How to Give Good Relationship Advice

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You’re just settling in for the night when your phone rings. It’s your best friend and she’s frantic, talking a mile a minute between tearful gasps. Not exactly sure what happened, you are able to make out the phrases “me and Mike,” and “I can’t believe he did this to me.”  “Can you meet me at the coffee shop around the corner? I need help … I don’t know what to do!” she adds, sobbing into the phone.

Dropping the prospect of a quiet night at home, you grab your car keys and head out to comfort and console your distraught BFF on the other side of town. Meanwhile, your thoughts are mulling over possibilities of what could have happened with her and her boyfriend, the guy she’s been happily living with for the last couple of years.

You’ve been on the receiving end of a similar call at some time in your adult life, right? Your friend needs a friend right now and you hope you’re up for the challenge. You want to say the right thing, give comfort to ease the emotional pain, and maybe pass on useful advice.

 

Laying the Foundation

Before you even open your mouth to say something, all sorts of variables come into play when you’re advising a friend. You have to ask yourself, what are they really asking me for? Maybe they don’t come out and ask for help but you sense they want it or need it. Should you cross that boundary and offer it? Will it be accepted? What if it’s not? What if the advice you give is not received well. What if you say something that makes things worse?

 

Whether solicited or unsolicited, laying the foundation for good advice requires that you show them you’re willing to listen, that you want to listen. Set the groundwork by trying to make them feel comfortable about sharing their thoughts and feelings. Speak softly and make eye contact. Sit close by, in a relaxed posture. Eventually, they may mimic your demeanor as you put them at ease.

If they hesitate, reassure them that your conversation will be confidential. You don’t want to pry and you don’t gossip. The only exception to the privacy vow is if you think your friend is in danger of physical or mental abuse (we’ll get to that later).

The prerequisites are patience, understanding, honesty, and being non-judgmental. Be a good listener. Let them talk. Let them ramble, rant, reflect … whatever they want. Sometimes they just need a sounding board, not actual advice.

 

What’s Good Advice?

What’s healthy, constructive advice? Good advice is subjective. It’s an expression of you, based on your life’s experiences. But it’s also being able to pass on common-sense solutions based on the situation your friend is facing, taking into account all that you know about your friend and their relationship.

·         Sometimes all they need is for you to validate their feelings or a course of action that want to take or did take.

·         Sometimes they need to work out their problem verbally to someone they can trust.

·         Sometimes they need someone to confirm they’re taking the right course of action.

·         Sometimes they want to know what you would do in their situation. “What would you do if your boyfriend suddenly stopped calling and you don’t know what it means and what to do?”

Let them do the talking first. Be encouraging. Coax them to talk more, “get it all off their chest” by asking them to tell you more. You might say, “What did you think when he said that?” “What happened next?”

Show them you’re actively listening. Repeat back to them what they said. Not only does this show them you’re listening, the bounce-back can also give them a new understanding of their situation.

Assure them that their relationship problem isn’t unique. You don’t want to play down the importance; Just show them other people have similar struggles in their relationships and how they resolved them. The idea is to give them comfort in knowing that other people are going through what they are going through and can overcome it, that it isn’t insurmountable.

Don’t play therapist. Don’t try to analyze or diagnose them or their mate. Be alert to not only what they say, but how they say it, their body language, tone, how fast or slow they’re talking. These are cues to what you might say to them and how you might say it.

Hug them, squeeze their hand … Warm, physical contact can feel so good when someone is upset. It has a way of melting away some of the edge off the emotional pain.

Offer to role-play with them. If your friend doesn’t know how to approach their mate about a concern, let them practice with you taking the role of their mate.

Ask them to tell you some of the endearing things their mate has done and the positive experiences they have with one another.

Help them find ways to have constructive conversations with their mate about their problem.

Encourage your friend to seek cooperation when talking to their mate, not have a one-sided discussion or one-sided decision-making.

Encourage them to start out expressing love and kindness with their mate, tell their mate that they love them and value them and the relationship … and that’s why they want to clear the air, express a concern, iron things out, find common ground, find solutions.

If your friend confides in you that they are being abused, urge them to report the abuse and seek professional help in dealing with domestic abuse. Be sure they understand you’ll still be there for them, regardless of what happens and any outside help they seek, as a friend, listener, and adviser.

 

What’s Bad Advice?

Don’t make light of what they tell you. Don’t minimize the problem. For example, don’t say “That’s no big deal.” If it weren’t a big deal you wouldn’t be having this heart-to-heart with them.

Don’t tell them the problem will resolve itself or that what their partner did is “just a one-time occurrence” or surely won’t happen again, “just a passing phase.” … especially if you see a pattern of unfaithfulness on the part of their mate.

