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‘Communication and lack of inter-personal relationship skills bane of many marital struggles’

By Ijeoma Thomas-Odia
21 August 2021   |   3:38 am
A certified Emotional Intelligence and Marriage coach, Olabisi Ola-Soetan is the founder of Secret Place Wife, a platform where she provides godly, relatable, and useful counsel...

Certified Emotional Intelligence and Marriage coach, Olabisi Ola-Soetan

Acertified Emotional Intelligence and Marriage coach, Olabisi Ola-Soetan is the founder of Secret Place Wife, a platform where she provides godly, relatable, and useful counsel for wives and wives-to-be; bringing clarity and understanding to the many things that puzzle women and men about marriage.

Passionate about children and marriages, she strongly believes that family is the vehicle for restructuring society. She’s of the opinion that marriage works when people put in the work and she is committed to teaching and showing couples how.

Ola-Soetan works with individual clients, couples facilitate group sessions, leads workshops, webinars, online courses, and is a sought-after conference speaker. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her ideas on marriage and the role women should play in harnessing their homes.

What prepared you for this duty of marriage coaching?
I WOULD say that essentially, my natural gifting prepared me. I have always been the girl that spoke with more wisdom for her age in my circle of friends; I’m always the go-to person for a relationship or life advice. I guess life was revealing to me what I was suited for. The second thing that really prepared me for marriage coaching was the conflicts that arose in my marriage and how those conflicts threatened to end it. I paid attention to understanding marriage and how it worked because I wanted mine to work and I was committed to learning as much as I could.

I journaled a lot in those early years and most of my journal entries formed the foundation for what I shared with others when I ventured online to counsel and coach couples; sharing relatable stories from my life. Having walked the journey and still walking it, being unashamed and vulnerable enough to share my personal experiences has earned me the relatable and practical badge making it easy for anyone in any age bracket to talk to me.

What has been your experience with couples so far?
Most couples come in and try to show the other is the wrong party; they want an ally and only come to counselling so their partner can hear all they have been saying from an unbiased third party. They are hoping their partner will finally believe what he or she hears in counselling and get them. It is usually a surprise when they find out the spotlight is also on them and a more effective way to set your marriage up to work is to work on yourself instead of trying to change your spouse.

Some couples come to counselling as a last resort before they can be free to do what they have already made up their mind to do. They are in the hopeless zone and only in counselling to convince themselves they did all that could be done. Others come without their partners and are willing to see how changing their perspectives; expectations and patterns can affect their marriage positively. Seeing a couple understand and embrace the vision of a working marriage, seeing them work through their issues, and come to a place of better communication and conflict resolution is something I look forward to with every couple.

When a couple reaches out to me, it’s usually what signifies the beginning of a fresh start for them and a ray of hope that the marriage can thrive. I also love that success stories can be dynamic and vary from couple to couple. Although the work required to transform marriage and make it thrive isn’t easy, most people are ready to do the work once they understand why and how.

In your years of helping couples with their challenges, what do you seem to find recurring?
Communication and lack of interpersonal relationship skills seem to be the bane of many marital struggles. Most people either know to love or not love, to give or take, to fight or take flight; not many people know how to balance these with dynamic skills like emotional intelligence, effective thinking, and communication, persuasion, listening, questioning, negotiation, etc.

Ironically, people don’t mind learning about and using these skills for work but fail to realise these skills are necessary for any successful relationship. I also find that home is where most people bring their worst to. People give their relationship the least attention in the name of ‘this is my home; I shouldn’t have to work hard here. This is family; I should be accepted as I am. This is love, it shouldn’t require effort, you are my spouse, you should be my peace,’ etc. These expectations about the finality of marriage as a destination have robbed people of the beauty of marriage as a journey and the personal growth that journey bequeaths.

