How I stopped working with my business coach and what it taught me about breakups

I worked with a business coach over the span of a couple of months.

As of this writing we’re no longer working together and also not in touch with one another.

The reason I think this story is worth sharing with you is because the storyline of a simple working relationship has some interesting things in common with that of a romantic relationship.

In the beginning I was excited and I overlooked certain events that may have informed me that the relationship wasn’t working out.

Later I became a bit dissatisfied, but I didn’t mention anything and let it fester.

Ultimately when the opportunity came to sever the relationship, I took it.

I get many questions about whether I can comment on what is going on in the mind of an ex-wife / ex-girlfriend for her to break up with someone in a certain, often cold, way.

Unfortunately, often when guys don’t understand the behavior of their ex, we tend to attribute it to them being of the opposite sex or their being a “bitch”.

As you’ll come to realize throughout the aftermath of your breakup, pointing the finger is rarely helpful as it conveniently excuses us from taking any responsibility.

Much of the “strange” behavior your ex puts on display can often be explained rather simply by someone that:

  1. went through doubts about the relationship,
  2. didn’t feel like they could talk about it and
  3. decided to exit opportunistically when an excuse presented itself.

The point of this article is that many of the dynamics of romantic relationships draw parallels to interpersonal relationships in general.

Looking at those dynamics in a context that isn’t romantic and that isn’t YOUR relationship may give you some valuable insights.

Much of the rejector’s behavior can often be explained when we put ourselves in their shoes.

Empathy creates understanding and understanding is often what we need in order to let something go.

In this case, I was standing in my own shoes, so I can offer you perhaps a more accurate description of my thoughts and emotions than you may have gotten from someone that rejected you.

I have added some notes after every section to highlight the parallels with a romantic breakup and to clarify the lesson there is to learn from it.

Here’s the story.

I was looking for a business coach

Last year a friend of mine was telling me about the results he was getting with his business coach.

They had had only a couple of sessions together but my friend had gotten from making no income to getting multiple consulting clients onboard within a week or two.

I was pretty impressed by that and as such I became interested in working with this coach as well.

It seemed that he must really know what he was doing and I was was eager to get the same kind of results.

My friend made the introduction and I signed up for a first coaching session.
Initial excitement

The first several sessions with my new coach, I was very excited.

There might have been indicators that this relationship wasn’t going to work out, but they were invisible to me.

I felt incredibly lucky that this experienced individual wanted to work with me and I was certain he would bring me the incredible results I had been longing for.

I told other friends I was now working with this guy and I proudly told them about the advice that I had already put into practice.

I was happy, proud and confident.

Note: Note the initial excitement and the blindness to negative behaviours and traits. This is how many relationships start. We are so eager for things to work out that it becomes difficult to hold a more balanced, realistic viewpoint: things might NOT.

First confusing event

One of the first negative experiences I remember with this coach was when he forgot about one of our sessions.

Because of our time-zone difference our afternoon session meant the morning for him, but after waiting for him on Skype, he didn’t show up.

When I sent him a message he logged onto Skype and he apologised — sort of.

I remember the apology not being very good, he seemed to blame the calendar.

Despite having a lot of respect for this person, I had no problem spotting the bad apology.

This instance alone didn’t seem like a deal breaker, but it was the first of many tiny red flags that would all contribute to my change of heart.

Note: Note how the first negative is experienced more like a confusing event at the time. It is only looking back that we connect the dots and that it becomes one red flag in a collection of red flags.

Started to have some doubts, still trying to be positive

During other sessions together I started noticing that he would forget what I told him.

At the start I did not mind repeating myself, but these felt like important topics: he was forgetting the very projects I needed advice on or he would remember them erroneously.

He never tried to truly understand what my projects where about.

As part of our sessions together we would go over a todo list which we composed together.

He would simply go over it with me and for each item ask me if I did it or not.

This started to feel more and more robotic and it didn’t seem he was taking the context of the task into account.

I would have liked to mention any one of these concerns with him directly, but he didn’t seem very receptive to feedback to me.

In our discussions together he would often speak from authority, confidently declaring to me how certain things operate in the world.

