Tell me if this scenario feels familiar:
Friend 1: Help! I am torn on what to do about XYZ.
Friend 2: Oh man that’s tough! Well, here are some objective suggestions and insights.
Friend 1: Thank you SO much!! *Goes and does what she was gonna do all along.*
Giving and getting life advice is a funny, fickle thing. Especially when it comes to relationships. I’ve often wondered when we’re all gonna wise up and realize that most of the time we have to make our own mistakes before we can figure out the right path. Try as we may, we usually can’t keep those we love from following their hearts instead of our heads.
So why do we continue to seek and give relationship advice? It seems as though the older I get the less my friends and I run to one another trying to hash out or figure out a situation in our romantic relationships. Usually we either have enough experience to figure it out on our own, or enough sense to know that we’ve already secretly made up our minds.
But even though it occurs less, it will probably never go away. So I figured I’d share a few things that have helped me when when I’ve gotten or given relationship advice; things that might keep us all a little more sane and empathetic (because isn’t that the goal of life?!).
Remember that you are coming from an almost-entirely objective position.
So the “right” or “wisest” thing to do often appears SO DAMN OBVIOUS. This is not the case for the relationship advice recipient. Swirling around in their head are months or years of ups and downs and conflicting feelings and emotions and likely a lot of fear and worry and love. So when giving advice, take a deep breath, share your insight, and then let it go.
A sign of a great friend is when you can go ‘wait, this isn’t my life and I’m not the boss of who does what’
There is no “right” thing to do.
Sure it can appear that there is, but a sign of a great friend is when you can go “wait, this isn’t my life and I’m not the boss of who does what”. None of us get to decide what is right or wrong for anyone’s life but our own. And sure, your friend came to you seeking advice (see next point), but the best thing you can do is speak from the heart in terms of what you would do and not be overbearing in pushing them towards your way.
No one likes (or receives) unsolicited advice.
It’s just rarely going to go over well and will likely damage an entirely different relationship: the one you have with your friend.
Your friend will probably not follow your advice.
That doesn’t mean we stop speaking love and truth (as we see it) into their lives, it just means that it is natural to take in advice, and churn out our own individual decision. It doesn’t mean your friend doesn’t respect what you think, it just means they are human.
Your friend loves you and they desperately don’t want to see you get hurt.
This often leads to advice or opinions that can feel pushy. Just remember that even if you disagree with what they are saying or how they are saying it, you can be comforted that why they are saying it is rooted in care. This is like the spoon full of sugar that helps that advice-medicine go down.
Don’t over-insert your past or current relationship into your friends’ relationships
Choose your opinions wisely.
Not all relationship advice is created equal. Every advice-giver has their own relationship past that fuels their opinion. Once, after a guy I had been seeing turned out to be a big fat liar, a friend of mine was sharing about something her boyfriend did that continually hurt her feelings. I recall hearing myself dish out something along the lines of “well forget it he’s probably hiding stuff from you so maybe you should just run in the other direction!” (although I’m sure it was much craftier than that). The truth was I was unintentionally seeing her relationship through my own baggage-colored lenses. Maybe this one belongs up in the relationship-giving advice: don’t over-insert your past or current relationship into your friends’ relationships.
As much of a guilty pleasure it can be to rant about your boyfriend or girlfriend’s bad habits (especially in the heat of the moment), don’t forget that this often sticks in your friends’ minds.
I’m not saying never to share the bad moments, but while you have all of the other happy, love-y, gushy experiences to balance those annoying ones, your friends may only be hearing the troubled stuff. So when they come at you with “Well it sounds like he always does X,” don’t forget that their big picture of your relationship is built up of the things you choose to share with them.
Don’t go trolling for the advice you want to hear.
You’re well aware of the friend who is most likely to echo back what you’re hoping to hear, so maybe seek out someone who will give you a different perspective—even if it’s tough to swallow.
At the end of the day this is a tricky beast. But if we all remember the many times we’ve been at both sides of the table, we can not only dish out advice with grace, but we can receive it with humility. And then we’ll all get along happily ever after and our relationships will prosper and a unicorn will become president. At least maybe the first one.