Free Relationship Advice - Should You Take It?
by Kathy Batesel
Have you ever relied on bad love advice?
Bad Love Advice is Everywhere
Relationship problems are some of the worst experiences we can have. We look for sound advice about love to cope with the pain and change the situations that cause it, but so often it doesn't work. Why? Part of the reason is that there's just so much bad advice out there!
You can't change other people or what they do. You can only change yourself. If you change yourself and what you do, your relationship will change. But understanding which changes you need to make can be tricky.
Before you act on a friend's advice, words of wisdom you found on a website, or even your therapist's suggestions, take time to consider how likely it is that your relationship will benefit from acting upon it. Is the advice logical? Is it based on kindness or will it alienate your partner? Does it meet your needs at the expense of your loved one's well being?
Keep reading to learn more about how to weigh these factors and avoid mistakes that can prove deadly to a foundering relationship.
Logical Love Advice
I recently saw a forum post where a woman who'd been married for many years posted that she was upset because her husband treated her "terribly." She'd found herself in tears because he told her to leave him alone. A slew of replies urged her to divorce him. It's logical that if she's unhappy, a divorce would let her escape feeling like she's being treated terribly, but this kind of thin logic won't hold up over time.
Worse, these replies didn't look at the full picture. She'd been overly dependent on her husband and wanted his attention to such a degree that it interfered with his job performance. His "Leave me alone" command was thoughtless and insensitive, perhaps, but his reaction didn't warrant throwing away a 16-year marriage, and divorce would have left her feeling even less loved than she felt because of his comment.
To consider if a piece of advice is logical for your situation, take a long-term view. Ask yourself a few important questions:
- "If someone did this to me, how would I feel?" If you'd feel that you'd been treated badly, then it's not logical to think that it's going to improve your relationship. (I'll say more on this in a moment, because sometimes it's necessary to allow a partner to feel bad, but in general, hurting a partner hurts a relationship.)
- "If I did this, will it have long-term consequences? How?"
- "How would those long-term consequences affect me?"
- "Is this advice designed to force my partner to do things my way?" If it is, it's unlikely to help your relationship in the long run. As I used to tell my counseling patients, you can win a battle and still lose the war.
In some cases, it's vital to step back and allow your partner to experience the bad feelings that result from their own actions (or lack of action where there should have been some.) If your partner feels bad that he's hurt you, or she feels angry at herself over losing her job, it isn't necessary for you to be their rescuer, especially if they substantially contributed to the problem they have. However, you do not want to be the judge and prosecutor.
If you love a person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, or has another mental illness, they may find ways to blame you for their own problems, even if you don't deserve that blame. No matter what they say, though, in their hearts they know if they've been treated fairly or if someone was trying to control them. They might feel angry that things aren't going their way and lash out, but when they reflect on it later, when they're alone, they're also aware that it's not really your fault that things aren't working the way they want. By avoiding control tactics, even when they sound logical, you stand the best chance of letting your relationship improve.
Can you Recognize Alienating and Kind Responses?
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Advice that Promotes Kindness or Alienation
We've looked at how advice can sound logical and actually not make any sense at all. The opposite is also true. Sometimes advice sounds illogical but makes perfect sense in the long run. This is especially true when we have codependency traits at work in our relationships.
More than 90% of people are codependent to a degree, according to some experts. In my opinion, the ten percent or so who have no codependent traits probably suffer from a personality disorder. We have to interact with people, and there will always be some "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" reciprocation involved. Our codependent traits become a problem when they prevent us from experiencing joy and satisfaction with our lives because of what someone else does.
Codependent thinking is an example where advice may sound illogical but be exactly the solution that's needed. A frequently used example involves enabling behaviors. An alcoholic drinks too much and feels hungover the next morning. His spouse is unhappy, yet calls in to his job for him, claiming he has the flu. She's angry with his drinking, yet takes action that protects him from facing the consequences of his behavior.
Her counselor says, "Stop calling in for him."
The woman can't see the logic in this. "But I'm supposed to be nice and help him if I love him."
The logic she can't see is that by refusing to protect him, she's giving him greater freedom and allowing him to fully experience his life. She's afraid that she will alienate her husband if she doesn't protect him, but the same action can also be an act of kindness.
When considering whether to act upon relationship advice, you should examine if your partner is going to feel alienated by it. If so, dig a bit deeper to ask yourself if they'd have a good reason to feel alienated. In the example above, the alcoholic might feel alienated at first, but because the woman is simply letting him have his life back, over time, he can acknowledge that she gave him a gift of kindness.
The opposite is true in many cases. "Stop giving the dogs table food or I'll stop cooking" has no elements of kindness. This ultimatum is designed purely to force the other person to surrender their values in favor of the speaker's. Alienation is likely to take place and there is little chance that the dog-lover will ever find kindness in it.
Any love advice you take should have kindness at its core. Period.
- When (and When Not) to Take Advice
Tips for recognizing when to pay attention to advice you don't like (and when to ignore it.)
Meeting Your Needs in the Process
It's important to value and honor our own beliefs, values, and priorities. However, we have an obligation to our loved ones to respect theirs, too. Much well-intended advice, including advice from mental health professionals, emphasizes what is good for one person at the expense of their partner's well-being.
This balance isn't always easy to maintain. In fact, it may be impossible if we aren't compatible with our loved ones. We must have our minimum needs met in order to accomplish a healthy relationship dynamic. If repeated episodes of emotional or physical abuse exists, it's absolutely necessary to put our own long-term needs first to escape the abusive behaviors.
When we're compatible, this give-and-take can feel effortless, but stress or relationship neglect can create a distance between a couple that allows them to start favoring their own needs and ignore their partner's.
In my opinion, this is where many couples go wrong. They find themselves in power struggles where each person is fighting to get their own way, often over trivial things. Instead of stopping to ask, "Is it really vital to my well-being to talk to my husband first thing in the morning, or could I wait an hour to give him time to feel more awake," a person may be overly focused on how lonely or rejected they feel when they can't connect right away. Enough of these selfish moments leads to a broken relationship where loneliness and rejection are guaranteed!
Before fighting for what you want, ask yourself if the issue is truly vital to your well-being. How much will you suffer if you don't get your way? What kind of suffering will you experience?
Be willing to take a stand on matters when they can have a strong effect on your self-image, your lifestyle, and your standard of living, but otherwise, consider letting these matters slide. You'll be doing your relationship a favor and in the process, helping yourself have a better life.