Reality Check: The Value of Support

Last post, I told a little story about Sally and her intent to invite a roommate to share her living space. Based on your knowledge of the situation, you anticipated that this arrangement wouldn’t work well.

In other words, you believed that you knew what was best for Sally.

My suggestion was that you offer Sally information based on your experience and observations. So, without telling her what she “should” do, you offered information to help her think through her decision more thoroughly.

Despite carefully considering this information, Sally has chosen to go ahead with her plan anyway.

What do you do now?

This may be the hardest part of all, for it is Sally’s life and Sally’s choice. You’ve done what you can. As a caring person, you want to keep your relationship with Sally satisfying for both of you. So, give her your support.

I’m not suggesting that you suddenly turn around and say, “Forget about everything I just said; this is a great idea! I’m sure it’ll work.” If that’s not what you believe, then it’s not particularly helpful to pretend that it is.

What’s important is to maintain the relationship. Let Sally know that you respect her decision and that you support her, even if you don’t think this particular decision is an effective choice.

Let her know that your relationship is not conditional on her always doing what you think she should. And invite her to let you know how it goes. Most of all, it’s important to avoid destructive behaviours, such as criticizing and nagging.

Especially if things go badly, it’s unlikely that Sally will talk about it unless she knows you’ll offer an understanding, supportive ear. If she anticipates that she’ll get a lecture and chorus of, “I told you so,” do you think she’ll seek you out to hear it?

It can be difficult to let go of the idea that we know what’s best for other people. Even if it turns out that Sally’s room-mate choice was ill-advised, it may still turn out to be a worthwhile experience for her. Making an error and living through the consequences is a valuable way to learn.

Just like any of us who has ever made a mistake, Sally deserves the opportunity to experience her own struggles. Whether she chooses to learn from them is up to her. Again, you may see an opportunity to offer potentially valuable information.

There is also the very reasonable possibility that this situation could work out exactly as Sally hopes. Then you, too, will have learned something—that Sally is more adept at problem solving and better equipped to deal with difficulties than you had thought!

Some folks need to learn from their own experiences, even when the experiences are unfortunate. Attempting to protect them from the consequences of their choices is not necessarily doing them a kindness.

Offering support simply respects that ultimately, we really don’t know what’s best for someone else. Have you ever supported someone when they’ve made what you perceived to be a poor decision? How did that work?

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