Make Your Own Choices Without Influence

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How do you stop letting someone influence you?

I talked earlier this week about how important it is to not let your support network run your relationship.

But it’s always easier said than done to not let someone influence you. It’s really hard when they’re making so much sense and should you really not take their advice on principle?

The trick is perspective.

Imagine this – we have CC and Max, a relationship that defies societal expectations on gendered moneymaking. CC makes more of the household income, and Max contributes his share in more non-monetary ways.

At one point, they moved to a different home. This took a lot of effort in packing, donating and throwing away things they wouldn’t need or wouldn’t work in the new home, and then unpacking and figuring out what things they needed to get once they got to the new place. It’s a serious project, if you’ve never done it before.

When CC was talking with her parents, she spoke about how much effort was going into the process and also mentioned all of the things that they still had left to do, including the list of things to buy.

Her parents were very supportive and jovial, but they did mention that perhaps they shouldn’t rush into buying everything. It sounded like maybe they couldn’t afford it.

Stop.

What did CC say that insinuated they couldn’t afford it?

Isn’t it a little weird to tell another adult, one whose finances you don’t know the ins-and-outs of, that their plans are financially unfeasible?

Everyone’s A Critic

The thing is that CC didn’t need to say anything about whether or not they could afford their plans. What her parents knew about CC and Max filled in the gaps.

When CC was younger and had just gotten her first job, she shared her salary information with her parents – most of us have, it’s out of excitement over yet another step we took into adulthood! As she got older, she continued sharing her salary information with her parents – sometimes unprompted, sometimes when her parents asked her. No big deal.

When she and Max first started a relationship, her parents at some point asked about Max’s career and salary as well, which CC shared. This set up the stage that CC’s parents always had an idea of how much income the pair had. When CC’s career took off and she started making more than Max, they knew.

And with all this knowledge, they started filling in the blanks. They didn’t know anything about their expenses, only how much they made individually and that CC made more. Their own biases caused them to make assumptions that CC and Max weren’t “as well-off as they could be” because they were from the “men make more money” school of thought.

Over the years, whatever CC shared with them would fit into the larger picture that they had been filling in. Sometimes contrary information would come in and they would have to remove some old thoughts to make it fit, but the key here is that they never really knew 100% of the picture factually. There were lots of blanks that they filled in themselves.

Once when CC talked about needing to save up for a big purchase, this fit really well into the picture that they weren’t as well-off as they should have been.

Once when CC talked about a possible job change that Max was looking into, her parents felt that perhaps he would be finally working on making more money. When either the job change didn’t pan out or it didn’t come with a hefty salary increase, it fit into the picture that Max was continuing not meeting his potential financially.

With this, CC’s parents staunchly created the belief that CC and Max were in precarious financial conditions, a house of cards that would come apart at any moment.

So when CC talked about the project of moving home and talked about the money that would be spent, they gave advice based on their own understanding of what was happening.

This is where perspective is needed. In this scenario, the advice her parents gave her could be easily disproved – if you can afford something, you can afford it. No amount of someone telling you that you can’t is going to change the numbers in your bank account.

Everyone’s Got Opinions

What about the times the advice sounds good, but it’s actually wrong because it’s coming from the wrong perspective?

Let’s say instead of sharing about all the things left to buy, CC had been talking about all the things left to do, the time cost. She talked about how she would be taking some time off work to get the home in order, and she wished Max would as well.

In that scenario, her parents’ support might come in the form of telling her she’s absolutely right and that Max should absolutely be doing more in this project of moving homes.

When you’re exhausted, being told that you’re right tastes like ambrosia.

What her parents might not know is that Max can’t take time off for unpacking because he took time off for packing. What her parents might not know is that Max worked like crazy to make sure all the packing was a smooth as possible because he knew he wouldn’t be able to help much with the unpacking, so he might as well not pack the winter coats with the kitchen blenders.

No, her parents are fairly likely to be stuck in the “Max makes less money, he should be at least contributing so much more in these matters” regardless of what the balance of anything in CC and Max’s relationship actually is.

I don’t mean to harass CC’s parents at all. It’s wonderful that she has such a close relationship with her parents into adulthood, and it’s a wonderful support network.

But I’m trying to show how support networks can have pictures that you didn’t give them. When someone only sees snippets into your life, unfinished pictures don’t stay unfinished. The blind spots get filled in with lines-of-best-fit and they draw conclusions that are rooted in logic but not reality.

With that perception in mind, sometimes the advice your support network gives you looks fine on the surface but is flawed underneath.

This happens in very simple one-time ways, like when you vent to a friend about an argument you had with your partner, and of course you end up painting your partner in a less than flattering way because you’re angry and that’s the point of venting.

Later, you forget to follow-up with your friend that you and your partner reconciled and the issue wasn’t actually that big of a deal. Your friend sees you’re happier and forgets to ask about the resolution.

Your friend now thinks that less than flattering portrait of your partner is reality. Next time they’re giving you advice, it will be based on that fact. If you don’t catch it, you’re now taking actual bad advice.

Sometimes this happens in very long-term subliminal ways so it’s harder to figure out if the advice is coming from a wrong foundation or not. In the case of CC and Max, she’s shared quite a lot with her parents over the years so it would be harder to pinpoint an exact discussion that was left unfinished.

In this situation, put yourself in the other person’s shoes to understand their perspective a little better. CC knows her parents have heard a lot about her career goals and a little bit less about Max’s goals. Has she shared more about what personal aspirations Max has? She knows her parents have old-fashioned gender ideas, and she must know that they feel uneasy that CC doesn’t have that same relationship, so maybe they discount much of what they know about Max because his salary isn’t higher?

It’s a long process, a long guessing game sometimes. It’s also hard work that might not be necessary – your support network is there to support you, not guide your life. If you’re looking for guided advice, go get a therapist – don’t change your support network’s job description.

Here’s a shortcut: don’t make unilateral decisions without talking to your partner.

CC using the support of her parents to tell Max that he needs to help more with the unpacking, or take more time off work, would be ridiculous because the reality is that he’s already contributed and is continuing to contribute as much as he can. She knows that. It’s much better if she brings up to Max that she’s floundering and can they come up with ideas to be mutually successful is a much better way to go about it.

Don’t let other people who will not live with the consequences make the decision for you.

Don’t blow up your relationship because of irrelevant advice. Seriously.

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