At the beginning I thought the reason he’s speaking like an authority is because he IS an authority.

More and more I began to feel like he was being overconfident in his abilities and his knowledge.

I remember that there would be more and more instances where I would catch him claiming to know something, where no expert would claim to know the full picture.

Note: Note how the projection we make of someone slowly loses its lustre with each piece of evidence they provide us that undermines that image. Piece by piece a new image forms. While our idealistic projection is fading, it’s hard to know for sure what is going on. People make mistakes, our mind sometimes exaggerates. One piece of evidence doesn’t tip the scale. It’s only after the scale tips that a new picture becomes clear: This is not the person we thought they were!

Having serious doubts, not happy, but I don’t feel like I can disclose it to him

After several sessions where little red flags started popping up for me, I became dissatisfied with our relationship.

I was also not achieving the results that I wanted and I felt a bit resentful for that.

I had paid for 10 hours of coaching and we were slowly reaching the 10 hour mark.

At any point I would have liked to have told him my concerns and talk them through.

But at no point did he seem to be open to this type of feedback.

He would repeatedly present himself as an expert, having perfect knowledge of many things.

But by now it was clear to me that this was an act, that the confidence he was portraying was not warranted by his knowledge (or anyone’s knowledge for that matter).

He seemed like a know-it-all and why would I discomfort myself to tell a know-it-all something he doesn’t know (and doesn’t seem to WANT to know)?

We had talked about things in the past which he clearly could not have known everything about.

Those were the moments where he could have demonstrated that he was open to feedback, open to being wrong.

He chose to present himself as someone that did know it all and to me that appeared dishonest and closed.

He never asked for feedback either. He didn’t set the stage to ask me for feedback.

Note: If someone is not creating an environment with you where it is okay to give feedback, you will feel more comfortable not giving it. As a result, they will never hear it. And, as was the case here, the negative events will accumulate until they tip the scale. Asking yourself “Why didn’t she say anything?” might not give you any answers, but have you tried asking yourself whether you were fostering an environment where it was normal and comfortable to provide feedback to one another?

Seizing on the reason to exit

When we were approaching the 10 hour mark of coaching hours, he asked me if it was okay to charge me an extra 5 minutes for some work his assistant was doing for him.

This struck me as very petty.

I was paying for a coach to help me think big and bring in a lot of money through consulting and here my coach was asking me if he could charge for an extra 5 minutes.

Not only that, but he asked it in a way where he was assuming authority. It felt like saying no would have led to an uncomfortable situation.

In the moment it flustered me a a bit, later on I realize that the situation made me uncomfortable.

I canceled my next session, with the idea to postpone it a bit.

A few days after not having booked a new session he reached out to me asking if I could book the next session in his calendar.

It felt like he was more concerned with the continuation of a paid client rather than my challenges.

I told him I hadn’t made any progress on our shared todo list and would book a session as soon as I did.

Note: Note that although there was some truth to the statement that I had not made progress, I was also using it as a pretext to get out of the meeting with him. It was a convenient excuse, making it possible for me to avoid a confrontation I didn’t feel like having as I was sorting out my thoughts on the topic. Even if you had pressed me at that point in time about how I felt, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you exactly. How I felt about the situation was still evolving.

In the separation, my reasons become more clear

During this time of not having sessions with him, slowly, how I felt about the topic became more clear.

I noticed that I felt relieved that I did not have to have another session with him.

I noticed that there wasn’t any regret, or doubt.

The small red flags slowly became one big rejection in my mind.

I forgot the details, but the conclusion was clear, this wasn’t the right coach for me.

Note: Note that how I feel about the situation develops over time during this separation. The details blend together and a conclusion becomes increasingly clear. The more time progresses, the more clear it becomes. Meanwhile, we might take my words at face value and assume that I just need some time to make progress on the agreed tasks (which was only partially true).
He reaches out, I’m distant

After a couple of weeks he reaches out to me.

I see the message, but don’t feel like engaging.

I’m over it. I’m not interested in what he was to offer and I see no benefit in trying to give him feedback he has shown me no indication of wanting.

