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Those
Well-Intentioned
Tips We Give the
Ones We Love
We
all do it. We can't stand
not "helping" when it's
so obvious our loved
one could use some help--especially
ours. Whether it's our spouse, partner,
friend, child, or someone else we are in
relationship with, it seems natural and
loving to offer our advice when we see
the other about to make a "mistake" in
living his or her life. And it doesn't matter
whether the potential "mistake" is big
or small; when the opportunity to help
arises, count on us. It's so satisfying to
know the other's life is better because
of us. But are we really helping?
The other day I was asked what one
thing couples could do to improve
their relationships. The answer may
surprise you. We could improve our
relationships by not offering to help.
Sounds strange, doesn't it?
As a mediator, I often work with
couples who have decided to end
their relationship. One of my jobs at
that time is to help the couple create
a plan for the future. That plan may
include arrangements for the couple's
children, financial arrangements, asset
division, etc.
Sometimes, however, a couple doesn't
want to end the relationship, but one
or both of the individuals aren't willing
to continue in it the way it is. As we
discuss what needs to change, the
issue that most often is pointed to
as the cause of the unhappiness
and frustration in the relationship is
described as "communication."
Now for me, here's where it gets
interesting. I ask the couple three
simple questions.
1. Do you like being told what
to do?
2. Does your spouse tell you
what to do?
3. Do you tell your spouse what
to do?
The answer to question #1 is always,
"No," #2 "Yes," and #3 (sometimes
with a bit of hesitancy) "Yes."
So here we are in a relationship with
someone who is doing to us that which
we don't like (being told what to do)
and we're doing the same to the other
(which isn't well-received there, either)
.
It may be helpful to expand your thinking
about what I mean when I use the
phrase "telling someone what to do."
Whenever we offer a suggestion, as
innocent as it may be or as brilliant as
it often is (of course), we are telling the
other person that whatever he or she is
doing should be done a different way.
(That "way" just happens to be the
way we think it should be done.) Why
doesn't the recipient of such wisdom
jump for joy when offer our suggestion?
Why doesn't the recipient feel the love?
Heck, we're taking the time to make
that other person's life better.
What we're also doing is telling the
other person that he or she isn't doing
it right. It's hard not to personalize
such critiques, especially when they
come from someone whom we thought
accepted us unconditionally for who
we are. The help is often viewed as
criticism, evaluation, or judgment.
It's tiresome. Some well-meaning
individuals, according to their mates,
seem to spend every waking moment
trying to improve the life of his or her
spouse--to the point where the spouse
on the receiving end often describes
the resulting feeling as "walking on
eggshells" and "no matter what I do,
it's not right."
And here's the kicker. We all do it. We
all mean well. We only do it because
we love the person we're doing it to,
right? And because of that we self-
justify its continuation, even when the
other says, "Enough!!"
So do one thing. Choose to stop telling
your spouse what to do. Stop with
the suggestions, tips, ideas, the "if it
were me," and allow your spouse to
live with the one person in the world
who doesn't judge or evaluate. That's
what truly feels like love.

-- Philip M. Mulford, J.D.
Professional Mediator
540-341-4615 | 703-222-0124
www.muldfordmediation.com
for more info about Philip