How to Coach People In "Abusive Relationships"

Hi, Brook! Thanks for all you do.

This is a question about abusive / toxic relationships and how to “coach” people that have problems like that. I am not a life coach at this point, but plan to start accepting clients this year. Many evenents in my life and in my friends lives have led me to question what I would do if I were coaching someone else in those situations or similar situations. I would like to know how a coach should handle the situation I am about to relate to you because it happened to my closest friend and I have pondered how I would handle it if it happened to a client I was working with.

My closest friend and I have been very good friends for the past 15 years. As the years passed we have always gotten closer and never had any kind of falling out between us. I guess this is why I know so many intimate details about her life. Perhaps most coaches wouldn’t have this much info to go on. She is very calm and low drama and handles any problems in her life very thoughtfully and tries to be as productive as possible. Anyway, that’s the back story.

She married a man 13 years ago who was very controlling and seemed to blame her for everything and especially if he felt any negative emotion (which was pretty constant with him). They had four children (the oldest in now 10). He may have been bipolar because he would have times of acting fairly crazy and have times of being more level and calmer but still had a very negative world view overall. He was a major in the marines and she was a stay at home mom, home schooled the kids and started a small business of her own.

Some of the worst examples of his behavior:

When she was pregnant with their second child he backed her into a closet screaming at her and she felt physically threatened. When she was pregnant with their third child he had a crazy episode and packed a bag and threatened to leave her at four am one day because she was behind on laundry because she was sick and nauseated due to pregnancy. I didn’t know about this until a few years later but at one point he physically forced her to have sex with him against her will. He yelled at the kids a lot (daily much of the time).

Last year she started having more difficulty just being calm and accepting his pretty much relentless negative behavior and it culminated in her telling him he needed to go to counseling on his own and she would on her own they needed to work on their own stuff separately. She didn’t say the word divorce or that she was leaving him but he called the kids to him, told him he loved them and said goodbye and left. Later that day it was discovered that he had killed himself.

I do understand (at least I think I understand… please correct me if I’m wrong) that all of that is “drama” and the coaching would boil down to telling her “you can ask him to change things but you can’t make him change and if you don’t want to stay with him your options are to stay with him or leave him.” and that she needs to only be in a relationship to love the other person and not be invested in changing their behavior (which is pretty much what she always did except that she did want him to be nicer to her and the kids).

My question is this: as a coach we don’t always know the backstory of what is going on in a client’s life. We take the responsibility of telling someone that all the background goings on in their life is just “drama”. They need to only be with the other person to have someone to love pour their affection into. If they find that they unhappy being in a relationship with someone because they wish the person would act differently, they can request that the other person change. They can’t “make” the other person change. If they decide they don’t desire to be in a relationship with someone else they can just leave.

When I consider the possibility of coaching a client and helping them clarify their thought to that extent but having the outcome of a client’s decision to change (based on my input) lead to outcomes that were this impactful in someone’s life, it feels a little anxiety provoking to me.

Can you help me clarify in my own mind which parts of my thinking are correct and where I’m going wrong?

Thank You,