When is relationship advice unhelpful?
I ask this question because recently, I saw a couple who had so much advice coming from outside of the relationship, they were completely stalled by it.
Like many couples who come to see me for Relationship Coaching, Kim*, 39, and Julie*, 36, had been having problems in their relationship. When Kim discovered text messages to other women on Julie’s phone, they found their relationship in crisis. Although Julie had insisted that nothing else had happened with other women beyond the text messages, with the trust completely broken down between them, Kim had gone to stay with her Sister for a few days. During that time, understandably upset, Kim confided a lot in her sister, telling her what had happened, how untrustworthy she now felt Julie was, and how it had hurt her.
After coming to see me to start to work on their relationship, deeper issues were uncovered which went some way to explaining (although not excusing) Julie’s behaviour. Essentially, Julie had felt neglected by Kim in recent months, as Kim had become so engrossed in her work as a corporate lawyer, that she had had little or no time for Julie, who had started to look for attention elsewhere. Both of them started to take responsibility for their part in their relationship issues, and through relationship coaching, they both felt that after 5 years together, they had to much to lose by not working on the relationship. But another layer of problems started when Kim decided to move back in with Julie.
Kim’s sister now had a very negative view of Julie, and had also spoken to various other family members about Kim and Julie’s situation. Kim’s family were very unsupportive of the relationship, and were against Kim and Julie trying to work things out. Kim was called regularly by her Sister and her Mother, who would both tell her she should leave Julie, saying would never be able to trust her again. Julie was understandably upset by this and also worried that Kim might take her family’s advice. Kim felt torn between her own desire to work on her relationship and her family’s expectations.
The problem sometimes with talking to family or friends about your relationship issues, is that they tend to have their own agenda – they have an idea of what they want for you. Friends and family are often well-meaning, and their advice will usually come from a good place. But, even if their agenda is wanting what’s best for you, that in itself can be problematic. Because their idea of what’s best for you won’t necessarily match your own. Instead, it’s based on what they would want. And it won’t necessarily take into account what’s best for your partner or the relationship as a whole.
Relationship Coaching can be invaluable because your coach will always be thinking about your relationship as a whole, and what works for both partners. And without the same emotional attachment as friends and family, you know that you have access to an independent, expert, objective opinion. And rather than telling you what you should do, a Relationship Coach will help you to explore what it is that you both want and need to do. You are therefore in control of your relationship.
Relationship Coaching helped Kim to sensitively and tactfully explain to her Sister and Mother that she had made an adult choice to remain in, and work on her relationship with Julie. She thanked them wholeheartedly for caring so much about her, and for being there when she needed them. Kim advised them how she could understand their concerns. She told them how their frequent calls and demands for Kim to leave Julie were upsetting for both her and Julie, and putting additional strain on the relationship. She was also concerned about the damage this may cause to the relationship between Julie and her family. Eventually, Kim’s family came to respect her decision, and Kim and Julie were able to focus on their relationship without the added pressure of outside “advice”.
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