Managing the home front combined with work seems to be a challenge for couples, which has led to some women opting to stay or work from home. What is your take?
Personally, I think working outside the home or staying at home for any woman should be about personal desires, goals, identifying seasons, and coming to a place of understanding with your spouse. Whatever it is you want to be or do, it will require the cooperation and support of your spouse. A working woman needs a supportive spouse who’s also willing to take on what the management of the home front requires. A stay-at-home mum also needs the support of an understanding spouse who wouldn’t berate them for being a stay-at-home mom. It really is about doing what you love and what your circumstances require.

However, it is important to say that sacrificing your goals and desires to work at something you are passionate about for the home front is not a matter to take with levity or jump at impulsively because there is a crisis or simply because your spouse asked. A lot of thought and assessment of the situation has to go into it in order to avoid resentment and regret in the future.

A season may require you to stay home with your children or get external support, another season may require the income from both parties in order for the family to pull through, another season may come up with temporary problems that will eventually go away with some structure and better time management. It’s important to understand seasons and talk your decisions through with your spouse before quitting your job to be a stay-at-home mum if necessary.

Working from home on the other hand is almost a new normal given the times we have experienced this year due to COVID-19 and the lockdown. Most people are embracing the idea and some organisations are open to working from home so long as you get the job done. So, if a woman’s job or business allows her to work from home, I think it’s a good idea. Although not everyone who works from home enjoys being with their children or spend time with them. But if it helps out in any way and creates an opportunity to strengthen the bonds at home, I think it should be embraced.

Women empowerment is also key to having more financially dependent families, is this what you take seriously in the line of your work?
Oh absolutely! Financial empowerment for women is important not only for families but also because of women’s significant contribution to the economy. We have seen a rise in women-owned businesses and women leaders in the boardroom. Also, it’s no secret that there are many families today where the woman is the sole or major provider. I encourage women to embrace their financial power and break the limits of their gender by reaching for their goals with passion and tapping within to create solutions for their world.

The world needs a woman empowered; your family also needs you empowered. Leaving your finances completely or largely up to your husband can be frightening when you think about life’s unplanned adjustments or crises. It’s important for a woman to harness her earning power to better secure the family’s finances. It’s also worth saying that lack of empowerment or contribution to the table eats away many women’s self-esteem, makes them question their value in the relationship. A marriage where one partner feels overly vulnerable or dependent doesn’t create much happiness for either spouse.

Personally, my charge to women regarding financial empowerment would be to activate their potential and contribute their quota. Also important is to ensure a line of effective communication is open to discuss the family’s finances and how money is spent.

When you are faced with issues of domestic violence in marriages, how do you handle them?
Domestic violence is a major red flag in a marriage and my first goal after encountering the couple will be to determine if the violence has been minor, infrequent, and non-controlling or if it’s been major battering, regular, and controlling. We have had some success in helping couples get over non-controlling, situational violence and even though this can often lead to controlling and coercive violence, it can be nipped in the bud when both partners seek help early, are willing to admit their part, and change their behaviour.

In the case of intentional isolation from family and friends, major battering, controlling and coercive behaviour, and in some cases use of weapons, joint counselling or therapy is not encouraged as this abuse isn’t quite about the marriage situation, but about the behaviour and person of the abuser. The immediate course of action for the abused would be to separate themselves from the abuser. As simple as this sounds, it’s usually not easy to do for the abused as the marriage bond is a strong one.

Also, beyond emotions, there might be many trauma bonds and factors like fear of losing custody of children, financial dependency holding back the abused. Individual counselling in this case helps the abused gain clarity and understand why they need to find the courage to leave and why marriage counselling while together may not exactly change much. The sounding call to the abused is to leave for their sake, for the children’s sake, and for the abuser’s sake.

Standing the abuse doesn’t help you or the abuser in any way; believing their pleas and promises of change is not enough if you don’t separate yourself and insist that they commit themselves to institutions where they can get help. Love and prayers can still be done from afar, but not in the same space where you and your children can be intentionally or unintentionally harmed.

