One of my oldest friends has been seeking advice about his marriage over the past several months. During the holidays things came to a head. When he asked, I gave him my advice: Call it quits. I then received an e-mail from his wife, and I replied, laying out the issues, as I saw them, in a last-ditch effort to perhaps save the marriage. I tried not to take sides, but alluded to some of the things bothering my friend, as well as some areas where I thought he could do better. I said nothing to her I wouldn't say to him, but probably put it more bluntly. The upshot of my e-mail was they should end a relationship that had become toxic for all parties. But then she forwarded my e-mail to him, and now he's hurt, angered and won't respond to me. What now?
It may come as a surprise to some, but in my personal life I don’t really dish out that much advice.
In fact, I try to avoid it. If someone, knowing I’m the Damage Control guy, comes up to me, all wild-eyed and sweaty, and says: “Dave, I really screwed the pooch this time. I [insert problem here] and now I’m in big trouble. What should I do?”
I’ll just say, “Whatever you think is best,” and change the topic.
Why? Well, because 1) giving advice in my free time would be a real “busman’s holiday” for me; and 2) giving advice in general is a mug’s game, because either a) people don’t listen, or b) they do, and you get in trouble.
And I get in enough trouble from writing this column.
So it’s a never-ending source of amazement to me the energy some civilians have for jamming pro bono advice into the craws of every Tom, Dick and Harry they can corner by the canapés.
Giving advice is a curious impulse, when you think about it: button-holing your squirming, shifting-their-weight-from-foot-to-foot friends and relatives, and stuffing all kinds of suggestions in their … suggestion boxes, whether they want them or not.
Now, I understand, sir, that in this case your advice was solicited. Your dear friend was in trouble and you wanted to help.
Still, I would’ve sat this one out. In my wife’s sage words, one should always ask oneself, before any action or utterance: “What’s the upside, what’s the downside?”
And this has “lose-lose proposition” written all over it. Like stepping on a bouncing betty: bound to blow up in your face sooner or later. If they take your advice, congratulations! You just sped them down the road to divorce. If they don’t, and decide to stay together, they’ll both resent you forever for suggesting they split up.
Wading in as you did, you made so many rookie mistakes I hardly know where to begin.
First of all, people: If you must say something less-than-glowing behind a third party’s back, do it on the phone, or in person.
That way you at least have some measure of deniability. You can say you were misquoted, misinterpreted, “only joking” or whatever – thus obscuring your negative statements in a dry-ice fog of confusion and/or misdirection.
But e-mails get forwarded! And when they do? Boom, there it is in black and white – or, rather, in little digital pixels. Impossible to deny or gainsay. And the next thing you know, someone is throwing their drink in your face at a party.
Second, your advice to this couple was all over the map. First you tell the husband he should “call it quits.” Then you “lay out the issues” to the wife “in a last-ditch effort to perhaps save the marriage.” Then you tell her, in the same misbegotten e-mail, that they should end the relationship.
So, which is it, son? Are you trying to help them save or end their marriage?
What you’re really doing is playing both ends against the middle, dissing one to the other, and cannonballing into a pool full of bubbling bitterness and frothing toxicity. Are you so surprised you got singed?
You ask, “What now?” Well, first I would apologize to both of them for your interference up to this point. Explain to them that it’s tough being in the middle, you got confused, you were only trying to help and so forth.
They should understand – eventually. Everyone knows it’s tough to get caught in the crossfire of angry spouses emptying their bandoliers at one another.
Then take a giant step back, and stop giving advice to this couple – and to humanity in general, I would say.
Leave the advice giving, especially when it comes to imploding marriages, to trained professionals, e.g. lawyers, marriage counsellors, judges and rakishly handsome advice columnists.
We get paid to take the heat for the counsel we dish out.
You don’t. Besides: No offence, sir (though I’m being hypocritical using that phrase, because I’m always telling my kids: “Saying ‘no offence’ before you say something insulting does not in fact change anything”), but you kind of suck at it.
David Eddie is the author of Chump Change, Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad and Damage Control, the book.
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