Here’s the conundrum: the person who you love most in the world wants to talk about an issue. You’re honored, of course, that they’re coming to you with their dilemma, but at the same time, it’s challenging because you know them so well that you can cut straight through the BS and tell them that this isn’t really about their boss, it’s about their control issues with their father and they better address those first. But you can’t say that because they’ll probably want to punch your in the face for being so right. Being right — rather than empathetic — can be awfully annoying when your partner is having a vulnerable moment. But they need your input. What to do? Tread lightly and carry a tiny stick. Meaning, it’s all in the delivery. Here are some tips to help you master one of the most important relationship skills: how to give your SO guidance without pissing them off.
1. Let them know how much you love them. Start off with this. It may seem redundant, but everyone can use a reminder of how loved they are, especially when they’re in turmoil. Plus, it’s good to reiterate that your advice is coming from a place of love and respect.
2. Refrain from saying anything judgmental. People can smell judgement miles away, especially your partner who knows your every facial expression. Don’t even try to camouflage that shit. Just check your judgement at the door, or wait to broach the subject until you’re feeling more accepting.
3. Know when it’s time to STFU. Even if you have amazing advice to give, your partner needs to be in the right mindset to receive it. Gauge this by being humble and open to their reactions and current emotional state. Know that sometimes you need to stop talking and listen. Hold a hand. Give a hug. And really, shut up. It helps.
4. Remind them that you trust them and respect them and support them whatever they do. It’s important for your SO to know that you will support and admire them even if they disagree with you or make a controversial decision. So, remind them that you’ll love them even if they do decide to take that out-of-town job or something else that you might not do yourself.
5. Communicate how the problem affects the relationship (if it does). For example, if they are considering moving out of town for a job, clearly explain how you think this would impact your relationship — both positively and negatively. When giving advice within the context of a relationship, it’s good to clarify what is your problem vs. our problem.
6. Focus on future positives. Help them rise above the stress of the current moment and look ahead to exciting potentials. Say things like, “if you quit your draining job, you can figure out what you really love to do,” or “if we move into this apartment, we can put enough away to go to Mexico.” Instead of instilling fear in your partner about their quandary, amp up the positivity.
7. Reflect back what you’re hearing from them. This is a good communication strategy for two reasons: 1) it ensures you’re understanding where they’re coming from and 2) it gives them an accurate account of how they are feeling in case they’re not aware. You need to make sure you really truly understand where they are coming from and are not projecting your own agenda onto them. And if they aren’t aware of how negative they sound every time they talk about that friend (that you think is toxic), you might want to gently point that out.
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