Beware of Bad Relationship Advice

Good relationship advice can be very hard to come by, particularly when you’re seeking it from friends or family.  This is primarily because most of the advice we receive is founded on principles of selfishness rather than love.  Comments like, “You need to take care of yourself.”, or “How can you put up with that?!  You should leave!”, seem to be universal answers for every problem.  Sadly, even many therapists, speaking from the baggage of their own failed relationships, may give this type of advice.  Those who give this advice always mean well.  They are not trying to cause further damage to our relationships.  They are merely trying to be supportive.  Unfortunately, being told we are right is not always what is right for us or the relationship.  Well meaning people can wreak great havoc by promoting selfishness and separation.

Even if the advice you receive from others seems like good advice, considering the information you have given, it is very important to remember that their assessment of your situation is only based on half of the information.  I am constantly amazed by how masterfully we can paint ourselves as the ultimate martyrs in our relationships.  I remember one couple I met with particularly well.  The husband started the session by constructing a perfect picture of his wife being a perpetual nag, while he did nothing but serve her and do her will.  The wife then jumped in and told the story of an uncaring distant husband, who only saw her as his “whore.”  Had I only heard one side of their story I would have been ready to call out the hangman’s mob to bring the other to justice!  It is not only unwise, but completely wreckless to give advice when only having half the information.  At the same time, it is even more unwise and wreckless to take advice when you know you have only given half the information.  Remember, YOUR story is not THE story.  The true story usually ends up being some kind of average between your perspective and your spouses. 

This brings us to the question, “So, how do you know when advice is good advice, and should be taken?”  For starters, if you are sincerely looking for advice and not just someone to tell you you are right, then begin by making sure that the third party has as much information as possible.  If possible, give them the opportunity to speak with both of you.  You will be doing you and your relationship a great disservice by only offering your perspective.

Second, in listening to others’ advice, look for signs that they may be reacting particularly strong to certain issues.  This could be a sign that they are speaking from their own relationship baggage, which could drastically affect the reliability of their advice.  The best advice comes from those who are able to be as neutral as possible.  If they have a strong emotional connection to a certain aspect of the issue, they will likely be speaking from their emotions rather than their wisdom.  This is an extremely common reaction, one that even some therapists fall in to.  It causes great bias in how others view our circumstances, so be very vigilant of this hazard.   

Finally, ask yourself the question, “Is this advice based on principles of love or selfishness?”  This simple question can reveal a great deal about the quality of the advice you are receiving.  It reaveals whether you are receiving constructive or destructive advice.  If you have seen the movie Fireproof  you may remember the scene where the wife is surrounded by her friends, telling them about how awful her husband is.  The scene rapidly switches over to her husband complaining to his best friend about her.  The scene goes back and forth, showing the reactions of the friends of the couple to the news they have heard.  The friends of the wife say things much like the other blind, selfish phrases I mentioned at the beginning of this post.  Things like, “You are so right”, “You need to leave him!”, or “He is no good for you!”  On the other side, the husband’s friend reacts very differently.  His response is to put the responsibility back on the husband, asking him what he is doing to make the relationship better. 

As the movie goes on, the effects of these different approaches become very apparent as the husband gradually makes more loving and committed efforts to the relationship, while the wife slowly drifts further away, even to the point of becoming involved with another married man.  Fortunately, the wife eventually recognizes the efforts of her husband and comes back to him, but it does leave you to wonder how much faster that would have taken place had she had the type of friends her husband did.

 Don’t fall into the trap of giving or accepting gifts of destruction.  Much advice can appear appealing as it is wrapped in the alluring wrapping paper of confirming our beliefs and justifying our wrong actions.  But, when that package is opened, we find nothing more than a ticking time bomb waiting to explode on our relationships.

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I agree that having the whole story is really important. There are two sides to every issue. Sometimes advise that you are being mistreated really IS right on. Not selfish. BUT, good advise will always also include concern for how the other person is being treated, too.

    • It is certainly true that those close to us can sometimes correctly identify that we are being mistreated. It’s not necessarily their ability to identify that fact that is the question. The real question is how they advise you to deal with it- whether that advice be selfish or unselfish. If literal abuse in involved, then the situation is definitely different. Realizing this important exception, I’ve just placed a new post to address this as well. This may be what you had in mind.

      Thanks again for your great comments!

      Matt

  2. […] presents Beware of Bad Relationship Advice posted at Marriage Works. “So much of the information out there on relationships, […]


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