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Premature Problem Solving

Communication in relationship

Our communication course is starting tomorrow, so we’re thinking about effective communication a lot!

In our last blog post, we talked about the difference between two ways of listening: listening to retort vs listening to understand.

There’s an important addition I didn’t get in the post, so I’ll share it here.

Listen to advise

Listening to retort essentially means you’re not really listening; instead you’re focused on your own comeback retort. Often, the retort is delivered with some edge.

Listen to retort has a friendlier, but also ineffective, cousin. It’s called listen to advise.

This is the well-meant but unsolicited advice you give to your partner (or anyone you communicate with).

Partner A: "I had such a rough day at work."

Partner B: "You just need to worry less; don’t be so uptight about your work. It’s just work!"

Many of us are reflexive advice-givers. We mean well. We give unsolicited advice to make the other person feel better. Or to help. Sometimes to shut them up.

This is not to say your advice is always bad. It can be amazing, wise advice. But if you give advice before listening, your advice will fall on deaf ears. Or even make the other person feel unheard and dismissed.

The renowned relationship experts, Drs. Gottman, even have a “rule” for this:

“The rule is that understanding must precede advice. … an intimate conversation is only to understand, not to problem-solve. Premature problem solving tends to shut people down. Problem solving and advice should only begin when both people feel totally understood.”

Simple fix to reflexive advice-giving

I developed a very simple fix to my own reflexive advice-giving when our kids were younger. I found myself wanting to give lots of grown-up advice that often went nowhere (kids either ignoring me or saying, “whatever, Dad!”)

Instead of repeating myself endlessly, I began to preface all my advice with, “I have a thought about that … would you like to hear it?” If they said No, I’d walk away. If they said Yes, I knew I had their attention to hear me (often, when they said No and I walked away, they’d come back and ask what I was going to say).

We’ve taught this simple technique ever since.

Note, this is simple, but not necessarily easy. The hard part is getting yourself to ask if they want to hear it and be willing to accept a decline. You’ll often find your ego get involved and take it personally. And then you really want to give advice!

So next time your partner is talking, try remembering two things:

  1. Listen to understand, and ...

  2. If you have advice for them, ask if they’d like to hear it before you plow ahead. If they say No, walk away.

Only way to find out if I have a good point is to try it in your communications with your partner, kids, or friends.

If you’d like to improve your connection and communication, there’s still time to join our course, Connect! Loving Communication for Couples.

Connect! Loving Communication for Couples

In this brand-new communication course, you’ll be personally guided by Sonika and Christian. You’ll learn the art and practical tools to keep your connection alive while you communicate with kindness and clarity.

A few highlights of what you’ll learn and practice:

  • How to make an emotional connection (the prerequisite for successful communication).

  • How to modify or avoid triggers that keep you from listening.

  • How to stay in the moment as you communicate.

  • How to access vulnerable communication and hold space for your partner to do so.

  • How to move yourself from anger to love and appreciation.

  • How to clean up mistakes and make effective apologies.

  • Plus, specific step-by-step communication tools to accomplish all this.

Register for the course below.

You're always welcome to contact us for more information or with questions.

Sonika & Christian

LoveWorks: We believe relationships are meant to be an empowering, fun, passionate, safe place to grow, love, and learn. Where we get to be more of who we are, not less. We know it’s not always easy, but it can definitely be easier! With our unique and practical approach to relationship, you learn how to resolve conflicts quickly and enjoy fulfilling intimacy for the rest of your life. To learn more or contact us, visit

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