In a series of six studies that followed 100 couples for the first seven years of marriage, researchers at the University of Iowa found that both husbands and wives feel lower marital satisfaction when they are given too much advice from a spouse, as opposed to too little. And—surprise!—unsolicited advice is the most damaging kind.
Those can be discouraging findings when you consider advice-giving to be a function of both the “leader” and “help-mate.” After all, a husband and wife are supposed to be on the same team, working towards the same goals – a healthy, God-honoring marriage and household. A team wins and loses together, so giving and receiving advice should ideally be seen as part of helping each other learn and grow.
But that’s often not reality. It can be tough to accept correction, even if they’re wise words of counsel spoken by your best friend.
So, here are some tips from our marriage team for couples looking to work through the “baggage” that may accompany advice-giving.
1. Understand that not all advice is created equal.
Usually, unsolicited input is harder to swallow than advice that’s given when you ask for it. Before you speak, ask yourself if what you have to say will be helpful or productive. Think through how to say it, so your words feel loving to your spouse. You may also want to ask your spouse if they would be open to hearing what you have to say before you offer unsolicited counsel.
2. Check your heart and your motives.
Before talking, take a quick moment to tune in to how you’re feeling towards your spouse and why you want to give them some advice. If you’re a little angry and want to push a few buttons, it would be wisest to wait before speaking.
If you’re on the receiving end of some feedback, make sure your heart is open. If you’ve already shut down, you may hear everything through a negative filter no matter what they say or how positively they say it. Instead of automatically reacting, consider that perhaps what they’re offering really is needed and necessary. If you’re not in a good place to receive input, it’s fair to let your spouse know that. Tell your husband or wife you’re working on getting to a better place so that you can hear what they’re offering.
3. Create an environment where advice can be shared and received.
Hearts are open to advice only when husbands and wives feel “safe” in a marriage. You can build safety by daily encouraging one another (Hebrews 3:13), building each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11), and nurturing each other in ways that are honoring and loving (Romans 12:10).
With love and encouragement buoying your marriage, advice-giving can become a positive and enriching part of daily life. I pray that’s the case for you.
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