Don’t be preachy, a know-it-all, insensitive. Avoid using expressions like “You should have …,” “I would have …,” or “Why didn’t you …”

Don’t be overly indignant about what your friend’s mate has done. This can provoke your friend into a confrontation with their mate with a “bone to pick.” Being argumentative can be a recipe for escalating an argument, making your friend more upset. This can result in an unproductive discussion between the couple that doesn’t resolve the problem but exacerbates it.

This goes double if you suspect your friend is in an abusive relationship. If you learn that your friend has been abused, is in danger of physical harm, you may want to help them find ways to create physical distance, find a safe place. Don’t encourage them to forgive and forget and go back to more abuse.

 

Follow-up and Ongoing Support

Keep tabs. Check-in with them from time to time. Ask for updates. Ask them what, if anything has changed regarding the situation. Ask if the problem is getting resolved. Ask them how they feel. Share helpful articles you might have come across online or in a book. Be there for them.

Are You Entering Parenthood for All the Right Reasons?

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After settling into your marriage, you’ve reached a level of stability. Your thoughts are turning to the next phase of your relationship: growing a family. It’s what you’ve said you wanted since you were a little girl. Your close married friends have already started. Baby showers are filling up your calendar. You can’t help oohing and ahhing over those adorable baby outfits popping up on Pinterest. You are so ready to stop birth control. But are you psychologically ready to be a mom? Is your spouse?

Do you have a clear head about your long-held decision to be a mom, a firm commitment to the idea of the two of you being parents? Are you getting outside pressure from the family? Is the timing right to start a family now?

 

What If I’m Having Second Thoughts?

Are you questioning the idea of having children? Are you having second thoughts? Are seeds of doubt starting to sprout? If so, don’t keep it hidden. Talk to your mate. He may be having similar feelings. What’s his reaction to your feelings about it? Is he accepting? Questioning? Puzzled? Upset? Distant?

·         Do you have fears about parenthood? Are you thinking “Am I up for it?” “Will I be a good mother?” “Will he be a good father?”

·         Do you feel that you lack the knowledge required to be a good parent?

·         Are you worried about being able to find time for work, leisure, daily activities, and so on with a little one around that needs constant attention?

·         Is it a financial issue? Lack of time, money? These are external reasons and they may be valid ones. But dig deeper. Are these the REAL reasons? Or is there internal resistance?

·         Do you or your husband have unresolved feelings about your parents that are making you resistant to the idea? Does how you were raised and cared for as a child factor into the equation?

·         What if I’m ready and he isn’t? Did one of you make a “rule” change? Did one of you change your mind about wanting children somewhere along the road and didn’t inform the other? Are you able to accept that he changed his mind? Is he able to accept that you changed yours?

All of these are legitimate concerns. Don’t belittle them and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

 

The Wrong Reasons

·         Is parenthood what you REALLY want? Or is it what you’ve been raised to believe all women want?

·         Are you both on-board? Lack of love, compassion, commitment and support from your mate for you and/or a baby?

·         Are you ready to turn your attention from yourselves as individuals and as a couple to raising a child? Are you the kind of person who is in control of their time? Are you easily flustered when things don’t go as planned?

·         Are you able to deal with the unexpected … like becoming a single mother due to divorce or death? Are you confident that you can find solutions should your finances take a dip, even if it means big sacrifices? If the answer is no to any of these, maybe parenthood wasn’t meant to be.

·         Is your desire for a child wrapped up in trying to solidify the relationship? Is it to help a shaky marriage? Is having a baby your idea of a fix for a lack of trust? Intimacy? If the answer is yes, parenthood may still be on the horizon – just not while you’re having issues with one another.

·         Since having a baby makes a relationship permanent, are you or is he questioning the ability to stay in the relationship? Will your relationship stay strong when there’s more focus on another little human being who needs much your attention? A baby is a lifetime commitment. Do you feel strongly your relationship is a lifetime commitment?

 

What’s Right for You

Most young couples have this big decision to face. It’s okay … whichever way you choose. Choosing whether or not to have kids is between the two of you. Don’t let outside pressure push you in a direction you deep down don’t want to go. That decision could change the course of your life and your marriage. Make time for soul searching. Make time for the two of you to talk … lots of talk. Contemplate before you leap.

Our Pets Are Ruining Our Relationship!

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You and your beau have put in the time together … the time it takes to get to know if you both want to move forward in the relationship. Things are looking good. The next step, living together, is on the horizon. Only two things are stopping you from making that move: your dog and his cat.

Maybe you haven’t thought things out completely and jumped right into a shared household with Fluffy and Fido in tow, hoping for the best. Now you’re regretting not thinking things through a little more because his cat is terrorizing your dog (it can happen) or vice versa and the house is a war zone.

Or … your nose is raw from sneezing, you’re going through several boxes of facial tissues a week and you’re miserable because you’re allergic to his cat.