I take 1 day to respond, but I’m cordial and friendly.

Based on my reply, it would be hard to discern that I am not interested in any follow up.

Note: Note how I was unhappy with the coaching relationship and am not interested in continuing with him, yet I’m being nice to him. Me being nice has nothing to do with wanting to continue being his client. I’m being nice because I value being nice to people, especially people I know.

End of the relationship

He never replies to my reply.

This further cements my feelings that he has a true interest in me but he’s interested mostly in the continuation of a paid client.

This makes me feel I made the right decision.

And that’s the end of our relationship.

Note: Note that my grievances are never fully clarified. I’ve stayed nice and friendly to the end, but I’m definitely not interested in continuing the coaching relationship. I would still happily give him this feedback but I’m not going to discomfort myself in shoving it down his throat. If you want feedback, you need to make sure you’re contributing to an environment where feedback is easily given.

Why does the sadness come in waves?

One of the most valuable lessons there is to learn about weathering the emotional storm of a breakup is realizing that the pain, the sadness, the negative emotions, all come in waves. When we’re experiencing the emotion, and the experience is such that we are “inside” the emotion, it’s easy to forget that what we’re feeling is not some kind of permanent condition. Halpern calls this “Infant time“, where we forget the concept of time because we’re transported into some type of emotional experience analogous to how we would have experienced it as a child.

But why does grief hit us in waves? Why isn’t it more like a bruise, where it heals slowly, feeling slightly better day by day? Heartbreak seems to be different from other things we go through in its ability to make us feel like we’ve gone one step forward and two steps backward. Sometimes it may even feel like we’re back at zero and we’ve made no progress at all. The waves of negativity are interspersed with brief flashes of relief – and this is what makes it so confusing.

You might have caught yourself saying:

“I thought I was doing alright, but now I feel like I’m back at square one.”

“I don’t understand, I wasn’t even thinking about her at all for over a week!”

As is usually the case with understanding these things, we need to draw from different sources in order to piece together a theory of what’s going on. A great resource in this respect is this short interview with evolutionary biologist Brett Weinstein where he talks about the biological purpose of grief. Here are some key insights from the exchange:

Grief is the downside of love, and what I mean by that is when you love somebody you prioritize them in your mind. Sounds trivial almost, but you prioritize them in your whole conscious schema. You expect them at certain places and times, you depend on them, you integrate them into your understanding of the world. And when they are lost, you have to unintegrate them. That doesn’t mean that you forget them, but it does mean that to the extent that somebody was very important to you, that that expectation has to be excised from your active program, so that you do not continue to expect them. So that you do not depend on them when they can no longer show up.

What Brett is saying here is that grief is a process of unintegration, where we go through a process of removing from our brains the part of the “active program” that we were running which we were using to depend on another person. This process kicks off as soon as it becomes clear we won’t be able to depend on them any longer.

He goes on to explain why this process of unintegration leads to “interspersed periods of anguish,” which we’ve been referring to as waves of pain:

And I would argue that the pattern of grief that we experience, where you have these intense periods of anguish that are interspersed with periods of normalcy and that the periods of anguish become farther and farther apart but they don’t become less fraught until finally they do — that that is emblematic of the fact that your brain keeps discovering places that the person who has been lost, was wired in, and at first you find all of the obvious ones, all of the circuits that become active regularly. It becomes apparent that, oh, this has changed, and that has changed, and as time goes on the remoteness of the circuitry that the person was connected to grows, and so the frequency with which you encounter one of those circuits goes down. And so in this way the person finds their memory re-categorized, so that you no longer are depending on them in a living way.

So, as our brains go through the process of unintegrating someone from our lives, it will initially encounter many memories and associations, corresponding to the ciruits that were regularly active during our relationship. Waking up together, seeing, touching and smelling each other daily, speaking with each other. All of these activities correspond to circuits in our brain which you were activating multiple times a day during your relationship. Now that we’ve started this process of unintegration, we’re updating these circuits every time they get activated – and that process is painful (more on that later). Every time you would have heard your former partner, every time you would have called her, smelled her — every time a circuit is triggered that involved them, you will be put through this unintegration process.

