01.07.2011

Against Advice

Trust your own instincts in relationships and avoid interference masked as advice
Let me begin with two relevant stories. I once had a boyfriend none of my friends could stand. They literally refused to go out with us in a group or as two couples, saying he was rude and boorish and unpleasant, all of which was true. I didn't give him up because of their advice, but finally did when I personally found his behaviour unacceptable.

My view is that you should never judge anyone on a third party report or opinion. Conversely, I have been the one doling out the advice when I've seen a friend heading into clearly dangerous waters. Several years ago, I saw a close friend through exactly that scenario. She was involved with a man who continually hurt her and let her down in the cruellest ways. I endured her tearful phone calls, threats of suicide, devastating breakups every second day. When I told her to just give him up, she said she couldn't. Finally, I asked her if I was supposed to stand by and watch her hurtle towards the edge of a cliff and not try to save her. She answered simply - yes.

I learnt a very valuable lesson through that experience - that you cannot stop another person learning the lessons they need, no matter how painful. Friends are allowed to offer opinions but not in a way that is controlling or interrupts another's emotional journey.

Laws of Attraction
So, how do we know when we should heed advice and when we shouldn't? To answer this accurately, we need to firstly understand the nature of relationships themselves. We don't enter relationships only in order to have fun, romance and love. There's a whole undercurrent of motivation that we're not aware of at a conscious level when we make our choice.

The laws of attraction are complex and operate beneath the surface. They stem from two major sources: parental influences and lessons/growth/healing we need. What we think we're attracted to is actually just packaging, the bait, if you like, such as looks, personality, colouring, even race and age. In fact, we're drawn by a series of unknown factors, such as what each of our parents was like and the needs in ourselves that we desire to fulfil.

Very quiet people often attract to extroverts, tidy people to slobs, addicts to enablers and so on. Yes, opposites do attract for the very reason that we seek those opposing qualities in ourselves. Yet we are each complete and have no need of a complement.

By understanding why we choose the people we do, we begin to see that each partner, no matter how outwardly unsuitable, teaches us something, helps us grow and heals our pain. It's therefore important to let relationships run their course and give us everything they can. If friends understood this, they wouldn't counsel us to give up on partners who may be less than ideal. I always think it's so sad when people say they wasted time on a relationship that ends.

It's also vital that we view breakups in the same light. That's usually when friends take up sides and the knives come out for the perceived villains. "Don't take him/her back, no matter what," is the usual cry. They put on their smug looks as if to say they knew all along it wouldn't work. The trouble is it's very tempting for the dumper to wallow in guilt and the dumpee to play the victim. But is it ever that simple really?

If you are the one involved in the breakup, resist the trap of running to friends for comfort because that's a slippery slope. The next time you bring home a prospective partner, they'll feel free to give unsolicited advice ad nauseum. Friends can be very possessive without meaning to be.

What to Do
If you're the friend, do the following:

* give support
* lend an ear
* offer an opinion if asked
* be as unbiased as possible
* never say, "I told you so"

If you're the one in the relationship that everybody's screaming is doomed, do this:

* thank people for their advice, consider it but don't take it as gospel
* listen to a range of opinions without absorbing any one view totally
* stand firm in your relationship if you feel strongly you need the experience
* don't let others' negativity cause you to doubt yourself and second-guess your choices
* believe in yourself
* don't be so self protective that you don't let yourself take healthy risks

Making it Work
All relationships take work and commitment, even if the two people involved are highly compatible. If you're with a difficult partner, someone with a bad temper or commitment issues or an addiction problem, ask yourself why you chose this person. What passes for "love" may, in fact, be need in its various forms. The need to be needed often leads us to one sided relationships. We tell ourselves we can "fix" the problem and heal the other person when we're really feeding a personal hunger for validation. That's basically the root of co-dependent relationships, in which the parties are not healthy, separate individuals, but interlinked souls, seeking completion in each other. This type of liaison can last, but offers little satisfaction or personal development. It's immature and shallow. Co-creative relationships, on the other hand, are enjoyed by two strong, evolved people who choose to share a life together. That's the holy grail to aim for.

Romantic illusion
During the first flush of romance, it's very easy to delude ourselves into believing that we're madly in love with a perfect person. That's when we tend to overlook warning signs and unattractive qualities in the beloved. Of course, our friends are not similarly smitten and so can look at the situation more objectively. This is when the problem of interference generally begins. They'll say things like, "Can't you see what he/she is really after?" which is infuriating when you're wearing those rose coloured glasses. The person who tries to inject some reality into the equation will become the enemy. Many friends fall out over this type of situation.

Why friends object

* When they genuinely see trouble ahead and try to be protective
* When they feel pushed out by the new lover
* When they feel threatened by the affection given to the new lover
* When they feel jealous because they're not in a relationship themselves

Due to the complexity of this issue, a safe bet is to trust your own instincts which are the truest gauge anyway. Even if you do get hurt in a relationship that's all wrong, there's still a gift to be garnered, though it may come much later. No one else can know why we choose one person over another, a mystery often even to ourselves. The more knowledge we can acquire, the better our judgement, but there are no guarantees. It's the unknown nature of love that makes it irresistible.

Relationships are not only valuable when they last forever or exist between soulmates or are effortless and painless. They're messy, challenging, frustrating, and wonderful because and despite all that.

True friends let us make our own mistakes and are there regardless through the good and bad times. Advice is good, interference is not. Whether you're at the giving or taking end, this is a good rule of thumb to follow.

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