at the psychologist’s
— you were so vulnerable and sad —
I wanted to catch each tear with my tongue
but also to stop the pain
or at least help you feel your way
and beyond it
again (Anonymous to you but known to us)
I am in the advice-giving business. At least I am when I am worn down from 8 hours of listening and I want to have a five-minute private audience for my thoughts and opinions.
I have discovered that most people are pretty bad at taking advice from me and probably from others as well. My client-friends don’t mind listening to my stories, smile at my jokes, engage some of my ideas, but they mostly glaze over when I get into my advice-giving mode. And I don’t really think that they will do much with the pearls once I have tossed them in their general direction.
Psychologists call this “egocentric bias,” that is, people generally figure that they can operate their lives best with their own hard-learned advice. I get this. I have people offering me advice all the time and mostly I ignore it. (Carole has been advising me for 40 years what vitamins and medicines I should take when I have a cold.) Still I carry on dispensing my treasured wisdom, knowing it will probably not be invested with the kind of thoroughness I think it should.
This egocentric bias happens everywhere: doctor’s offices, weight loss centres, guidance classes in high schools, used car dealerships, Starbucks (“you ought to try the …”). So, when someone turns to you and says, “What do you think I should do?” or “Do you think I should marry Jeff?” they actually don’t care much about your advice. They are probably just structuring the passing of time or looking for confirmation of what they already want to do.
I think I am okay with people, including my client-friends, ignoring my advice (“So, what did you get out of that homework I recommended from our last meeting?”). But sometimes my ideas are really great. So then why don’t I take my own advice more often?
One question works for me in advice-taking. WWJD: “What would _______ (Jesus) do?” (Fill in the blank with whomever you like?)
That question makes me receptive to advice and puts me in a mind space to not quickly resist the wisdom of others. It shifts my reactivity. Sometimes I say in my mind, “What would Mom do?” since I would really love to know (she died much too young). I sometimes put in the names of others that I admire or are mentors to me. Sometimes I put in the names of my kids, as in “What would David do?” or “What would Christine do?” If it has anything to do with computers or technology I ask, “What would Brent do?” He’s my son-in-law and is brilliant in ways I am ignorant. Somehow this “identifying question” makes advice palatable and makes me think outside of my egocentric bias.
This kind of identifying with someone helps me make decisions. I become part of a community of thorough opinions and applicable wisdom. I get to share in collected brilliance rather than thoughtlessly “dis” it. Amazing what an identifying question can do.
The idea of identifying questions is that if we can make a personal connection with someone we admire, then we can take the advice and apply the wisdom. If we are told what is right and good without having that personal identification, then we are more likely to reject it, forget it and not benefit from it.
Two great thrusts and one great convergence!
I have been listening to Bruno Mars and his “Doo-Wops and Hooligans.” All the while, I am writing a manual for couples in conflict. That’s not the synergy though. I also came across Susan Heitler’s “The Power of Two: Secrets to a Strong and Loving Marriage” and realized that she has already created what I was striving to do. And she does a way better job than I could do. And she says more than I had thought to say. And I have freed up a few days to work on something else!
So here is my recommendation: buy Heitler’s book – on Amazon it is $15.85 – and the parallel workbook if you are especially keen or if your marriage would be helped by it. [See: The Power of Two].
And now that you are reading it, read it together, chapter by chapter. Turn off the TV, read to each other, take time to talk. Talk through what you have learned and how you can apply it to your marriage.
But don’t forget to put on Bruno Mars. You can find it on iTunes for $12.99. This is the happy synchronicity. It is happy music for marriages.
I am the dirty fighter in our marriage. Carole grew up with the idea that to go to bed angry was about as sinful as it gets, whereas I figured that going to sleep in the midst of shared madness was one way to solve it – pretend it never happened. Carole would then wake me up to talk it through and I would be more peeved than the hours before, but eventually she would lead me through it.
By the way, the problem we were gnarling about was never the problem. More often it had to do with who was going to control this relationship we were living. Like on the dance floor, Carole loves to lead and the problem with that is that I like to lead as well. We often lead in different directions, we usually have different rhythms and we both think we are right most of the time. And sometimes we are both right, and right at the same time.
I have learned from Carole over these 39 years. I am less of a dirty fighter now. And I have discovered that there are lots of reasons to “not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26) — here are some.
1. Fighting wrecks intimacy. Not much chance for closeness, no spooning, no whatever… and forget about love-making.
2. Un-conciliated conflict disturbs your dreaming and your resting. You wake up often more tired than when you closed your eyes. Rather than 8 hours of rest you get 8 hours of wrestlessness (I know how to spell restlessness).
3. You reduce your next day resiliency. Last night’s conflict becomes tomorrow’s frustration and bitterness. Watch your angst and how on-edge you are with others.
4. Nourishing your wrath takes huge withdrawals from your emotional bank account, that accumulation of goodness and freshness that you should be adding to your marital friendship.
5. You become habituated to thinking you are “right” while being aggressively resistant to your partner. It becomes your new norm. It’s called being “passive aggressive” in psych circles.
I seem to have lots of “high conflict couples” these days in my practice. Maybe you are one of them. So I am going to create a few blogs written for you. I hope that these “Comments from the Couch” give you occasion to think, laugh, maybe get confused and perhaps make some different decisions.
Thanks for reading.