Initially, there will be many of these circuits “nearby.” As you get used to the fact that your ex-partner is no longer part of all your daily routines the amount of unseen circuits becomes less and less. Where you might be reminded of your ex multiple times a day in the initial weeks, the frequency tapers off as you establish new habits and new routines. As time goes on, occurrences of this unintegration process become less and less frequent – although not necessarily less painful. Here’s my impression of what the process looks like:

So although the sadness may come in waves, the waves aren’t necessarily periodic and their intensity doesn’t drop off as gradual as you would expect. Instead, the frequency of the waves gradually decreases as your brain re-categorizes your former partner so you can go along living without depending on them.

What is the point of the waves being painful? Pain is our brain’s software for teaching us lessons and making sure they stick. From an evolutionary point of view losing your partner could mean losing your only (or one of your only) opportunities to raise offspring and propagate your genes. Remember that our evolutionary wiring is such that we’re programmed to survive and reproduce. We tend to feel strong negative emotions whenever we do something that negatively impacts our odds of doing so.

As we go through the process of unintegrating someone from our “active program”, the experience of sadness and pain draw our attention to the areas where – at least according to our programming – we have lessons to learn. If some thoughts keep coming back, as Dr. Jordan B. Peterson likes to say, it’s because you haven’t learnt what you need to learn in order to prevent whatever triggered them from happening again in the future.

The easy let-down

There’s a class of reasons for breaking up with someone that I call “The easy let-down”. It’s when someone’s feelings have changed to the point where they don’t want to be in a romantic relationship with the other person anymore (Passionate Love). At the same time they still feel camaraderie and Affectionate Love for the other person and don’t want to hurt their feelings. They may even want to keep that person in their lives for all the non-sexual non-romantic needs they fulfil. Essentially they would like to move the relationship from a romantic relationship to a friendship. So instead of saying the truth (I don’t feel sexually attracted to you anymore/I don’t see a future with you anymore) they say something like:

  • I don’t know if I want to be in a committed relationship anymore
  • I need time to be on my own
  • I need to be single for a while
  • I need time
  • I need space
  • I need a break
  • I need time to improve myself

This can be mediated by her getting attention from another guy. I’ve seen many breakups where the ex-girlfriend gives the guy an easy let-down only to move on to the next guy shortly after. Read more about why that happens here.

Continued hope for reconciliation

From “Why we love” by Helen Fisher:

Why do lovers continue to hope, even when the dice of life come up relentlessly against them? Most still hope the relationship will spring back to life—even years after it has ended bitterly. Hope is another predominant trait of romantic love.

I think this tendency to hope became implanted in the human brain eons ago so our ancient forebears would doggedly pursue potential mates until the last flicker of possibility had expired.

The Romeo and Juliet Effect

From Why We Love:

Adversity often feeds the flame. I call this curious phenomenon “frustration-attraction” but it is better known as the “Romeo and Juliet effect.” Social or physical barriers kindle romantic passion. They enable one to discard the facts and focus on the terrific qualities of the other. Even arguments or temporary breakups can be stimulating.

How ironic: as the adored one slips away, the very chemicals that contribute to feelings of romance grow even more potent, intensifying ardent passion, fear, and anxiety, and impelling us to protest and try with all our strength to secure our reward: the departing loved one.

As adversity intensifies, so does romantic passion.

As you know, dopamine is produced in factories in the “basement” of the brain, then pumped up to the caudate nucleus and other brain regions where it generates the motivation to win designated rewards. If an expected reward is delayed in coming, however, these dopamine-producing neurons prolong their activities—increasing brain levels of this natural stimulant. And very high levels of dopamine are associated with intense motivation and goal-directed behaviors, as well as with anxiety and fear.

Psychiatrists Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon maintain that this protest response is a basic mammalian mechanism that activates when any kind of social attachment is ruptured.

And these psychiatrists believe, as I do, that this protest reaction is associated with elevated levels of dopamine, as well as with norepinephrine. Rising levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, they say, serve to increase alertness and stimulate the abandoned individual to search and call for help.

