Chatting with a friend is a good thing. But complaining to her about the man in your life is actually riskier than it seems. Karolina Strojecka, a Polish psychologist, psychotherapist, and sexual dysfunction therapist, answered our questions about what to avoid when we vent, and why:
Women have complained to their friends about their husbands for ages. Are you saying we shouldn’t?
KS: Each of us has a free will and can decide what to do. It just depends on what we talk about and how. The consequences can be harmful to the relationship, but only if we’re very emotional and we demonize our partner. When we have an honest, rational conversation and we do not betray our alliance, it’s all right and may even help the relationship.
What are the dangers of such a conversation? And who benefits?
KS: Our friend ends up knowing more than our man does about our desires, needs, or grievances. This negatively affects the relationship because we emotionally move away from our husband, and yet we are still frustrated because nothing is improving. But how can it improve if we don’t tell him about our issues?
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Meanwhile, the friend begins to have negative feelings towards him and starts talking pejoratively about him. A conflict may appear between friends. And then it turns out that when we defend our husband, we may end up attacking our friend. Or we’re passive, and we don’t attack the friend, but we’re not parting with our guy either. That irritates her because she expected us to follow her advice. We then emotionally separate from our partner and our friend. We lose the feeling of closeness and bonding. We can feel alone and misunderstood.
How do we talk with a friend about our relationship without damaging it in the process?
The most important thing is to remember that we ourselves chose this particular partner. When we complain about him and show him only in a negative light, it shows that we do not respect our own choices, and thus ourselves. I would recommend being honest and not denigrating him unfairly, but sticking to the facts.
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What kind of a relationship forms between the two women in such a conversation?
If the conversation is not one-sided and they both talk about their husbands, they feel closer. Girl Power! They create a “united front” against men. Devaluing men and wishing to fight with the opposite sex could be an unfortunate side-effect of this union. There are many couples who’ve parted ways as a result of such “friendly” conversations.
So, “Sex and the City” style conversations are overrated?
From what I remember, they were always very frank in their conversations, and they supported each other. Sometimes they mocked the exaggerated features of men from their casual affairs, but never the men they loved. I would hope all readers have close female friendships. However, when a real problem arises, I urge you to repair your relationship by focusing on it with your husband or boyfriend and with the help of a professional. A friend, despite her best intentions, can sometimes do more harm than good.
How can we be a good influence when a friend is struggling in her relationship?
I would suggest not giving advice, but listening and offering support. Very often, all we want is just to vent and express our emotions, to be listened to, to be understood so we can return to our husband or boyfriend without a residual weight of anger and sadness. As a friend, I would avoid speaking negatively about him out of respect for your friend and her choices.
Why do our friends have such a strong impact on us that they can cause a break-up of a relationship?
This happens when we are not fully independent in our decision-making. In my opinion, it happens mostly to young women, mainly teenagers. Our personality is still taking shape, and a peer group is our most important reference point. When a friend doesn’t like our boyfriend, we value her opinion because it is simpler, because we fear rejection, and because we don’t have a clear opinion ourselves. Unfortunately, friends are not always honest with each other, and it can happen that a few days later our friend is seeing our ex.
How can we learn to talk about the relationship with our beloved and not with a friend?
You just have to start. Small steps are the best. Start sharing your feelings with him daily. This will help improve communication in all areas of the relationship. From the socks left on the floor all the way to sex and the future of the relationship. It is important to use “I” statements, such as, “I get angry when you throw your socks on the floor because I trip on them. I would like you to put them in the laundry bin.” It doesn’t generate aggression, as opposed to “You always spread your things all over, and all I do is clean up!” Of course, this is a big simplification because most times it is not about the socks. They are only a symbol. Underneath them hides a power struggle, or a feeling of rejection, or of being disrespected, but it’s easier to start with socks and identify them as the problem to be solved.
When do you draw the line with our friends?
When you feel that your friend crosses your boundaries, meaning she demands something that you intuitively feel to be intrusive. Something you don’t want, or something you are not yet ready for.
This article was originally published in the Polish Edition of Aleteia.