Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
"My husband tells me that I'm always correcting him," a middle-aged woman shared during a recent counseling session. "I suspect he's right, but I see so much wrong and I can't help but comment on it." I listened carefully as Sharon described her situation.
"What are you telling him?" I asked.
"Everything," she said, smiling sheepishly. "I guess I think I know what's wrong with him, and I can't help sharing it."
"And how does it usually land?" I asked.
"Not well," she said. "He gets defensive and irritated with me, and then it seems like I have more problems than when I started."
"Tell me some more about your need to give him this advice," I said.
"Well, I'm the oldest of five kids, and I've been giving advice my whole life. I give my husband advice, my grown kids advice, and even my parents advice. I'm an advice-giver."
"Does everyone want your advice?" I asked.
"Well, no," she said slowly. "But, I think I give good advice!"
"Are you also an advice-taker?" I asked curiously.
"Not so much," she said, again smiling with embarrassment.
"From what you're saying," I said, "you believe you have advice to give people, but it isn't always received well. You grew up taking care of others, and you're kind of stuck in that role. That isn't unusual for us. We often continue to play out the roles we were given in childhood. It seems like that is happening here."
"Yes," she said. "It sounds like I need to learn to be more of an advice-taker, and less of an advice-giver."
"Maybe," I said reflectively. "It may be that you won't be so much of either—advice giving or advice taking. Maybe the people around you need to learn to solve some of their own problems."
"But some of the stuff he does bugs me!" she said emphatically. "It seems like he needs my advice."
"He may need the advice," I said, "but I doubt it does any good whatsoever coming from you."
Sharon became noticeably agitated, shifting in her chair and fumbling with her cup of coffee. I could see that my counsel wasn't sitting well with her. "I'm not saying you should simply ignore behavior that is hurtful to you," I said. "If he violates one of your boundaries, then it is appropriate to warn him, followed by consequences. It's also appropriate to offer counsel if he is receptive to it, or asks for it."
Sharon sat for a bit, thinking about what I was saying. "And then there's the issue of you being an advice-taker," I said smiling. "Are you as willing to learn from him as you are to offer him advice?"
"Probably not," she said slowly. "I tend to think of myself as a ‘know-it-all,' though of course that's not the truth. What do you think I should do about all of this?"
Sharon had taken a bold step in asking me for advice. I reflected for a few moments and offered her the following counsel that is good for all of us to consider.
First, be careful not to offer counsel to those who are not inviting it. To offer counsel to a defensive person is to invite further defensiveness. Counsel is best received from an open and receptive ear, not one blocked by pride and egotism. The more you force your opinions on someone, the more resentment you're likely to raise.
Second, determine if the advice you're about to give is really your business. While you may have wonderful words of wisdom, consider whether it is your place to say anything. Even if you have the perfect answer to someone's problems, if it is not your business, keep your opinions to yourself.
Third, offer counsel to the person who is open, receptive and requesting your input. The open and receptive heart will hear what you have to say and be more apt to apply it to their life. The receptive person will value what you have to say and will grow from it.
Finally, be willing to receive feedback as often as you give it. Be sensitive to how your counsel lands, and check out your attitude to make sure you are willing to listen for feedback regarding yourself. A mutually-giving and receiving relationship is likely to be more effective than a lop-sided one. Please share your thoughts on giving and receiving counsel.
March 9, 2010
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.