Addicted to your ex-girlfriend

The dictionary definition of being addicted is being physically and mentally dependent on a particular substance.

Typically we associate this condition with drug use, but doesn’t heartbreak display a physical and mental dependency as well?

Author of How to break your addiction to a person, Howard M. Halpern, would agree. He identifies four characteristics to an addiction:

  1. Compulsiveness.
  2. Panic — felt at the possible absence of the substance.
  3. Withdrawal — felt when not indulging in the substance.
  4. Liberation — felt when breaking the addiction.

As you can imagine, all four could apply to a relationship as well.

As Helen Fisher from Why We Love points out, all addictions are associated with elevated levels of dopamine.

Dopamine involvement may even explain why love-stricken men and women become so dependent on their romantic relationship and why they crave emotional union with their beloved. Dependency and craving are symptoms of addiction.

Is romantic love an addiction? Yes; I think it is–a blissful dependency when one’s love is returned, a painful, sorrowful, and often destructive craving when one’s love is

Are you an addict?

Here are some questions to help you explore whether or not you are, or were, addicted to your relationship.

  1. Despite ample evidence telling you that the relationship was bad for you and that you could not expect improvement, you did not take steps to break it off.
  2. You convinced yourself to stay in the relationship using arguments that don’t hold water.
  3. The thought of ending the relationship caused you to feel anxious.
  4. When you took steps to end the relationship, you suffered withdrawal symptoms that could only be relieved by re-establishing contact.
  5. When the relationship is really over, you feel lost and empty, often followed or even accompanied by a feeling of liberation.

The fundamental attribution error

The fundamental attribution error says that when we react to another person’s behavior we tend to overestimate that person’s character and we underestimate the situation.Continue Reading

The despair phase

Academic psychologists and neuroscientists frequently use the distinction between the “Protest” phase of romantic rejection and the “Despair” phase.

During the protest phase, deserted lovers obsessively try harder to win back their beloveds. As resignation sets in, they give up entirely and slip into despair.

Once you transition from the protest phase to the despair phase, life can feel meaningless. Your ex-girlfriend gave meaning to your life and without her it can seem dull, or even emptyContinue Reading

The protest phase

Academic psychologists and neuroscientists frequently use the distinction between the “Protest” phase of romantic rejection and the “Despair” phase.

During the protest phase, deserted lovers obsessively try harder to win back their beloveds. As resignation sets in, they give up entirely and slip into despair.Continue Reading

Why it hurts a lot

In the Why it hurts we learned that, essentially, a breakup is supposed to hurt. The pain we feel is Nature’s way of telling us that there is something here we need to avoid to improve our odds of survival.

That being said, the pain can also be utterly debilitating. It can completely paralyze us, disrupt our eating and sleeping patterns and remove all the joy from our lives.

Surely there can’t be any added benefit there for our survival, can there?

And what about those who suffer heartbreak over and over again? Are they not picking up on Nature’s lesson? Or is something else going on?

I seems that while most will suffer some degree of pain following a breakup, especially one they didn’t initiate, some suffer more than others.

What do those that suffer more have in common with one another?

I believe what they have in common is one or more older, unhealed wounds.

Those of us that are the most lost, the most hopeless and the most crushed after breaking up, have also been carrying the most pain with us from the past. Perhaps a difficult childhood, unavailable parents or an traumatic event.

Invariably it is the older wound, that we are unaware of, that gets re-opened when we are hurt again. This opens the floodgates to pain, past and present.

The severity of pain that we feel after the breakup is not the only indication that there may be underlying pain. How we relate to those we love is shaped by our experiences growing up. Pain, more than anything else, colors these experiences.

Loosely interpreting Professor Gabor Maté’s work on understanding drug addicts — addicts seek out drugs to self-medicate the pain they are feeling. It is often only through drugs that they are able to briefly escape the constant pressure of sadness that pushes down on them day after day.

I believe those that suffer the most after a breakup are also the ones that relied on the relationship, and their ex-girlfriend’s, the most to help them escape past pain.

Much in the same way as the addiction assumes control of the addict’s life, the relationship assumes control over the dumpee’s.