Q: One of my closest friends, “Judy,” has always been a know-it-all. She loves giving advice, even when I don’t ask for it. This has never been a problem in our friendship. It’s just part of her personality, and also her advice is usually pretty solid. I got married last summer, and during my engagement, Judy was basically a living, breathing stream of wedding planning tips and marriage advice.
A couple weeks ago, Judy filed for divorce from her husband after three years of marriage. I know from talking to both of them that the problem isn’t any one thing. They’re just unhappy. It’s sad and difficult, and I’ve done my best to support both Judy and her husband, who is also a friend. I actually officiated their wedding; she was maid-of-honor at mine.
The problem is Judy is still CONSTANTLY giving me marriage advice. She’s actually started giving me more advice lately, since her marriage problems and divorce are basically all we talk about, which is also starting to wear on me. She’ll take a problem in her relationship and turn it into a lesson for me (as in, “Jack never helped out with the housework. You need to make sure that you and Dave check in with each other about dividing chores,” or whatever).
I love Judy, but I’m starting to resent her “advice.” Even though I just got married six months ago, my husband and I have been together for over ten years, longer than she and Jack were together, and our relationship is strong and healthy, thanks to a lot of mutual work. I feel like I’m being condescended to, which I never really felt before when it came to Judy’s advice-giving. I know that Judy is going through a terrible time right now, so I’ve mostly just sort of nodded and smiled as she lectures me about how to have a good marriage, and it’s not like she’s saying anything that’s untrue. But it’s starting to erode our friendship, and I find myself avoiding her calls.
Do I need to keep nodding and smiling out of respect for this rough patch? I want to be there for her. Is there a way to discuss this with Judy without making it sound like I’m rubbing my healthy relationship in her face?
—The Listening Friend
A: Dear TLF,
You’re right, there isn’t really a way to shut down this advice without it sounding pretty insensitive. But you said it yourself: this is just how Judy is. It doesn’t have anything to do with you or your marriage. This is just how she processes everything, and right now she’s got pretty big situation to work through. Saying something now, when she’s in this tough place, isn’t going to change who she is and always has been. It’ll just carry an unnecessary ill-timed sting.
Being the advice-y friend myself (I honestly just can’t help myself, I’m sorry), I can vouch for the fact that she really is just trying to help. She’s gone through a life-changing thing. She’s made mistakes, she’s learned so much, and it only makes sense that she wants to turn around and share that info with the people she cares about most. She wants to save her friends the heartache of what she’s learned the hard way (even if they perhaps don’t need saving).
It can also just be hard to be a know-it-all in a tough spot. It’s hard to acknowledge that maybe you didn’t have it all right the first time, that maybe you’ve made some missteps, that everything didn’t go as planned. When you’re feeling that way, it can be nice to pinpoint the problem. It can be nice to have some things to point to and blame.
And, you know, your relationship sounds amazing. But maybe she does have some good advice to impart, right? It’s not like divorce signifies some kind of failure at marriage.
But, it sounds like you need a break. And I swear to you, that’s fine. It’s okay to ease back for a bit. Ideally, sure! You’d be able to listen to her advice and shrug it off, realize it’s not about you. You’d be confident that you’ve got chore division or whatever else under lock, no matter what Judy thinks. But if that’s not realistic, it’s okay to listen when you can, and hop off the phone when you just can’t. She’s going through her thing, and you want to be there for her, but the emotional problems of our friends weigh on us also, and it’s fair to need a break.
Judy’s going through a divorce, and she’s going to work through that in whatever way she needs to (and yeah, that probably means a bunch of unsolicited relationship advice). It’s not a reflection on you or your marriage, but it’s also not a bad idea to give yourself a little space.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTION, PLEASE DON’T BE SHY! IF YOU WOULD PREFER NOT TO BE NAMED, ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS ARE ALSO ACCEPTED. (THOUGH IT REALLY MAKES OUR DAY WHEN YOU COME UP WITH A CLEVER SIGN-OFF!)