This little gem flying around the interwebs neatly illustrates a typical interaction between a man and a woman:
The Wall Street Journal weighs in today on the whole problem of partners giving one another advice:
In a series of six studies that followed 100 couples for the first seven years of marriage, researchers at the University of Iowa found that both husbands and wives feel lower marital satisfaction when they are given too much advice from a spouse, as opposed to too little. And—surprise!—unsolicited advice is the most damaging kind. The most recent study was published in 2009 in the Journal of Family Psychology.
In one study, the researchers videotaped spouses discussing a problem that one of them had—say a struggle to lose weight or quit smoking—while the other partner offered advice. They then examined the positive and negative behaviors that each person engaged in while asking for support, receiving it or providing it.
One result of the study was unexpected: How the person asking for or receiving the support behaves is more important to the health of the relationship than how the person giving the advice behaves. "It's a vulnerable position to need support," says Erika Lawrence, one of the lead researchers on the studies and associate professor at the University of Iowa.
In the "you get paid the big bucks for that?" department, psychologist Anna Ranieri makes the point (paraphrased by the Journal) that
When wives offer guidance, husbands often feel reprimanded or nagged. Yet when the advice comes from the husbands—who are more likely to give tangible, fix-it type suggestions to a problem—it is common for wives to feel that they are being condescended to or seen as incapable.
The Journal uses as illustration the case of the Colps:
Just ask Claude and Kate Colp about the "onion incident." The couple, who have been married three years and live in Wayland, Mass., used to enjoy cooking dinner together after work. One day, Ms. Colp was cutting an onion for salsa, happily chatting away, when her husband grabbed the knife and told her she was doing it wrong—making slices instead of dices. He finished the chopping, explaining his technique. "It was very harsh," says Ms. Colp, 31, an account manager for a corporate wellness program. "He took the knife as if I was an idiot." Mr. Colp, 32, who recently finished his M.B.A., explains: "I know a superior way to cut an onion. I was taught by a chef."
Ms. Colp has annoyed her husband with advice, too. At a Mexican restaurant with three other couples Mr. Colp announced that he would never eat chicken tacos (the dish the person next to him had ordered), and then launched into a sermon about genetically modified food. After the dinner, Ms. Colp pointed out that he had bored their friends and told him he needed to remember ask people questions, not just talk about himself. Mr. Colp fumed—not speaking for the rest of the 45-minute ride home. "I felt like I just got scolded by my mother," he says.
Leaving aside the problem that Mr. Colp is a boor, the Journal offers spouses locked in this kind of interaction these suggestions:
- Ask whether advice is wanted before holding forth
- Listen, don't talk; the other party might figure out a solution by talking through the problem
- Tell an illustrative story
None of that really helps the guy whose girlfriend has a nail stuck in her forehead, but then do we read articles like this to get real advice, or just to feel understood?
(Hat tip to Damian for the video link.)