As a marriage life coach, I'll admit that it's kind of funny (and ironic) that I'm even broaching this topic. I mean, what I do for a living is give out advice. But I think that's kind of the point. When you're someone who is constantly offering up insights and perspectives, in the hopes that it will benefit other people, you learn, sometimes the hard way, what the right and not-so-right approaches are; especially when it comes to giving out advice that relates to matters of the heart.
I already know. Some of you are probably thinking that there's no real need to read an article like this. The way you see it, so long as people mind their own business, everything will be just fine. You're entitled to your opinion, but I respectfully and totally disagree. Something that all of us battle with is our egos and "wanting what the heart wants". The definition of heart is "center of emotions" and only letting your feelings navigate your choices is a surefire way to end up in some pretty painful, if not flat-out devastating situations—ones that could've been avoided if we had simply been open to hearing a from-the-outside-looking-in-perspective in the first place.
So no, the key to a thriving relationship is not to be out here living like an island and ignoring what people who truly care about you have to say. The objective should be to listen to people you trust; ones who have already proven that they care about you and that they respect you and your ultimate right to do what you want.
At the same time, for those of us on the giving end of relationship advice, our job is to making sure that we're sharing and not dictating, that we take the amount of influence that we have in the lives of others seriously, that we are careful and cautious with what we dish out (along with how we do it), that we are seeking to help and not harm and that we do our absolute best to avoid starting off our pearls of wisdom with the following phrases (you'll see why in just a sec).
“If I were you…”Giphy
Whenever skeptics wonder what makes me qualified to be a marriage life coach, being that I've never been married before, one thing that I share is the fact that there's a challenge that comes from only listening to other married couples that tends to go completely overlooked. When a married counselor, therapist or life coach is offering advice, it tends to be really hard for them to do it without bringing their own marriage into the dynamic. But here's the thing—what works or doesn't work for their relationship may not be as effective for two totally different individuals. In other words, they can sometimes come to the table with a level of bias that ends up doing more harm than good.
That's why I'm not big on the whole "If I were you" approach to relationship advice overall. Even if you and I are in very similar situations, the fact that you are you and I am me, that already makes things very different. The bottom line is, "I ain't you", so there's really no point is trying to advise you solely based on my personality, value system and feelings about your situation.
"If I were you" brings a lot of arrogance to the table. Arrogance is not a good foundation for great advice giving.
“I know how you feel…”
Back before one of my girlfriends and I got tight, we shared a somewhat similar experience. My fiancé died a few years before her child's father was murdered. When I saw her at church, a few weeks following his funeral, I said to her, "I know how you feel…" She looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language and said absolutely nothing. Later, when we got closer and I brought that exchange up, she told me that what I said didn't comfort her; it totally pissed her off. "Shellie, you didn't know him. Hell, you barely knew me at the time, so how could you possibly know how I felt'?!"
She's right. Although I don't believe that when a lot of us say this, we mean it literally, it's still something to shy away from conveying. Again, each experience is unique, so while we may be able to empathize (share similar feelings or thoughts about something or someone) or even understand to a certain degree, unless we are them, there is no way that we can ever truly or fully know what they are going through.
This kind of approach to giving advice can be offensive and off-putting (trust me, I would know).
“If he was my man…”
OK, so stop it. Stop it right there. He's not your man, so why are you even approaching the situation from this angle? Out of all of the things that we really need to stop saying while giving relationship advice to others, this one tops this list. I say that because, the reality is that if "he" was yours, the relationship—the interaction, the issues, the entire dynamic—would be totally different. Why? Because every person is unique and their connection with every other individual they come into contact with is unique as well.
So, whatever it is that your friend is going through with her man, if you were in that very same situation, things would not be the same. That's why it doesn't even make sense to talk about what you would do if someone who isn't your man actually was.
It's far more productive to speak on what you know about the character, history and pattern of the couple that actually exists than to be basing things on hypotheticals anyway.
“There’s no way that could ever be me.”
Don't you just love—by the way, I'm sarcastically using that word here—when you're in a jacked up situation with a guy and one of your friends thinks that she's helping by saying something along the lines of it being something she would never do or a situation she would never tolerate. Whatever, girl.
