What can you do when your partner resists your advice?
This question was put to me at a recent Leukemia and Lymphoma Society conference I attended as guest speaker. The person asking the question was the wife and the advice resister was her husband who had cancer. Her question implied that more often it is the male partner who is reluctant to take advice. Many of the women members of the audience nodded with knowing smiles when she asked her question.
As a very stubborn and advice resisting ill partner, I can't say if this issue is gender specific. But I do know it's an issue most couples dealing with illness face, more than once.
When Richard tries to problem solve for me or offer suggestions for approaches I might try to reduce a pain spike, the bar on my resito-meter starts rising. I feel that I am coping as well as I possibly can, and who is he to suggest I might cope better!
He is my loving husband who hates to see me suffer, that's who he is. But in that moment of advice giving, he becomes my evaluator; and his recommendation becomes a critique. Why? Because I'm in a weakened state and my normal adult processing abilities have gone walk-about. I am vulnerable and afraid, and somewhat adolescent, if not toddler-ish.
He has learned (and in my more adult state I have been able to advise him) to preface his suggestions with a statement that recognizes my strengths and then to leave them on the table for me to consider in my own good time. He might say, "I see you are hurting. I imagine you've been trying all the meditation techniques you've learned. Might going for a walk with me help distract you?"
You'd think that an invitation to a walk with my sweetie wouldn't be offensive. But again, when I'm in my anti-pain protective mode, any suggestion is an intrusion into my carefully constructed set of shields. This approach (recognize what I am doing and leave your suggestion on the table for me to consider) for giving advice is tolerable.
I offered two suggestions to the woman in the audience to her question about what to do when your partner resists your advice:
- Enlist allies. Find the person your husband tends to listen to. It could be a brother, sister, friend, cousin, parent. Ask that person to make your recommendation to your husband. Sometimes it is easier for the ill partner to hear advice from someone who is not so intimately involved with him and the illness. And hearing the advice from more than one source can also be persuasive.
- Don't attach to your suggestions. Attaching to getting your partner to do what you believe is best will only lead to a struggle, which only leads to greater resistance. Make your suggestion, prefaced by appreciation for what he is already doing; ask him is he understands; and then ask him to please consider it; and walk away. Walking away from your suggestion, leaving it behind on the table like an interesting objet d'art, neutralizes the dynamic around the suggestion. There is no struggle. Either he wants to buy it, or not. And chances are, even if he does not accept the advice now, it will continue to seep into his thinking and he may act on it at another time.