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Beth Jones Headshot

Taking and Leaving Advice, or Not Asking at All

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Don't listen to everything you hear.

The volume of posts on this site is an indication of how everyone, everyone, has an opinion on divorce. Recently, Jessie, a twice-married, once-divorced, currently-separated friend asked me for advice about how to deal with her second husband and her end-of-the-rope frustration with their marriage. I took a breath and suggested that she take a few days to settle on her decision before kicking him out. We had a couple of drinks, and she went home. She kicked him out that night. Clearly, my advice didn't have much impact. Earlier in the day, another friend of Jessie's had suggested she give her husband the boot a.s.a.p. I have no idea which, if either of us, offered the better advice.

It's human nature to ask for advice. And then do what we want anyway. Divorce is no exception. It's hard to imagine anyone enduring the entire process without asking for input and guidance, from friends as well as professionals. In fact, asking for advice is part of any process, certainly divorce. But when asking for advice *becomes* the process, it's time to take a step back.

Recently, I was talking to a friend who left her therapy practice after 20 years. I asked her why she thinks so many people request advice, and then either ignore it, do the opposite, or argue about why the advice they received is unsound. Here's what she said:

"Part of what people are doing when they seek advice is 1) They're venting; 2) They're thinking out loud or 3) There's the other phenomenon where people ask for advice and they just want you to confirm whatever they're thinking or feeling. They're looking for you to give them the answer they want to hear. And if they don't get it, they keep asking other people and asking and asking and asking."

Indeed. That was Jessie. And I remember that infernal, desperate, search for the right answers when my own first marriage fell apart. It was OCD-level perseveration. I'd ask my friends for advice, my co-workers, my lawyer, my family, strangers on the subway if they'd listen, the person next to me at Starbucks. Part of the problem is that when our own life is a mess, we assume that everyone else is more stable, and therefore has valuable advice. It ain't always the case. But everyone does have an opinion.

As we all know, occasionally forget, and are eventually forced to remember: the answers to our own lives have to come from within. We are the designers, (sometime destroyers) and fixers of our own lives.

Eventually," my therapist friend said, "you have to sit down and really figure out what you need to do, or acknowledge that you don't know what to do and you're in limbo. That's always hard when it's emotionally charged. But sometimes you just have to deal with the ambivalence until it gets clear."

This is not to say that other people aren't helpful; therapists can be amazing. Friends are a mainstay. Family often know us better than anyone. Lawyers or mediators help us navigate the hell of divorce. Our children can be great teachers. Strangers on the subway can be prescient. But at the end of the day we're left with ourselves, the rest of our lives, and the fact that we can't abdicate many of our decisions, even when we'd like to.

So keep on asking for advice, but don't leave yourself out of the mix. Your own answers are part of the process, too.