach, it’s Stephen Hedger’s job to pull couples who should be together back from the brink and help them heal
In fact, in more than 17 years of coaching up to 100 couples a year, I can guarantee that it’s not changing that takes time. It’s growing the confidence needed to feel safe enough to change.
I take my clients through a 12-session process where they learn new skills — such as understanding vulnerability is a strength in a relationship — and accept that their happiness isn’t their partner’s responsibility.
Everyone has problems. Some couples come to me thinking they shouldn’t have any, but they are part of everyone’s life, even those who live in mansions or fly around the world in private jets. A successful marriage is knowing what to do when you face a challenge, and ensuring you don’t make it worse because you are afraid. When the pressure’s on, we need to become more of a team, not less.
My coaching programme delves deep into a marriage, but at around £18,000 for 12 sessions, increasing to £70,000 for in-depth, ongoing programmes, it certainly isn’t for everyone. The wealthy come to me because they’ve heard on the grapevine my method works, but I want to help as many people as I can — so here, for the first time, I’m sharing nine tried and tested ways to give your relationship the very best chance of succeeding.
Welcome to a streamlined version of my in-person programme: get ready to learn how to make your marriage the happiest it has ever been.
1. DON’T TALK UNTIL YOU UNDERSTAND EACH OTHER
Traditional therapists begin with communication — encouraging the couple to talk and listen. That makes no sense to me, because what’s the point of talking and listening if you don’t understand what your partner is really saying?
One common dynamic is when a woman tells a man what she needs, he’ll interpret it through his own, masculine, filtering system. This creates a problem. She might say, ‘I’ve got a big problem I’m worried about.’ His focus will be on the problem and so he tries to fix it for her, because he thinks that’s why she has raised it.
He instantly makes her problem as small as possible, because minimising and letting go is what he does with his own problems in his professional life. This strategy has made him successful so he uses it with her. But she feels he doesn’t care, so she becomes upset.
Stephen’s clients include Britain’s top CEOs, A-list celebrities and even royals. He shares his nine tips for how couples can save their marriage without help
He now thinks he has tried to help her and she’s impossible to please — so they get trapped in a negative cycle. What she really needs from him is to care about how she feels about the problem.
Couples must also understand that they are two very different people. I say to my clients: ‘Imagine you and your partner are trying to navigate London but she has a map of Paris and you have a map of New York — but you both think your map is of London. How quickly will there be conflict?’
This is what couples are doing — neither is seeing each other’s emotional map as they navigate their problems. When people realise they need one map they can share, it’s an epiphany.
LESSON: Learn to embrace the differences in a relationship. This has the potential to be a great strength because it is the foundation of lasting attraction and passion.
ACTION: Men should listen without trying to solve the problem — the objective is to care, not fix. Women should understand that masculine energy is about protection, efficiency, letting go and moving on, so appreciate those strengths.
2. DON’T BLAME YOUR PARTNER FOR YOUR EMOTIONS
Your emotions are your own. They don’t belong to your partner. When we feel hurt or resentful, in a very real sense we are ‘doing’ these emotions to ourselves. And yet we think other people are doing it to us. This comes up every day in sessions and it’s a shocking moment for most people when they grasp it.
Your emotions are your own. They don’t belong to your partner. When we feel hurt or resentful, in a very real sense we are ‘doing’ these emotions to ourselves
Never make your marriage about ‘me’. It doesn’t matter who’s at fault — take 100 per cent responsibility yourself because you are a team and if one person loses, you both lose. If your partner is upset and not being their usual self, don’t blame them and kick them when they’re down — help them instead.
LESSON: The objective is not to be right in a quarrel. It’s to care.
ACTION: Pause to remember that your partner is not ‘making’ you feel or behave in a certain way.
3. WHEN PEOPLE SAY HURTFUL THINGS, DON’T JUDGE THEM
Often, an argument will come down to your emotional state in the moment. It’s not the cup left in the sink that causes the explosion of temper, it’s a build-up of fears, worries and resentments about life not being how we think it should be.
To help your partner, you should ask yourself: ‘Is that my husband/ wife or isn’t it?’
You must know who they are deep down and know when they are not being themselves. They must know they are still loved, no matter what.
In almost every case, they’re still the great person you know and love, but at that moment they’re feeling emotionally challenged and acting out of character.
Don’t assume you’re on the same page. Have the conversation — ask your partner what their goals are and how they hope to get there
The most important thing to remember is this: chances are your partner is not deliberately trying to hurt you when they say hurtful things. If men are saying hurtful things, it’s often because they’re frustrated and they don’t know what to do. If women are doing so, it’s usually because they’re trying to ‘wake him up’ and connect to him, because they want him to acknowledge what they feel.
Don’t walk away, because that feels like abandonment. Ask, yourself: ‘What must they have been going through to have said that?’
LESSON: Rather than judging, remember who they really are. Judging someone isn’t loving them.
ACTION: Remind yourself to care, before you respond. They’ve lost the connection with themselves — you need to help them back.
4. DON’T KEEP SCORES ON EACH OTHER
In a long-term relationship, it’s important to give to your partner because it’s who you are, rather than because of what you want back.
