Need Advice, or just an Empathetic Ear?

October 11, 2014

In our book, Love With Intention, we encourage couples to refrain from giving their partner advice or offering their opinion unless specifically asked.  Recently, studies out of the University of Iowa found that the more partners give unwanted advice, the less satisfaction they experience in the relationship. Couples in the study reported that unsolicited input bred anger, frustration and overall marital unhappiness.  Obviously, our advice was on track! However, refraining from offering unsolicited advice is only one side of the coin. The other side involves being willing to ask your partner for their opinion or advice. 

 

Let's face it! There are times when all we want to do is vent! We don't want advice! We just want someone to listen...and we want to know our partner is on our side. When we complain about our boss after a rough day at work, what we really want is an ear, along with empathy and support, not suggestions on how we can handle situations differently. However, there are times when we could really benefit from our partner's feedback and suggestions.  We all view the world through our own individual filter. This filter is based on our experiences, perceptions, judgments and values.  Sometimes this filter can get in the way of seeing the picture clearly, especially when our emotions are running high.  

 

For this reason, it's important to be able to differentiate between venting and situations in which you could use a different perspective.  It's also good for your partner to know exactly what you need from him or her.  So, before you start in, take a moment to determine what you need for your partner.  Then, communicate what you need before you even start. Saying something like, "I know there's absolutely nothing you can do about this situation, but I just need to vent," lets your partner know to just be a good listener.  On the other hand, when you determine you could use a different perspective try saying something like, "I would really like to know how you would handle this situation."  Your partner will then know it's okay to throw suggestions or advice your way. 

 

Even with these conversation precursors, male partners especially have an instinctual urge to give advice when presented with a problem.  So, if your partner starts giving advice, even when you've clearly indicated you just need to vent, try to remember he or she is on your side and is only trying to be helpful. This may keep you from responding defensively or shutting down. Who knows, despite your partner's infraction, you might find his or her suggestions beneficial.

 

When your partner is willing to lend an ear, remember to thank him or her. This also goes for when you do ask for your partners perspective, regardless of whether you found the advice helpful. If your partner's advice doesn't seem feasible for you, remember it's your choice. You, more than anyone, know what works best for you!

 

by Trish Carter, LIMHP, LPC, BCN

 

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