Tuesday, May 20, 2014

When Your Partner Resists Your Advice

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
It is so hard to be powerless to make your sweetie take care of himself in the way you believe is best. What approaches have you found helpful in this situation?


Julie said...

Great advice. As another chronically ill female, I'll agree that it's not just the men who resist the "help" of their partner in this way. I like your suggestion of presenting the idea and walking way. For me, I feel like often the "idea" is presented in such a way that he's not taking into consideration all that I've already tried (or considered). I can recall early on in my Fibro dx he'd suggest I should walk more. He had no idea how much I was walking each day, as I did my walking in the morning when he wasn't home. In order to give helpful advice, a partner must first be fully aware of what is already being done.

Barbara Kivowitz said...

Thanks for your story Julie. It's awkward to find the right formula for giving advice; and I find it's often hard to hear it. If I remind myself it's coming from caring not criticism, that sometimes helps. Not always.

Julie said...

Barbara, I wanted to let you know that I finally sat down and wrote out my thoughts on your book and shared them on my blog. - http://countingmyspoons.com/2014/05/book-review-in-sickness-as-in-health/

I really enjoy your blog and I hope that you are working on a second book. I'd love to see more stories of younger couples dealing with on-going chronic illness (like Fibro). While the stories are great, the advice is the best part of the book.

Lynda Halliger Otvos (Lynda M O) said...

Barbara, how far behind am I on blog reading ?~! I just saw this for the first time and feel led to comment. I have been reading your blog for years and seldom comment because you almost always hit the subject clearly and cleanly and succinctly.

This subject hits me hard tho--we JUST, moments ago, had an "advice moment" that I took offense at--like I always do. I Know he's trying to help but what it feels like is: "You can't take care of yourself and I know best what will make you feel better."

First of all--I've been in pain since 1975 when the accident happened and have developed coping mechanisms and positions for activities that allow me to undertake them with the most comfort and least pain. I bristle, make that Bristle with an Upper Case "B", and get offended as tho it were a personal insult and a judgment on my self-care. I bet that's not the spirit in which it is intended but that's how it comes across and immediately I get porky and snappy and pissed off. And it shows in my body language, my demeanor, my verbal responses and everything about me, I guess.

He then gets cranky because he expects me to appreciate his intention while I take it as a personal insult and negative comment on my abilities to tend to my needs. [this is hard to write-it's forcing me to look deeply at this problem and wonder if I can fix it from my end without asking him to change. I know that is futile and will not get results]

There must be some middle ground between my hostility and his need to help. Finding it may be the key to resolving our situation and I'll have you to thank for prodding me into speculation and action. Thirty years of being with this guy I don't want to lose so I need to adjust.

Hoping you feel better soon, many thanks for all your hours at the keyboard,

Barbara Kivowitz said...

Thank you Julie and Lynda for sharing your experience.

This is a tough situation -advice giving and advice receiving; and resistance on the part of the ill partner and and overstepping on the part of the well partner.

Richard and I often pick a time when we are not anywhere near an advice struggle. The rules are: Take 5 minutes each to share the feelings that underlay the piece of advice (don't reiterate the advice). These feelings may be love intertwined with fear for the future and anger at the illness, and more. Feel them with tenderness and express them with compassion for the listener and for yourself.

Stripping the emotional load out of the advice may make the advice more palatable (you know where it's coming from), or even unnecessary.

Let me know what you try and how it goes.

Barbara Kivowitz said...

Julie - excuse my tardiness, please. I am very grateful for the review you wrote on your great blog about our book. I have added your blog to my blogroll.

Thank you!