By Karelin Wadkins,
Marriage and Family Therapist
August 27, 2020
Consider The Source:
Sometimes Friends Don’t Give The Best Advice
For so many of us, relationship and life advice comes from our friends and family. I have heard countless times from women in new relationships, “Well, my friend told me…”. One of the most popular is “My friend told me that I shouldn’t be giving 100%, that I should be playing a game, keeping them interested.” To which I smile, nod, and ask if that truly lines up with the values of the person I am working with. Most often it does not. Most often we are getting relationship advice from people who care about us, people who also have their own amazing strengths and weaknesses. All of us human beings have experiences that form how we view something as important as relationships. We can’t help but filter these experiences, both positive and negative, into the advice we give our friends. Think about the people that you have in your life, there tends to be a few main go-to categories.
We all have that friend who is the first one you text or call when we are riled up about something and we want to get more riled up about that something. This is not the person we turn to for calm or reason, this is the person we turn to when we’re angry, hurt, frustrated and ready to vent! But what happens when you turn to this person for relationship advice, when you’re hurting or scared? Most likely, they’re going to back you. As a ride or die friend would, and the Firestarter certainly is ride or die. We love them for that, however their advice and stoking of our flame is likely going to be damaging to our relationship.
I love the Supporter. This is the person in your life who is there through thick and thin. They aren’t going to judge you or tell you when you may have made a bad choice. They likely aren’t going to make you look at yourself. They aren’t going to encourage you to see the other side. The Supporter is going to do just that, support you. I ask again, what does this do in your relationship? Does it turn you back to your partner with a new perspective and consideration? No, it just reinforces what you already feel and know in your heart. The problem with the supporter is that when we’re experiencing relationship distress, we need to engage in wise mind thinking. Both logic and emotion are important.
Some of your sources of support have been hurt themselves, the Runner just wants you to be safe. This is a natural reaction to their own previous hurts and traumas. They are going to tell you to run, go, get out. That you deserve better. That you’re only going to get hurt. That this isn’t worth it. Relationships aren’t easy, we all know that. Sometimes we have to say goodbye or set boundaries in order to maintain healthy well-being for ourselves. Running isn’t always the answer, however.
So why do these sources of support tend to provide somewhat un-supportive relationship advice? It’s certainly not because they’re evil, unhelpful or unwise. The main reason your support system may be leading you to make poor relationship choices is because they’re not thinking about your relationship. They’re thinking about you. They want you to be safe, comfortable and cared for. They’re doing the best they can and they have good intentions.
They give you advice that is based on their own internal emotions. Our friends feel real fear, concern or uncertainty when we come to them with problems like depression. We often hear: “Well, think of all the good you have in your life” or “You’ll shake it off, you’ll feel better tomorrow”. They don’t want to let us down and at the root of it, they really don’t want us to feel bad or uncomfortable. It makes them feel bad an uncomfortable.
So now what?
Does this mean you can’t turn to the Firestarter, Supporter or Runner the next time you need someone to talk to? Certainly not! That support is incredibly important and can at times be just what we need. It does mean that you need to pay attention to those responses and support. It does mean that we need to pay attention to our own thoughts and feelings when people come to us with their problems. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable. It’s okay to not know what to say. As Dr. Brené Brown tells us in her amazing talk on empathy versus sympathy which you can view here “Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.” So connect, be brave and honest. Be present and don’t worry about the response so much as the connection. That’s the best gift we can give to each other.
It may also mean that connecting with a therapist might be useful. Therapists are just people too, we have our own faults, flaws, history and hurts. Therapists don’t always have the right response either and that’s okay. They do however have years of schooling, supervision and ongoing education designed and focused on helping others, like you, learn new skills. They can provide a safe and confidential place to talk when maybe it feels like there isn’t anywhere else available to you. If you are struggling in your relationship and need someone to talk to, give us a call, we’re here to help.
About the Author
Karelin Wadkins is a licensed marriage and family therapist who lives and works in Fair Oaks and has 10 years experience in the field of therapy. She has worked in a variety of settings and now operates her own online private practice. You can find more about Karelin online at www.ascentonlinecounseling.