A new mixed household of people and animals isn’t the same as a mixed household of all humans … but that’s a whole other story.

 

Human Issues

You might make light of the problems you encounter or expect to encounter, but the relationship dynamics of you, him, and your pets can be serious. It could even destroy a relationship. Let’s examine some of the dynamics.

Now that you’re in a relationship, it may be harder to give your pet the same amount of attention. Their routine might be disrupted – whether you are moving into another house or your sweetie is moving in with you or you’ve found a brand new place to live.

Are you owning up to the possibility that he doesn’t care for Fluffy or cats in general? Is he? Are you admitting that you’re not so fond of dogs – or Fido in particular? Does he know that?

Could he be jealous or intolerant of the time and attention you give to your pet? Do you resent his pet for the same or similar reasons?

Is there a possibility that you’re both accepting your furry friends now but that down the road, patience could wear thin and either of you could have a change of heart?

 

Your Pet’s Issues

A pet is as likely to be set in their ways as you are in your human relationship. Dogs and cats like routine. Their old routine can be disrupted. Eventually, they’ll settle into a new routine, so don’t be too quick to “throw in the towel” and decide it’s not going to work. Watch for warning signs and have patience.

Will your pet have the amount of space and the same access to rooms in the house and the yard? Beyond adapting to a possible new living space and new feeding and playtimes, your pet is also adapting to a new owner and possibly another pet. Maybe your respective pets are jealous of the other person in the household? If they aren’t getting as much one-on-one time, they may be angry at anyone in the household. They may not like to share attention.

How will you handle pet skirmishes? How would you feel if he loses his temper with your dog for trying to harm his cat? What will you do if you if the pets can’t get along? Will you have to keep them permanently separated? How?

Maybe the situation isn’t so volatile. Maybe the pets are coping reasonably well on the surface. But are they really? Animals don’t show their emotions in the same way that humans do. You might not be reading the signs of friction correctly. You could be dealing with one depressed cat or one stressed-out dog.

Maybe the unfamiliarity of the relationship and the animals not adjusting creates a double-whammy. If you’re not happy, your pets can readily pick up on that and they can become upset too, for that reason alone.

 

Looking at It Rationally

Neither of you would consider parting with your beloved pet in order to create the peaceful home sweet home you so desire, right? They are a part of your family. You’re a package deal: pet and pet owner … or would you? If your attitude is, “My pet is part of the package deal,” you both have some work to do. If he’s asking you to choose between him and your pet and you pick him, you could someday resent the sacrifice, not to mention the emotional harm you’re putting your pet through by giving them up.

Logically, the question to ask one another is, “Is there a way we can all adapt?”

Figuring out What’s Wrong

Be honest with each other. If something bothers you about his pet or vice versa, get it out in the open. Is either of you jealous of the other’s pet? Whatever the exact cause, address it right away. Emotional wounds can fester.

It’s important to assert your right to maintain your relationship with your pet. A lover who demands you choose between him and your pet may not be who you want to develop a relationship with.

Keep a close eye on any changes in the behavior of your animals – and your mate. Without stability and consistency, your pets can feel stressed, depressed, anxious. They may exhibit bad behaviors which are basically acting out as a result of something or someone new, another animal they’re not familiar with, and even affect their physical health.

Maybe it’s just a case of your pets getting over the unfamiliar situation or another animal “invading” their territory. Pets are creatures of routine. They need to feel secure in their environment day after day. They need to know what to expect from you, your mate, other animals that are introduced into the home. This helps them have a positive attitude and be able to handle other changes.

 

Strategies

You and your mate need to consider as many possibilities of what can go wrong and come to some agreements about how to handle them.

·         Keep feeding, walking, and toileting times the same, if possible and their environment as consistent as possible.

·         Look for easy fixes or workarounds first; then move to more involved ones. Maybe a little redesign of living spaces can keep the peace.

·         If it’s an allergy issue, more frequent animal bathing can help a lot; so can frequent handwashing and not touching your face after petting can help. Research pet allergy preparations. If those don’t work, perhaps allergy shots. You need relief and your mate will appreciate that you care that much for him to seek solutions.

·         Ask for help from your vet. They see animal-human issues all the time. You could be proactive and discuss all the things that could go wrong before you and your partner move in together.

·         Hire a pet therapist to identify the problem and guide you, your sweetie, and your pets to good rapport and put a stop to destructive behaviors.

·         One of you finds another home for your pet. This is the least favorite option and one that can have far-reaching consequences. Think long and hard on this one.

 

Work It out Now

Some pet problems are unforeseen. Some issues develop over time. When they do crop up, they need to be dealt with immediately. You will reap the rewards of staying on top of the pet situation. Everyone, including your beloved pets, will be happier and you can look forward to domestic tranquility.