What has kept you going in your passion for helping couples?
What keeps me going is my love for seeing thriving relationships and my love for the institution of marriage. The feeling I get when I read testimonials from clients on how I helped them and brought value, understanding and clarity to them is very fulfilling. A very strong force that keeps me going is knowing that I am in the center of God’s will for my life; I am doing exactly what I was called to do. This is beyond passion; it’s the anointing and it keeps me going on days when I’m tired and discouraged.

Women are a focal part of society, what advice would you give for them to be at their best?
It’s important for women to know who they are and have strong values around work and family. Don’t just strive to be yourself, be your authentic self by striving to be your best self. Query your emotions, decisions, and desires. Be interested in what’s really fueling your habits and choices; your unconscious conditioning or conscious programming by your own awakened awareness through reflective and constructive thought processes. Know yourself and love yourself, then you can give yourself to others without depleting yourself.

Embrace your flaws just as much as you embrace your best characteristics. Own your mistakes and your wins; it’s all you and in the end, who you are, is beyond one thing. Give others a chance to see you by being kind to yourself, flaws and all. Finally, it’s no longer in vogue to be a liability to anyone, accept help and support, but don’t be overly dependent. There will always be something you can do to earn for survival; there would always be that dream, that passion calling out to you and asking to be lived; don’t turn the voice of ambition and more away. You can be a wife, mum, a career, or a businesswoman all at the same time or one at a time; just make sure to do it on your terms.

How do you combine work with managing the home front?
I ask for all the help I can from any means available to me. Most people fall for the superhuman syndrome and try to do it all by themselves; I try to do what I can do and outsource what can be outsourced. At the end of the day, it’s about finding ways to be at peace and efficient in both worlds. A big part of this management is having a supportive, willing, and understanding spouse. My husband and I have both a spoken and an unspoken agreement to prioritise the important things. A funny practical example would be, if I happen to sleep off without making dinner because I’m tired, my family would take care of themselves and not wake me up; even if they have to eat biscuits, they will. A new day starts the next day and we can all go back to doing what we do for the family and for work.

I also prioritise what’s important and face that without guilt. Guilt is one of the major thieves of joy and peace and many moms need to learn to deal with this if they will attempt to balance or combine work with managing the home front. A strong belief I hold is that I have the rest of my life to do better and to reveal myself as I am in the various relationships in my life. As a member of staff, mum or wife, one event doesn’t quite represent who I am to my colleagues, children, or husband. If I can’t make it to my child’s recitation at school because of work, I have the rest of my life to do something for them that truly reveals my heart towards them. If I offend my husband today, tomorrow is another day to love and honour him. If I choose to attend a school event overwork, I can still be a dedicated member of staff tomorrow. I juggle my balls to the best of my ability, figure the ones that shouldn’t fall, and hold no guilt for the ones that fall for even those I can pick up later.

What is your life’s philosophy?
My philosophy of life isn’t static and I pick up new perspectives on life as I evolve and perceive the world. However, I’ll share two that have stayed with me over the years and formed who I am today. The first is ‘Know yourself and know your God’. There cannot be real growth until the mind turns around, examines itself, and dialogues with itself. Introspection is unfamiliar territory for many, but it is an existential gift for all. Observing your existence; your experiences, your responses, and introspecting with them gives you a gift that no one can, teaches you the wisdom that no book can. Knowing who you are, what you can become, how others should treat you, what your limits are, all begins with your fascination with the discovery of you. I seek more than anything to observe myself living and to discover who I am through those experiences.

My second philosophy of life would be that ‘Crisis is a coin with two sides’- on one side is the crisis itself and on the other side is the growth opportunity it presents. Either in business or relationships, looking at challenges and turning them into learning opportunities is a great marker for growth and peace. Oftentimes, we are consumed by the negative emotions that come with crisis and only a few are able to see the negative emotions as not just justified responses, but also a revelation of oneself and possible fixable faults.

Life can be full of uncertainties, but you can choose to live through the negatives by learning from them or you can bemoan your lot in life and become bitter from the challenges you encounter. The latter robs you of any growth and the joy that comes from embracing your life wholly while the former gives you the opportunity to learn from those challenges and become a better person for having lived through them.