How Giving Advice Can Hurt Your Relationship

shutterstock_259629341It’s really important that the balance of power is more or less equal in a relationship. Take for instance advice giving. When power is equally shared, partners value learning from one another. It enriches both. And neither feels as though their partner is lauding knowledge over the other, or parenting the other. There is no resentment here. But some feel compelled for advocating for their way of doing things. After all the thinking goes, when a certain method for completing a task is clearly the most effective, why should we not offer it to our beloved? The problem comes when one person is better at dishing out advice than receiving it. Another is when one is the giver of advice and the other the receiver. This sets up an unfair power structure which is sure to cause resentment if left unchecked. Usually, this starts with a lot of passive-aggressive behavior being thrown around. If someone asks for advice, that is surely an invitation. No one should be denied helping their partner. But when it becomes pedantic, when a holier than thou attitude inhabits the exchange, or when what is being peddled as advice turns out to be veiled criticism, trouble will ensue. That’s why we have to be careful how we approach our partner in the advice department.

Are you a first born sibling? Do you have a younger, same sex sibling? Psychologists have noticed that these type tend to want a partner who listens to the way they do things and follows them. If a partner is say appreciates and admits he or she requires such guidance, there is little problem. But usually after a while the other person will find this arrangement stifling. We should allow our partner dignity and the ability to make their presence in the relationship felt and known. How things are done should be negotiated, not one partner telling the other what to do. Or else this becomes a monarchy rather than a fair and mutually beneficial arrangement. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing at the beginning how a person conducts household affairs. Sometimes couples squabble over how certain things should be done, the cooking, the parenting, laundry, and so on. These may come from deeply held beliefs, ones education, or family or cultural custom. By denying your partner’s way to do things, you may be also denying much more deep-seated elements of their identity, and unwittingly rejecting them as well.

What partners need to do is to sit down calmly and find out when advice is warranted by the other, and when it seems like an invasion or an order. Some couples just relegate each person’s personal traits and strengths to whatever household duty must be done. One is a better cook for instance, the other better able to handle the yard work, or the bills. In these cases, many have found that not asking questions about process can avoid fights and allow each person their dignity. But for other couples, it helps when each is allowed to discuss their process a calm and matter of fact manner. You can learn a lot about your partner, the relationship, and yourself by sharing how you do things, and how you see things. If you and your partner struggle with this, instead of looking for places to offer advice, get upset at how your partner does something, or offended because they ignore your previous instructions, ask questions. Find out where they are coming from. You can discuss, debate, and figure out the best way forward.

For more tips on cultivating a more successful long-term relationship read, Love Busters: Protecting Your Marriage from Habits That Destroy Romantic Love by Willard F. Jr. Harley.

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