What do you do when someone you love is about to do something that looks like a very risky or bad move?
This is a really stressful question to me because I have been on both sides of this situation and had really bad outcomes.
When I was a young man, I often wanted to do things that were considered impractical or risky and the adults in my life often discouraged my participation. They either directly spoke out against it or would give me the ole “Go for it. You’re on your own though,” which effectively discouraged me from pursuing those dreams.
In some of these situations, it is obvious that I avoided a bad outcome, so I could just focus on those to vindicate being discouraged from taking that risk. However, some of those situations in retrospect really look like I missed out on a great opportunity. Most of those situations are a little more grey, though: It might have turned out great, it might not have. I will never know.
The one outcome that all of these situations have in common is that it damaged my relationship with the person who was discouraging me. As a result, I did not seek their advice for future decisions and probably ended up making some really bad choices on my own that I could have avoided. Worse yet, as a result of the damaged relationship, I missed out on the joy of being close to people who truly did love and care for me.
If you think I learned my lessons from this, you would be dead wrong. I have repeated the same mistake that was made with me over and over again, most recently in my relationship with my wife.
There were many decisions my wife wanted to make that I would look at from my perspective and see as not good decisions. It is even more complicated in a relationship because you feel like you have to protect not just the person you love from a bad outcome, but you also have to protect yourself from something they might do that is a mistake and may harm you both. It is a tricky situation.
In these situations I would often bombard my wife with logic and research. It may very well be that I was “right” in what I was advocating for, but the way I went about it deeply damaged my relationship with my wife and eroded trust. Could I have done better? Certainly. But how?
I don’t claim to know all the answers. I know more about what not to do at this point than what to do. Perhaps you can offer your ideas and suggestions in the comments section of this blog. This is just what little I have learned.
One of the biggest areas I think I went wrong was in regards to this company called AdvoCare. My wife swore by these products and credited them with a time in her life when she lost a lot of weight and got extremely fit. I went from skeptical to downright anti-AdvoCare the more I learned about this company. I wanted to protect my wife from what I had concluded was a dangerous product being sold by a very shady company.
I would be remiss to not share my reservations about AdvoCare with you, but I will reserve all of this for the end of the blog since that is not really the main point here.
The point is that the way I communicated my concerns to my wife did not make her feel protected and certainly not loved. I made her feel like I didn’t respect and trust her. I came across as arrogant and superior. Instead of us approaching the situation as equal and loving partners tackling a problem together, I set up the situation where we each became the other person’s problem, and strife ensued.
My wife used to value and even admire my input on many matters where my wisdom and intelligence could be valuable, but because of the way I approached this (and many other) situations, I lost the war in the pursuit of winning meaningless battles. As a result, my wife lost her trust in me and I lost her ear rather than gained it.
How could I have done better?
From what I have learned, I think the best thing to do in these kind of situations is to simply hold my tongue and only give advice if it is solicited. When my wife started taking AdvoCare products again and did their 24-Day Challenge (a dietary “cleanse”), I should have simply said to her, “You know, I’ve been looking into these products and I have some concerns about how healthy they are. I trust you know what you are getting yourself into, though, and I will do whatever I can to support you in this endeavor.”
Even if my wife wanted to start selling AdvoCare as a brand representative, a prospect I had serious anxiety and dread about, what I know now vs. what I knew then would drastically change the approach I would have taken.
Old Z would have bombarded her with information about all the financial risks of getting involved with the company and how their business model is set up to make most of their reps fail while they profit off of all of them, fail or succeed. I might have threatened to “not support her” or have her run her AdvoCare business on a separate bank account with her own money so that it didn’t affect our finances. That would have been disastrous.
New Z would probably take the opposite approach. I would have probably simply said to her, “You know, I have some serious reservations about how this company operates and the financial risks of becoming a representative. I could be wrong, though. I know that if anyone can make this work, you can. I want to see you succeed, so tell me: What can I do for you to help you succeed?”
You see what I did there? I stated my reservation, but immediately pivoted to my belief in my wife and offered to support her no matter what. It may seem crazy to some people – to Old Z it certainly seems crazy – after all, aren’t you just becoming an enabler to bad and risky behavior?
