Ask Amy: Friend keeps trying to fix my life


Dear Amy: “Carol” and I are extremely good friends. I know she cares deeply about me.

However, whenever she asks about my life, instead of sympathizing with my problems and my feelings, she clings to an issue I’ve mentioned and immediately brainstorms solutions to my problem — as though I or my family members were incompetent at solving our own problems.

She asks me about how my life is, and I respond honestly. In these situations, I have not asked her for any advice.

I believe that Carol cares deeply for me and my family. She does not want to see us have struggles, but I find her unsolicited reactions very hurtful.

I know she thinks she’s helping, but her drive to fix everything implies that if I did things her way I wouldn’t have problems or negative feelings.

I can’t share about my life without getting some sort of “stop the pity party and get solving this” response. It is affecting our friendship. I find myself selecting specific, insignificant issues to tell her about. I’ve stopped telling her about important issues in my life until they are resolved.

How do I get her to lay off the condescending solution-seeking sessions?

Am I unreasonable to want to share my feelings with someone and just have them empathize with me? Is it wrong to have some validation, instead of streams of constant unsolicited advice?

– No Messy Feelings Allowed

Dear No Messy Feelings: I have a little sticky note on my desk with this sentence written on it: “All unsolicited advice is self-serving.” I heard this once on a call-in radio show and immediately wrote it down.

Most people loathe unsolicited advice; hearing instant “solutions” can make a person feel oddly defensive about one’s own problems.

So think about that quote. “Carol” is serving her own needs by leaping onto your problems. She is self-serving when she offers her instant solutions (“I’m Carol, the problem-solver!”) and self-soothing, too – tamping down the anxiety that arises when she believes someone she loves is making a mistake or in trouble.

Plus – leaping in like this is annoying, plain and simple!

You should pull back the curtain a little and tell her honestly about how this habit affects you: “I know you’re smart. I trust your instincts. But you may not realize that when I open up about problems or issues in my own life, I’m not asking for solutions. I’m just expressing how I feel about things. I’m hoping that you can listen without problem-solving. This might seem frustrating for you, but it helps me the most when I feel heard and understood.”

You can also preface a narrative by saying, “I’m not looking for answers here; I just feel the need to vent about some things that are going on. Can you offer me your sympathetic ear?”

Dear Amy: My daughter is a single mother of two children, ages 7 and 5.

She and the children have lived with me for all but a few months of the eldest child’s life. We have a nice little household and get along very well. My daughter is the primary parent and I’ve always respected that. I’m here to help. We talk things through, but she makes ultimate decisions regarding her children.

She has been dating “Brian,” for about a year, and they are talking about marriage. The problem is that he is pushing back regarding the children. He believes he should have the power to make parenting decisions and to discipline him.

I disagree with this approach, but I have not weighed in at all.

I’m wondering what you think.

– Gram

Dear Gram: Stepparents integrate best into a new family by taking it slowly and developing trusting and affectionate friendships with the children.

The stepparent role (certainly at the beginning) is to support the primary parent.

In my own life as a stepparent, I think of this as “holding hands” with my spouse through challenges. (This sounds very much like the role you’ve assumed in your household.)

In my opinion, it is a red flag for a prospective spouse to approach the stepparent role with discipline on his mind – and on the table.

Dear Amy: “Wondering Employee” didn’t know how to respond to her employer’s statement that he went without a pay raise in order to give the staff a raise.

I’m wondering if he neglected to mention a year-end bonus that he gave himself.

I had a boss who did that: a six-figure bonus!

– Empty-pocket Employee

Dear Employee: Crafty!

(You can email Amy Dickinson at or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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