Don’t make an early morning cup of tea because you want them to make you one tomorrow — do it without expectation of a return gesture. Those who ‘trade’ usually end up with little back.
Giving without any strings attached generates more trust. The key is to keep the resentment low and the pleasure high. Then, when you do have a row, it doesn’t feel like such a big deal. One lady in her 80s and happily married told me: ‘We’ve had our ups and downs, but every single day, I made a decision to love him.’ Do the same.
LESSON: Never keep score of who owes what.
ACTION: Make loving your partner a conscious decision every day. Just as you decide to have breakfast — wake up and decide to love your partner.
5. DON’T PUSH THEM AWAY — HELP THEM BACK
One client’s successful wife was having an affair. When we spoke, I realised she was probably done with the marriage, but she felt terribly guilty. She didn’t want to tell her husband it was over. She was at a decision point: would she separate or not?
Her husband was so stuck in feelings of resentment, he began to wear her down emotionally, not realising that would give her the final push to leave, which she did.
I say to people in a similar situation, ‘If you go down this road, you’re only going to make it worse.’ Relationships are full of fears — that you won’t be loved, that your partner will cheat or leave. But don’t dwell on those fears. Focus instead on what you want your marriage to look like and guide it to that place.
LESSON: Concentrate on what needs to happen next, not on what happened in the past.
ACTION: Find out what your partner wants by simply asking, rather than living in fear of their answer.
6. ANGER ISN’T ALWAYS BAD — BUT THINK FIRST
Sometimes anger is useful if the energy is used for good. You don’t want to suppress it all the time, but if something makes you furious, pause and choose how to respond. If your partner is angry, remember that the worst response is apathy.
Stephen advises allowing yourself space before reacting, so you can make a choice to respond supportively
Your partner clearly has a problem; they’re coming to you, hoping you will help them. They might want a chat or a hug.
We all want to feel appreciated and loved. Some wives tell their husbands what they do wrong far more often than what they do right. He starts to feel like he’s failing at home so spends more time at work to avoid this domestic failure.
To break the cycle, recognise your partner has their own emotional reactions. When you get on that roller coaster too, and mirror their behaviour, you’re on the wrong track. Get off their ride and just be there for your partner.
LESSON: Allow yourself space before reacting, so you can make a choice to respond supportively.
ACTION: Look for the ‘higher purpose’ in what you both want. If you can agree on a shared goal, you can start to understand each other’s different ways of moving towards it.
7. MAKE SURE YOU LEAVE YOUR JOB AT THE FRONT DOOR
Your work identity is not the same as that of husband or wife. One company owner told me, ‘I’ve got thousands of women who work for me. They all love me, so why can I get on with them but not the one at home?’
I explained ‘the one at home’ isn’t having her needs met. She doesn’t feel that what matters to her matters to you. She doesn’t want to be another employee, she wants her husband back.
It’s easy for men and women not to notice how their work identity can bring an energy that jars with their marital connection.
LESSON: Many people have forgotten how to be a husband, a wife or a lover.
ACTION: Check the identity you’re bringing home every day. Focus on bringing ‘partner’ (fun, passion, support) and not ‘work’ (authority, drive, expediency)..
8. DON’T EXPECT THEM TO BEHAVE IN THE WAY YOU WANT
One of my clients was in a car with her husband on the way to a black-tie do. She told him a joke and he didn’t laugh, so she became upset. He was bemused, then hurt by her reaction.
In the end, a row blew up and became so big, they turned around and went home.
She didn’t tell him before she shared the joke that he had to laugh otherwise she would be upset. When I pointed out the ‘hidden trade’ she had set up with him, she countered that it would be ridiculous to ask him in advance to laugh.
Which is exactly my point.
When you love someone, you give — humour, time, kindness — because it’s who you are, not because of what you want back.
Yes, there is vulnerability in that, and a fear of feeling silly, but those fears only lead to disconnect you with the person you love.
LESSON: Raise your expectations of yourself and your own behaviour rather than that of your partner.
ACTION: If you do have a particular expectation, tell them what it is. That way, you know right away if they can or want to meet it. Most people will then realise having the expectation is where the real problem lies.
9. DO A FIVE-YEAR FORECAST FOR YOUR MARRIAGE
Most people don’t plan where they’re going in the relationship, and don’t think about their longterm shared vision. But that’s a bit like vaguely agreeing to go on holiday and being surprised when one of you turns up in a bikini and the other’s wearing ski gear.
One businesswoman client told me: ‘Eleven years ago, I agreed to marry this man, my condition being I wanted to live in New Zealand. He said he was happy to move there, but I’m still in London. After we got married, he didn’t want to go.’
He said: ‘Yes, I agreed, but I didn’t think she was serious.’
At work we create a compelling vision to move towards, but people have poor long-term vision in a relationship, so it can lose its purpose. It can’t be just about raising children because they’re going to leave home and then what happens? The starting point for long-term happiness is working out a vision that makes sense to both of you.
LESSON: Predict future feelings. Ponder what will equal future happiness for you and your partner.
ACTION: Don’t assume you’re on the same page. Have the conversation — ask your partner what their goals are and how they hope to get there.
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