We all need a safe space to vent. Friends can really help us get something off our chest by listening to our stresses. My friends were invaluable when I was going through my divorce; I felt so lucky to have them. Many of us need a safe place to vent about things in our lives, especially our partners.
But the older I get, the more I’m learning that while friends have a wonderful purpose in our lives, some things should be saved for therapy. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but it’s hard to forget when a friend tells you something that makes you feel a certain way about their partner.
Things with my friends shifted when I got into my first relationship post-divorce. I was talking to my friend about conflicting feelings about a guy I was dating, and my friend started giving me lots of advice. Advice I didn’t ask for. I just wanted to vent and sort my thoughts out, but there was something judge-y about her statements.
I left feeling a bit off and more conflicted than ever. I knew I wasn’t going to take her advice of leaving the relationship. Not yet, anyway. And I couldn’t help but feel a little salty that the advice came from someone in a happy marriage. It’s easy to throw stones when it doesn’t have real consequences. And sometimes, that can lead to unrealistic expectations. I felt like she was trying to tell me what to do even though she had never been through anything like this before.
She was a dear friend I loved and respected, but her advice really weighed on me. And when she sent a text that night wanting to check in to see what I’d done, I had a moment where I felt like I should lie to her because I didn’t want her to be disappointed in me. I didn’t do that, of course. I took the grown-up route and told her I wasn’t sure and that I needed more time to figure things out.
After that, our friendship changed, and I ended up staying with that man for a long time. I felt like she’d lost respect for me or something, and I couldn’t go to her any longer because instead of listening, she was judging me.
She and I ended up having a talk about it. She was frustrated with me because I didn’t take her advice and I had to remind her I didn’t ask for it. I simply needed a friend to listen.
After that experience, I started paying really close attention when my friends vented about their husbands or boyfriends. I realized that the vast majority of the time, they only wanted someone to listen, not give them advice. If they wanted advice, they’d ask for it. Why tell them what to do if they weren’t going to do it? That would frustrate both of us.
We all have things about our relationship that bother us, big and small. Who am I to tell them what I think they should do unless they specifically ask, “What would you do?”
Even then, I think it’s super important to be careful and not project my opinion. If I am asked that question, I’ve learned to simply say, “I’d do what would make me happiest and put my mind at ease.”
Deep down, people know what they are going to do. I certainly did. I don’t think there are many of us who think, I’m going to talk to my best friend about this and do whatever she tells me to do.
Relationships are super hard. A listening ear goes a super long way. In the end, we’re all better off being a safe place for our friends.
Diana Park is a writer who finds solitude in a good book, the ocean, and eating fast food with her kids.