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Beware the Advice of “Marital First Responders”

Bad advice will blind you, good advice will instruct you, excellent advice will enlighten you, and transcendent advice will elevate you.
Matshona Dhliwayo

When you experience problems in your relationship, you might find yourself opening up to others about those problems. While this is probably more true of women, when things get really bad, even guys do it too (admit it!). You might go to friends, family members, co-workers, clergy, hair stylists, bartenders, or others to gripe, vent, seek reassurance, get perspective, or problem-solve (guys mostly on this one). These natural confidantes in your life then serve as “marital first responders.” They’re in the position of helping you do first aid on your relationship.

“There’s good research showing that for everyday marital concerns, a good friend can be very, very helpful and give you perspective,” said Dr. Bill Doherty, of the University of Minnesota. Dr. Doherty invented the term “marital first responder” and provides training in how to be an effective one.

This sounds great, doesn’t it? Just what you need! Well, it can be, if done properly. However, few of these people in your life have received any training in how to properly apply the “first aid.” So, yes, do go to these people if you think it’s appropriate, but take what they say with the proverbial grain of salt.

Here are some grains with which to start. Watch out for these things as you seek out and receive “first aid.” If your “marital first responder” does any of these things, simply smile, thank them, and move on:

  • Give you too much useless advice, especially too soon.

  • Be critical or judgmental of you or your partner.

  • Take sides against your partner (“What a jerk they are!”).

  • Be dismissive or discount the severity of your problem.

  • Talk too much about their own story.

  • Go on and on.

  • Be Mr. or Ms. Fix-it.

  • Be a Pollyanna (“Oh, you’re such a good couple, things will work out for you.”)

None of these things actually helps you. Plus, any of them may actually harm you, your partner, and your relationship. Furthermore, if you do take advice from someone who does these things and something doesn’t work out, then you might have an issue in your relationship with the advice-giver. If that person is your mother, say, then uh-oh!

So, what to do?

Seek out people in your circle who are willing and able to do these things for you instead:

  • Listen.

  • Have empathy for both you and your partner.

  • Be non-critical and non-judgmental of you and your partner.

  • Keep things confidential.

  • Help you understand what’s going on (offer a reasonable perspective).

  • Help you understand where your partner might be coming from.

  • Listen.

See the difference? Feel the difference? Oh, yeah! This is exactly what you need!

You know who makes a perfect “marital first responder?” You guessed it (shameless plug alert): a good therapist! If few or none of your friends can provide the “first aid” you need, then contact someone who can, depending on the nature of your needs.

Copyright 2018 Daniel J. Metevier

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Dr. Dan is no longer taking new clients, but remains available to current and former clients.

To find a therapist with openings in their schedule, you may wish to search the Psychology Today Therapist Directory. It enables you to search for people who take your insurance, have relevant specialties, and more.