Giving Honest Advice to a Friend About Their Relationship Difficulties

April 6th, 2022

People often turn to their friends for support with difficulties in their romantic relationship and bluntly ask for their opinion. Rarely, if ever, does any good come from providing candid opinions about others’ relationships – particularly when the stakes are high (if they’ve been together for a long time or have children, for example). Some of the difficult-category questions we receive may range from ‘do you like my partner’ to ‘should I stay with them’ or ‘do you think they are cheating?’.

The best general advice? Keep your unfiltered and unedited opinions to yourself. And if you feel tempted to do otherwise, rewind and repeat that mantra.

Brutal honesty is not always the best policy:

When asked for a candid opinion from someone you care about, you want to be truthful. However, brutal honesty is not always the best policy, especially when there’s the potential to provide advice or input a friend may not be willing or open to receive.

Sometimes not providing our honest opinions can feel misleading or untruthful; however, if any of us went through life fully verbalizing the “bubble above our head,” it’s likely most of our relationships would end.

We make the best decisions for ourselves:

Ultimately the people in a relationship are the ones that have to decide what to do next, and they are ultimately the only people who can come to a resolution about how their relationship should unfold.

So, when asked for advice in these types of situations your role is twofold: to provide friends support when they ask for it and help guide them toward making the best decision for themselves.

What are some ways we can approach situations where we are asked for our candid, unfiltered advice – and we know that advice is probably not what our friend wants to hear?

  • Listen to your friend’s concerns and ask them what is making them feel unsure. As a general rule, asking inquisitive probing questions is going to be a better and more helpful approach than giving your opinion.
  • Create a safe space where they can openly talk about their concerns – without worry about judgment or worry that you will share the conversation with others. Often, just listening and asking questions about their worries and fears can help someone to figure out a difficult situation for themselves.
  • Let them know that you will support them however you can, but that you are not in their shoes and that it’s not your place to tell them what to do. Let them know that you will support whatever decision they make. This is especially important if your friend is not yet ready to end their relationship, they may need to explicitly hear that you will support them in staying without judgment.

It’s important to qualify, however, that the only clear situation in which providing your candid thoughts would make sense is if your friend were in a situation where their physical or emotional safety or security was being jeopardized.

Remember, when it comes to other people’s relationships, good questions asked are better than candid opinions given!  

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published as part of a Globe and Mail “Ask the Psychologist” column authored by Dr. Samra, and has been edited and updated.

Dr Joti Samra
Ph.D., R.Psych
Dr Joti Samra
Vancouver

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