I've been pretty open about my past abortions on this site before. Well, during one of my pregnancies, a "friend" at the time went on and on to me about how she would never have one and how I was going to hell. She was a virgin. Fast forward a semester or two later and here was the same girl asking me what clinic I went to. SMDH. What changed? Her circumstances.
It's easy to for a single woman to say what she wouldn't tolerate in a marriage. It's easy for a virgin to not get how another woman could get completely sprung on the "d". It's easy for someone who's never been in abusive relationship to not understand why someone who is would struggle with getting out.
If you're one of those folks who's notorious for starting off your advice by reminding someone of what you would never put up with, be careful. Sometimes your lack of compassion will end you up in a similar state, just so that you can humble yourself.
“See, what you need to do is…”
I'll raise my hand in this class and say that this is something I had to learn to stop saying. One reason why it's not a smart approach to giving advice is if someone really does value your opinion and they do what you say and then it backfires, you've got a world of hurt (or more hurt) to deal with. Another problem with this is timing is everything. What someone may need to do today may look totally different a week from now. And finally, need is a really big word.
The mistake that I used to make is convey that what someone needed to do was really no more than a want. If a couple is going through a rough patch, they may need some space but since I don't like what or both of them are going through, I'll want them to break-up. But the word I will use is "need".
Need is a necessity or requirement. If you're out here actually telling someone that they need to do—or not do—something, make sure that's the truth and that you have some hardcore facts to back that up. Make sure you're not imposing your wants instead. Otherwise, what you may need to do is apologize for being so reckless with your words later down the pike.
“When are we gonna stop talking about this?!”
Love is patient. I didn't make that up. It's in the Bible (I Corinthians 13:4). Patient is a difficult word too. It means "bearing provocation, annoyance, misfortune, delay, hardship, pain, etc. with fortitude and calm and without complaint, anger, or the like". A whole lot of us are out here professing to love people but the minute they go through a hardship or something painful—especially if it's something that we don't understand—we're out. Or at least unavailable until "the storm" passes over.
If there are fellow Leos reading this, I'd like to hear your comments about what I'm about to say. Two of my closest friends are Leos and a common trait of theirs is that they will be your greatest support system…so long as they see that you are making progress. But if you're in an uncomfortable pattern—or even if you're simply justifying counterproductive behavior—their tolerance is shorter than a mother. They basically disconnect.
To a certain extent, I get it. Giving advice to people who are going to keep doing unhealthy things is exhausting, to say the least. At the same time, some of us need a little more, yes patience, than others. And so, when you start off giving your perspective with a long sigh, dramatic eye roll and a "this…again?!" approach, it can make the other person feel embarrassed at best, humiliated and berated, at worst. None of that is good. Or healthy. Or helpful.
Honorable Mention: “God told me to tell you that…”Giphy
Let me start off by saying this—God is always communicating with his children. And sometimes, he will give us messages to give to others. At the same time, if it's God, it's going to be helpful and beneficial. It may challenge someone (even correct them) but it will also bring forth a sense of clarity and peace. Oftentimes, what it will also do is speak to something specific that you may know very little about (meaning, it will confirm something in the person; something that you may not know or even need to know). It will also make them better, not worse.
Here's what it won't do. It won't hurt them. It won't put fear into them. And it won't be slick controlling or manipulative. Here's an example. There's a woman I know who wanted me to date her son. I wasn't interested, so she used to say that "God told her" that he was my husband. Really? The guy with a boatload of kids, a police record a mile-long who sells and doesn't pay child support? That's who my husband is? Nooooo…your son is a hot mess and you want some woman to take him off of your hands, so you are "using God" to do your bidding—not the God of the Bible but the one that you made up, by the way.
Moral to the story. It's pretty bold to start off any advice with "God told me to say". So, before you do it, make sure that is true. If you're not sure, don't say it. If you ignore my—eh hem—advice on this, there's a chance that you'll end up irritating the person you're talking to and God. Then you'll be the one needing some insight on what to do about the mess you NOT GOD made. (I'm pretty sure that's the last thing you want on your plate!)
Featured image by Getty Images