ID-10055079Have you ever asked your friends and family what they think of your spouse? Have they ever offered up an opinion regardless of you asking for it? Should you listen to what they say? And if so, how seriously should you take their opinions to heart?

Is there any benefit to hearing feedback about your relationship?

Relationships in general – let alone marriages— do not exist in a vacuum. They are intricate tapestries woven from not just two lives becoming intertwined, but rather two complete lifetimes full of families, friends, and all of those individual and shared histories.

Given the amount of moving parts involved, is it any wonder relationships are often complicated?

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Don’t get me wrong; it’s a good thing to have people in your corner cheering you on as you face life’s challenges! However, it gets a little bit tricky when those challenges include your romantic relationships and marriage.

Learn the WHEN’s and WHEN NOT’s of feedback:

When should you ask for feedback?

There are times when asking for feedback is not only appropriate, but also very helpful.

One of the major benefits of asking for feedback about a situation or dynamic in your relationship is that it provides the opportunity to hear a different perspective. Especially when we believe strongly or passionately about something, it can be really difficult to shift our lens to another viewpoint.

Asking for feedback may help you to see things from your partner’s perspective, gain empathy and even bring you closer together.

When should you not ask for feedback?

Can I take off the professional hat for a second here? As someone who was her friends’ go to ‘feedback giver’ long before I ever decided (or learned how) to do it professionally, I feel like I need to advocate for all the dear glorious friends and family members out there who so patiently lend an ear when needed:

Please do not ask for honest feedback if you’re not ready to receive it. No one likes the experience of feeling baited. (Am I right?!)

Do not ask for feedback when what you want is a box of tissues, your best friend nodding along and a cheesecake a la The Golden Girls.

On a more serious note, asking for advice about something to a friend or family member that involves very intimate, personal details about your partner could really backfire—especially if it was something that person shared with you in the strictest of confidence.

If that person breaks confidentiality—even by accident… ugh! By going that route you’re taking a tremendous risk with your partner’s faith and trust in you.

If you absolutely need to speak to someone about something your partner has disclosed in the strictest of confidence, then I highly suggest you seek out a professional or clergy member.

Sometimes you ask for it, and sometimes you don’t.  

Folks may offer feedback under a variety of reasons and circumstances—but when should you actually listen to it?

ID-10024387When should you listen to feedback?

It’s important to listen to feedback—even if you don’t like it—as it comes. It’s whether or not you choose to see it as a valid point, throw it away like junk mail, or file it away as something to revisit.

My best advice? Listen for patterns.   Patterned feedback is feedback that has a similar theme or message and comes from several sources.

For example: If one person expresses concern over how your spouse speaks to you in front of others, it might be easy, and perhaps even reasonable to dismiss their concern as ‘just a bad moment’ or something ‘caught out of context’.

However, if your mother, your best friend, a coworker and your running partner express concern over how your spouse talks to you in front of others at different intervals, you might want to consider whether this behavior is a pattern.

You should also take note of positive feedback. Listening to positive feedback from others about your spouse or your relationship can help you rediscover aspects of them that you’ve grown accustomed to and therefore, kind of take for granted.

“Your husband is such an attentive father.”

“I really respect your [spouse] as a professional/colleague/coworker.”

One time, my mother-in-law (who is a woman of few flowery words) told me, “You are very good for my son. He is happy. I can see it.” Receiving that reaffirmation of our relationship felt awesome!

When should you not listen to feedback?

For all the times that feedback is great, it’s also important to acknowledge the times when you should take someone’s feedback with a grain shaker of salt.

I’m sure we all know at least one person who wouldn’t recognize a healthy relationship if they got smacked over the head with one. Ask yourself: Does this person have relationships I admire, even if they’re not currently in one? Are they honest and forthright, or do they play games?

Another issue to consider is whether or not someone has anything to gain from drawing attention to negative aspects of your relationship.

Truly toxic people will place a negative spin on almost anything.  For example, when someone’s feedback focuses on a truly superficial issue—like someone’s appearance or how his or her job/profession stacks up against perceived “social status.”

Feedback can be a really great tool to have in your marriage toolbox, if you know how to ask for it and when to listen to it.

Feedback can add valuable perspective when it is offered from a place of integrity, love, and concern.

Chime in!

Now it’s your turn!

Who do you think would be good sources of feedback? Who would you NOT ask for advice? Tell me in comments below or on social media!

On Twitter?  Remember to include @EngagedMarriage@SimplyEJS in your tweets! 




About the author 

E.J. Smith

E.J. Smith is a Nationally Certified Counselor, motivational speaker, writer and advocate for survivors of sexual abuse. She is also the face (and mouth) behind Born in New Jersey, and transplanted to Texas, this self-professed holistic health nut enjoys a wide variety of athletics, reading, and cooking. Raised Catholic and the wife of an active duty Marine, E.J. uses introspection and pragmatism to help readers create loving, fulfilling relationships from the inside out. Follow EJ on Twitter @SimplyEJS

Dustin Riechmann created Engaged Marriage to help other married couples live a life they love (especially) when they feel too busy to make it happen. He has many passions, including sharing ways to enjoy an awesome marriage in 15 minutes a day, but his heart belongs with his wife Bethany and their three young kids.

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  1. “On a more serious note, asking for advice about something to a friend or family member that involves very intimate, personal details about your partner could really backfire—especially if it was something that person shared with you in the strictest of confidence.

    If that person breaks confidentiality—even by accident… ugh! By going that route you’re taking a tremendous risk with your partner’s faith and trust in you.”

    Yes I have done that and now have to work on rebuilding the trust and it is hard work to regain once it has been damaged by talking to so many. I was very hurt and insecure at the time by the person. I talked to too many people seeking affirmation and reassurance in some cases I kept the details basic – please pray for us, in other cases I was more selective in the details in shared including a professional counselor and pastor.

