Most people have a certain idea about what is supposed to happen when you go to a therapist. We think that the therapist is going to get inside our heads, figure out what’s wrong, and give us advice on how to fix it. They come seeking relationship advice. Actually, many therapists and counselors work that way. It kind of fits with the Western medical model. Diagnose and treat. This approach can yield some benefit. I would not argue that. But this approach tends to yield shallow truths and shallow results.
When I first begin working with a couple, they often look quite puzzled when I tell them that I don’t give much advice. I am also not a fan of figuring things out. They might say, “Well, what the hell are we coming here for?” Or at least they think it.
The real “juice” of relationship healing happens when we engage the creative process. This means that we create the conditions and catalysts to draw up, pull up material from our unconscious, and apply it to our lives in new ways. That may sound vague, but believe me, it becomes very real when your are experiencing it. And our struggles to figure things out, which occur within the parts of our minds that are generally not engaged in the creative process, generally get in the way.
Nevertheless, I must confess that I have dealt out my share of relationship advice, and sometimes it has actually helped. Here is how it seems to have worked the best. First, I get permission. Even though permission is implied when you walk through my door, I still ask, “Is it okay if we explore this?” or, “May I give you a suggestion?” The power of asking permission is that when you say “Yes,” your “receptor sites” for receiving value from my suggestions radically increase. I have increased the odds of my advice being positively received. This in itself is a piece of relationship advice. If you want to give your beloved partner advice, ask permission first. And if they say, “No,” don’t give it. Besides increasing your odds of being positively received, it is simply an act of honor and respect to your partner.
There are other things I have done that I suppose you could consider relationship advice, but I don’t name it as such. I almost always share with couples two guiding principles for a thriving relationship. The principles are Truth and Responsibility. Truth means so much more than being honest. Truth means being able to know what is true for yourself. Truth means being aware of your own inner experience, including body sensations and emotional energy, and being able to articulate that with your partner in a blame-free, unarguable way. Responsibility means more than just doing what you say you are going to do. Responsibility means that you take full responsibility for anything that is yours, as it arises in your relationship, in the moment. So, I guess it could be considered relationship advice in that I would advise any couple to practice these guiding principles if the goal is to have a thriving relationship.
Another example of relationship advice that I recently delivered was simply to suggest to a couple on their first visit that their homework was to go home and just be a little kinder. A little voice inside just told me that this is what they needed. Sometimes the simple is elegantly powerful. They came back next session excited that the “be a little kinder” approach had really eased their conflicts. Imagine.
As I am writing this, I am thinking of other examples of things I share with couples that might be considered relationship advice. So maybe I should rethink my claim that I don’t give much advice. Maybe what is more accurate is that there is much wisdom that I have to pass along, none of which is original to me. It has all been gained and collected from many wise teachers that have crossed my path over the years. But I think what is important to note is that, most of the time, my conversations with couples are not about giving advice, it is about my being present as their own inner wisdom, their own creative process, emerges and serves them in the healing of their relationships and the evolution of their souls. It’s a beautiful thing to experience and to witness.