Has anyone ever asked you for relationship advice? How did you respond?

Chances are, we’ll experience this in some form or another in our lives. Maybe it’s a good friend seeking your input, a younger sibling looking for guidance, or a coworker venting about their significant other. Whatever the situation, you’ll have a choice of how to respond. That response, and the ease with which you give it, depends a lot on the context of your relationship with that person, as well as your own relationship experience. Your comfort level could range from “Argh, I don’t know what to say,” to “TMI alert!”

No matter where you fall on this spectrum, here are some things to keep in mind:

Your truth is not theirs.
Your relationship is not like anyone else’s, which means your insights and perspectives are unique. Others’ relationships are unique in their own ways as well. Every couple has different strengths, struggles, histories, and dynamics in play, so what is true for yours might not be true for theirs. The solutions that have worked for you and your partner might not be the best choice for them, but helping them see things from a new perspective can be just as valuable.

Respect boundaries.
Sometimes when we are sharing advice, we use stories and examples from our own relationship to illustrate a point or commiserate so they don’t feel alone. It can be easy to share all the nitty gritty details of your relationship, especially when talking to close friends or family. Perhaps you’ve checked with your spouse, and they’re okay with you sharing about a certain issue. If not, it’s worth a moment of consideration – if the tables were turned, would you want them to share about the inner workings of your relationship, even on the premise of giving well-meaning advice? If not, consider how you can share your advice while respecting the privacy and boundaries of your own relationship.

Know your limits.
At some point you might be in a situation where you’re at a loss for how to respond. Maybe your friend is facing a problem that’s completely out of your realm or comfort level. If that’s the case, it’s completely okay to just be honest and say, “That’s a tough situation, and I’m not sure how to help you. But I’m here for you.” In a previous post, we talked about how sometimes your partner just needs your support, not necessarily a solution. The same can be applied here. Of course, the caveat is if there is a threat to their safety or wellbeing, encourage them to seek the appropriate professional help.

When someone comes to us for relationship advice, there are many factors that influence how we respond. Sometimes we’ll have lots to say and our comfort level allows us to speak freely. Other times, the answer is not so clear. But across all situations, we can honor our own relationship and theirs by acknowledging that everyone’s relationship is unique, respecting relationship boundaries, and being okay with offering support instead of a solution. 

5 Comments

  • C.P. says:

    Very wise. Thank you.

  • Les Netland says:

    Those are important points. For non-professionals, it is really hard if not impossible to offer objective perspective and advice. All we can reference and draw on is our own experience, which may or may not approximate the experience of someone else. Then there is the problem of language – do the same words carry the same meaning from one person to another. It is also very easy to offer opinions and become judgmental in these situations.
    But at the same time, it is valuable to be supportive. Sometimes, a few empathic statements can go a long way, like “That must be a really difficult situuation for you,” or “If I would experience what you described, I can understand why you might feel that way.”
    I would be careful about taking on the role of advice giver or problem solver. To the extent you are comfortable, instead be a facilitator in helping the person solve or resolve their own situation, using words like, “What do you see as the next step? What is most important for you right now? What are your options?”

  • Sarah Rios says:

    Thank you for this article; very insightful!

  • Janice Sowell says:

    Very insightful.

  • Tiffany Gilmore says:

    It has some meaning and impact, thank you.

Leave a Reply