    There were times it seemed unbearable not to talk, so I reached out, but I now realize that was out of fear and anxiety I should have taken to the Lord first. In reading a book titled, Respectable Sins, I have come to see in part my anxiety as a sin, not relying on God’s promises for my life. I am on a new path now working to rebuild and I pray as I become more Christlike our relationship will be restored. Thanks for sharing as always E.J. God bless you!

    1. David,
      Thank you so much for your heartfelt and honest post. I can’t imagine that was easy to write. I think it’s really important that you were able to recognize the need for affirmation and reassurance that drove you to seek feedback from others. I see you said that you may have looked to the wrong people, too many people, or to less trustworthy folks who didn’t keep your confidence and are now having to rebuild and accept the consequences of those choices. If you see your anxiety as sin, then I want to honor your self-discovery. At the same time, I also think that it’s important to recognize affirmation and security through reassurance as fairly normal human needs that occur in varying degrees in almost any relationship.

      Ideally, we should find affirmation and security within our relationships, but when it is not present– it’s natural to look elsewhere. Perhaps seeking a trusted counselor or clergy member (someone with an ethical [and legal] mandate to honor your confidence) might have been the better choice. If you had sought this type of counsel, do you think your anxiety and need for affirmation would have still been sinful? I am absolutely not here to challenge your beliefs, but I do feel genuine concern when I think I hear people ‘beating themselves up’ with harshness that might not be completely deserved.

      You are in my thoughts and prayers, David. I wish nothing but blessings on you and your family.

      1. You are most welcome E.J. It has been quite a journey of discovery for me. I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

        Fortunately most of those that I reached out to have been trustworthy and supportive people who continue to show love and support today to both of us. It is hard for the person I talked about as they feel like a scarlet letter is upon them, their privacy was violated, as I did not keep it between us because I was so hurt at the time.

        I was seeing a counselor at the time and followed-up with my pastor, but also talked with other family and friends broadened the circle so wide, again to ease my anxiety/fears, no being considerate of the other person’s privacy or covering and forgiving them. I did not take ownership of my own ways I hurt the other person for years, while not justifying the other person’s behavior, I did not start with myself first to see what I contributed to the situation.

        While this is nothing I would ever want to go through I am doing my best to learn from it and grow, making positive choices in my (thought) life and not allowing anxiety, fear, discontentment and other associated feelings to rule over me. Recently I started using Dr. Leaf’s 21 Day Brain Detox at which has also been a great help to me. It is empowering to know that we can make positive choices and use our brain the way God intended not being reactive/controlled by our thoughts/brain, but rather taking active control not conforming to this world, but being transformed as I choose to replace negative/toxic thoughts with positive ones, manifesting a hopeful future.

  2. This is tremendously helpful insight, E.J.! I am part of a large family who once worked together, spouses and all. Now that years have passed and most of us have moved on to other ventures, I have become aware of how much my mom was both a sounding board and the place where we would each go to complain about one another. I know-bad form. 🙁

    I am more in awe of my mom now than I was then at her ability to keep confidences and provide thoughtful and balanced direction, and sometimes showing us those things about ourselves that were a large part of the problem. She has provided a tremendous role model for all of us, and one I strive to live up to daily with my family.

    That being said, when one person is the informal counselor of the family, it can place a tremendous strain on them.

    1. Kim,
      Thank you so much for your response! I come from a big family too, so I feel like your story resonated with my own experiences well. And we too are ‘venters’ – so while it may be bad form to talk about someone– sometimes that steam just needs to get let out. I think my grandmother’s (the main recipient of a family vent sesh) thought was something along the line of “Bring it to someone who knows to give it the appropriate amount of salt”. (It probably sounds much more eloquent in Italian). But essentially– bring it someplace safe where it can be out of you, and not taken as gospel truth.

      I also completely agree that when people take on informal counseling roles it can tax them greatly. I know it used to happen to me back when I was just the chick with the extra chair in her office. Learning to create that distance and separation between myself and someone else’s problems was one of the most valuable lessons I learned in Master’s program.

      1. I can see where you got your wisdom in the family line. 🙂
        That saying from your grandmother is priceless, just priceless.

  3. Certain things in marriage relationship is so personal that it cannot be discussed with anyone. Of course you can ask for feedback when you are all at seas in handling certain family problems. My personal opinion is that the negative aspects of your spouse should be discussed only with him\her. The positive aspects can be glorified to others that he\she feels fulfilled and happy.

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Mathi. May I ask if that boundary would also extend to speaking with a therapist, counselor or chaplain? Would it be possible to do so in a couples therapy context?

      My reason for asking is because sometimes (depending on the couple and the issue at hand) it’s difficult for us to approach our spouses.

  4. I ask for feedback only 2 friends of mine. Why only 2? Well, 1) they are older than me and much more experienced 2) they know when to stop and don’t pressure me into following their advice at all costs 3) their advice actually helps.
    So I’d say that you should ask only some of your friends for advice (the ones that know what they are doing).

    1. Phoebe — I agree that we should choose our friends with prudence– especially when it comes to asking about private concerns.

  5. Great article, E.J. – thanks.

    I would add one “do not” to your list: advise shopping. Going from person to person until you find advice you like, or someone who says what you have already decided to think or do. Finding one person who differs form the general pattern is usually possible, and it proves nothing!

    1. Paul, Thank you so much for bringing up an excellent point. There are people out there who DO shop for advice. So how do you deal with an advice “shopper”? Do you still offer your opinion?

  6. Pingback: When a God Wink feels more like a Snakebite - Too Darn Happy
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