I’ve committed my fair share of relationship faux pas. I wish I could tell you that I get communication right every time, but I am guilty of creating an awkward situation now and then. Studying relationships and cultivating self-awareness has helped me curtail some of my most frustrating subconscious habits. I hope that you can apply these insights to your own life so that you can have healthier and happier relationships.
Whether we’re interacting with friends, coworkers, or a significant other, there are a few pieces of relationship advice that all of us should carry at the forefront of our minds. Here are three things that we do unconsciously to sabotage our relationships.
1. Giving feedback without permission
How many times have you felt driven to give advice even when nobody asked for it? This communication pitfall usually comes from a place of love and concern. When you love someone, you want them to be good and that’s totally normal. But our compulsion to spew out unsolicited feedback often backfires.
Just like how Ted from the movie “Ted 2” fights with his wife because his wife asked him to get some jobs. The intention is good because they really have bills to kill, but his wife ignored Ted’s stress and whether he needs this advice from her or not. Such comments with good intention ended up turning into a fight.
It happens all the time in relationships when we are so eager to help our partners to improve without thinking whether they need the advice from us. As the saying goes, “Honesty is the best policy,” but sometimes we take it too far. If you hear yourself saying, “I think you should [x]” or “your [x] is not good,” then look out. You’re probably about to give some unwanted advice.
Imagine what happens when you make a comment about a stranger’s outfit. He or she may immediately become defensive because they didn’t ask for your opinion, and you didn’t have permission to give feedback. Most people don’t mind hearing something positive about their clothing choices, but if you are offering a criticism, you are likely to offend the person.
The Right Approach: If you feel that it is important to give feedback to someone, you have two options for how to approach the subject. You can either ask for their permission to offer feedback, or you can find ways to assure them that they can get constructive feedback from you.
Asking someone for permission to offer feedback doesn’t always work because the person may say that they are not interested in hearing it. If they don’t want to hear what you have to say, would you want to say it? Even if the outcome is not as you would like, asking saves you from offending the person.
Having someone solicit feedback from you can take more time, but it yields better results. I prefer this piece of relationship advice for giving feedback because the recipient is already primed to listen to what you have to say.
For example, imagine that your best friend just purchased new glasses. You might mention that you recently read an article about the best types of glasses for different face shapes. You note that when reading this, you realized that the frames you just pick for yourself didn’t match your face’s shape. Your comments and the knowledge that you have from researching the topic might lead your friend to ask, “How do you feel about these glasses for me?” When they ask you for feedback, they’ve granted you permission to speak your mind.
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2. Neglecting their feelings when they need you
Our emotions fluctuate throughout the day, and unfortunately we can’t be cheerful all the time. We may feel stressed at work, sad about something that happened, or frustrated about not getting what we want. The greatest sadness of all comes from feeling that the person who should know us best of all can’t recognize our feelings of distress.
Imagine your partner comes home after a stressful day at work. You hear what he or she has to say, and you immediately start giving advice. You think that you are doing your partner a favor by trying to fix the problem. You might say things like, “I don’t think that is the right job for you,” or, “Your boss is mean.”
You have not only fallen into the first relationship pitfall by giving unauthorized feedback, but you’ve also ignored your partner’s needs in that moment. There may be a time when your partner would like to have a kvetching session or problem-solve, but when he or she first comes home, they may just want someone to listen.
The Right Approach: Honor your partner’s feelings by listening to them. Use active listening techniques and avoid trying to fix the problem for them right away. Even if the issue seems minor to you, refrain from trivializing their feelings. You can help him or her find perspective later, but at first, just acknowledge their thoughts and emotions.
Instead of hopping into advice mode or trying to find the silver lining in their tough situation right away, simply ask your partner how they feel. If they’re willing to open up, listen to them. You can affirm them with nonverbal cues or by paraphrasing what they’ve told you. Resist the urge to give feedback! I know it’s hard because you care.
You will feel emotionally better when someone ask “Are you ok?” when you are sick, than to hear “You should wear enough clothes next time.” Who wants advice when we are sick?
We all need time to allow emotions to calm before we are ready to handle feedback. Remember that until they have authorized feedback from you, they will not find it helpful.
3. Failing to offer feedback at all
Not giving useful feedback is on the other end of the relationship-pitfall spectrum. The previous problems involved giving too much information, but this piece of relationship advice is borne out of giving too little information.
Imagine your partner comes to you to take suggestions about where to go on your anniversary. Instead of listing a few options, you respond by saying, “I don’t know,” or “It doesn’t matter. I’ll be fine with whatever you pick.”
You think you are conveying how flexible you are, but that isn’t the message you’re sending to your partner. He or she came to you because they wanted your feedback, and you just told them that you don’t care or don’t want to take any responsibility for decision-making. You didn’t have to produce a definite answer, but they wanted to see that you were willing to give some input on the matter.
You ask for feedback because you genuinely wanted help for your problem. When you want input, you may also be working to take the pressure off yourself. When someone fails to give you feedback, they place the onus of decision-making back on you.
The Right Approach: When someone asks for your feedback, take a moment to consider their request. You don’t have to fix the problem for them, but you might be able to help them think about the situation in a new way.
Instead of telling your partner you don’t care where you go for your anniversary, you might say, “I’m not sure, but we haven’t had Italian food in a while. Maybe we could find an Italian place we haven’t tried yet.” By responding in this way, you show your partner that you are both on the same team, and you are willing to help find a solution.
Remember, this isn’t even about the answer that you give to the person. It’s about your attitude toward their concerns.
When You Start To Be Aware Of These Problems, You Will Experience Less Conflicts
At this point, you may be cringing as you think of times when your best intentions have gone awry, but know that you are not alone. I wish that I could tell you that I’ve never given unsolicited advice, ignored someone’s feelings in an attempt to fix a problem, or failed to give helpful feedback when asked, but I have done them all.
We can’t change what has already happened, but we can use this relationship advice to ensure that the people in our lives feel empowered by our ability to listen and provide feedback when they ask for it.