The Question To Ask Your Friends If You Want To Avoid Fights About Their Relationships

How do we handle a friend's relationship hardships? Do we jump to the task with advice, or do we give them space to vent? It seems to be a common dilemma in interpersonal relationships: does talking help more than listening? And if we're talking, what tone do we choose? There's a viral tweet by Alexander James that touches on this: "Some years back my wife and I got into the habit of asking each other 'do you want comfort or solutions' when the other was having a bad time. That one sentence can save us from an argument 9/10 times," he wrote.

While the tweet was discussing a romantic relationship, the message lends itself well to friendships, too, especially when someone is going through a tough time in their relationship. James' question would be a good one to adopt when we're tempted to offer unsolicited advice. This barometer could save us from conflict with friends when they come to us for help. Here's how to use this question in our friendships to reduce tension and keep the friendship strong.

The balance between comfort and solutions

There's a delicate balance when a friend comes to us with relationship issues; we want to let them get things off their chest, so we listen. But we can also be tempted to offer advice. If they're suffering, we want to relieve their pain, or we don't want to look like we're not responsive, so offering feedback seems like a solution to getting involved. So asking our friend if they want "comfort or solutions" can be a really successful tone to set.

Psychologist Sarah Joy Park told HuffPost why this question is so successful. It puts everyone on the same page immediately. "If everyone is clear on what is desired in the communication, then the chances are much higher that both people will feel good about their connection," Park said. If our friend is already experiencing conflict in their romantic relationship, what they need most is peaceful communication in a safe, trusted space.

It gives our friend in distress the chance to feel control and connection. It's also important for us to remember our role when others come to us in distress. As Psychology Today notes, every adult has the right to make their own choices; after all, they have to live with them. Also, when it comes to someone else's relationship, we don't know the full story. We only know our friend's side in a heated situation, which can sometimes be amplified by emotion.

Empathetic listening

When a friend wants to vent about their relationship and has informed us that they'd rather be comforted than offered solutions, we take the stance of a proactive listener. How do we do this? As Psychology Today notes, the best way to be there is to empathize with them through supportive verbal feedback. Acknowledging how much stress and tension they're under can make them feel heard. Body language is also crucial, according to NPR. Look at them, avoid distractions, especially phones, and also avoid making telling facial expressions.

If we do want to be communicative, there are a few ways we can be helpful without giving advice. We can share a story of our own, if there are parallels. We can share how we handled it, what we learned, or what we would have done differently in hindsight. If our friend has come to us before, we can also point out patterns that we've picked up on. "I've noticed you two seem to experience tension when this happens," might be a way of offering some perspective, since it's so much harder to pick up on repeating issues when we're not the one who's emotionally involved. If our friend seems amenable to hearing alternative sides, it might be helpful to tentatively point out another perspective — their partner's perhaps — to encourage them to see that there's more than one side to the story, in many cases. But it's also worth knowing when we're above our pay grade. Without offending our friend, it might be worth suggesting counseling or couples' counseling, should problems persist.