No. This isn’t like alcoholism where you are buying someone a drink that you know is going to go on a bender, or bailing someone out every time they screw up their life, thus helping them avoid the consequences of their actions or learning from their mistakes. It isn’t the same thing at all.
By respecting someone’s choices and their autonomy, you foster trust in the relationship. That is accomplished by first having the humility to tell myself that I could be wrong. Because, hey, even with all the facts and figures and info in the world, I could be totally wrong about how this risk is going to pan out for my wife.
It could basically go one of two ways: She could succeed and achieve all the earnings she desired, or she could fail and either lose money or make so little money that she eventually realizes it isn’t worth her time to continue with that pursuit. If I succeed in convincing my wife to not pursue what she wants to do, she will never know which outcome was going to come and will likely always regret not trying and finding out.
It is so easy to imagine that the road not taken is the road that would have led to a better life than the one we have now. Que, resentment. Eventually, my wife would be very unlikely to come to me for input for future decisions, and our relationship would be forever damaged. This is essentially what happened in our case.
If I don’t succeed in convincing my wife to not take that path, both outcomes still lead to disaster for us. If she succeeds, I look like a complete idiot and my wife totally loses faith in me. I become diminished in her eyes and she won’t trust my input for future decisions.
If she does fail, however, my wife will resent me for it. She may even blame her failure on my not supporting her, rather than the things I warned her about in the first place. Rather than be viewed as someone who tried to fight for her success, she would view me as someone who rooted for her failure. If she does fail, then that will only further damage our relationship by setting us up as enemies rather than partners.
Either way, we both lose.
On the flip side, if I offered my wife my unequivocal support to take risks, make her own decisions, and pursue her dreams, I foster trust and respect between both of us. If she succeeds, then that is awesome – I got to be part of her success, and she will likely be grateful that I supported her despite my reservations. If she fails or starts to feel like things aren’t going well, because the trust has been maintained and my wife knows that I respect her, that is when she is likely to come to me and start asking questions about what my reservations were.
And that is the only time that my skepticism will have any positive impact, because in that scenario my wife and I are still on the same side and we are approaching the problem together – a problem that is outside of ourselves, rather than within each other. I am setting myself up to be the opposite of an enabler. The mutual trust and respect this approach can foster allows me to be a guide for future decision making. There is a huge difference between bailing someone out and positioning yourself to pick them up and dust them off when they stumble. This is a distinction I failed to recognize before it was too late and the damage was already done.
Please learn from my mistakes. Don’t be like me and miss out on the lessons that I should have learned firsthand when those mistakes were made with me over and over again in my past.
Here are the key takeaways:
- Always do your research about things people you love are getting into. If the risks aren’t life threatening, keep it to yourself. Don’t bombard people with unsolicited advice.
- Force yourself to have the humility to admit that no matter how much information supports your position, you could still be wrong.
- Always respect the ability of the people you love to make their own decisions. This isn’t just about respecting their autonomy, but also respecting their intelligence. If you’re struggling with this, refer back to #2.
- Make sure that the people you love know that you respect their intelligence and autonomy. Try variations on the phrase, “If anyone can succeed at this, you can,” and “I believe in you more than I doubt this thing.” And mean it!
- Even when you don’t agree with the things the people you love are pursuing, never withdraw your support for them. Always fight for their success and give them everything you have to help them succeed – even if it is against all odds.
It is better to fail together than to succeed alone.
If you are interested in what I have learned about AdvoCare that gave me such strong reservations about the company and product, click the link below. If you don’t want to, then by all means, feel free to ignore it. I could be totally wrong or misled anyway. It’s up to you.
If you do click the link, you will see how, even if I was totally wrong in my assessment, the sheer amount of “red flag” worthy information about the company could make it hard for someone like me to not be alarmed about the company and want to “protect” my wife from them.
Unfortunately, I lacked the humility and respect for my wife to handle the situation appropriately and I just bombarded her with this information and in the process severely damaged our relationship. Don’t make my mistake.