I work with a lot of people who have the best of intentions when they offer their spouse advice. However, despite their attempts to be well-meaning, it can often blow up in their face. It’s important to recognize when your advice can be helpful and when it may be harmful to the marriage.
How it Often Works
Unsolicited advice sometimes crosses the line and tends to be harmful. Here’s an example. Bob and Carol had been married for 15 years. Carol often felt like Bob procrastinated when it came to important things. Carol thought she was being helpful by reminding him of things or making suggestions.
She would say things such as, “You should consider mowing the lawn today because it’s going to rain the rest of the week.” Bob considered this to be nagging and he often rolled his eyes with disgust or told her to mow the lawn herself.
At other times, she made suggestions about how he could be more efficient. When he was painting the deck she said, “If you paint up and down then you won’t drip as much paint on the ground.” Bob took this to mean that Carol thought she could do everything better than he could.
They argued frequently. Sometimes Bob would become passive-aggressive. When Carol suggested he do something, he purposely didn’t do it the way she suggested. Carol was angry that Bob refused to accept her advice or help and was disappointed that they didn’t seem to be able to work together as a team anymore. Their marriage was in real trouble as Bob day dreamed of being left alone and Carol sometimes thought she might as well just do everything herself.
Problems Caused by Offering Too Much Advice
If you are constantly giving your spouse suggestions and advice you are likely to come across as nagging. Offering too much advice can also change the relationship. Instead of having an equal partnership, it can easily become more like a parent-child relationship.
It can also lead to a lot of anger and resentment. Communication breaks down easily. Couples often spend more time feeling frustrated with another than having fun.
If You’re Prone to Giving Your Two Cents
If your spouse accuses you of being a know-it-all it’s likely a sign that you offer too much unsolicited advice. Although you may be very well-meaning and trying to help your spouse, your efforts may be causing more harm than good. It can be a bad habit that can be hard to break. However, there are some things you can do to make some changes.
Let go of the need to have things in control. Let your spouse do things his way and accept that there is more than one right way to do things. And try to remain calm if things are being done according to your schedule.
Also, don’t try to prevent your spouse from experiencing any natural consequences. For example, trying to convince your spouse to start getting ready so he’s not late for an appointment isn’t likely to be helpful. Instead, let him make his own decision about when to get ready and if he’s late, he’ll have to face the consequences.
Bite your tongue at times when you might normally offer your input. This can be difficult and even uncomfortable when it’s not something you are used to doing. However, it’s important that you show you can trust your spouse to make good decisions on his own.
Also, offer many more praises than criticisms. Genuine compliments go a long way. Tell your spouse what you appreciate about him on a daily basis.
Change How You Deliver the Message
Obviously there will be plenty of times that it is important for you to speak up and offer some input. However, when you, remember it is more about how you say it rather than what you say. Use “I” statements to describe how you feel and what you think.
Your message comes across a lot different when you say, “I think that picture you just hung up looks a little crooked. What do you think?” compared to, “You need to fix that picture. You hung it up crooked and it looks awful.” Invite your spouse to share his opinion and offer your thoughts in a calm, non-accusatory manner.
Avoid starting sentences with “You should…” No one likes being told what to do. Instead, find a way to discuss any concerns or thoughts in a way that shows you understand that not everyone shares your opinion. For example, instead of saying, “You should really tell your boss you aren’t going to put up with that anymore. You shouldn’t let him walk all over you,” try saying, “I’m concerned with how your boss treats you. What do you think?”
If you struggle to break the habit or just can’t find ways to use kinder words, consider counseling. A professional counselor can help you with individual or couples counseling to assist you identifying new patterns of communication that can really help your marriage.