Monday, April 2, 2012
Friends Don't Treat Friends Like Their Own Personal Unpaid Therapists
Came across another one of "those discussions" on the internets where the (mostly hetero female) commenters air various grievances about their husbands not sharing the weekend childcare load equally. Specifically, where the men make these unilateral choices to just leave the kids alone with the wife at their house for several hours on the weekend, while they go off to pursue their hobbies without first communicating or seeking any sort of agreement beforehand. How sucky. And just Wrong.
It seems to me that "how to actually solve the problem" talk is NOT particularly welcome in (most of) these discussions. Yes, I understand folks need to vent. Yes, I get that sometimes we need to seek feedback to assess what is typical across society, to see if our situation is really as off as it feels. However, at some point, we all need move on to the next logical steps.
We eventually need to identify and address the actual problem. (Unless, of course, we're enjoying the shitty status quo pity party. Clue #1 you are wallowing in your shitty status quo: you leave a blog comment saying you're distancing yourself from your real life friends who you have convinced yourself are just lying/bullshitting/sugarcoating about their marital happiness in order to try to make you feel bad.)
Then someone offered this viewpoint:
"Who needs a therapist when you have really great friends?"
To which my initial reaction is "Aw, hell NOOOOOO!!!!!"
And then I laughed a little, because I recognize that sentiment as the exact thinking of one of my (recently-divorced) best friends. She has totally gone over her limit of office visits to the Friend-as-Unpaid-Therapist's Office. An old econ professor once made the "friendship as a form of social insurance" argument, and it never rang true until recently.
Going over one's social insurance limit with friends generally looked like this in my world: My BFF's other BFF would call me up (or vice versa) and say he's at his wits end with her, he thinks she's making bad choices, he wants to stop being her nonjudgmental shoulder to cry on. He's about to say something to her he'll regret a la the Cher character in Moonstruck: "Snap out of it!!" Inevitably, I'd tell him to hang in there, but maybe have better boundaries, take a break from those heavy discussions with her. He'd do the same for me. It got to the point where we finally mentioned it to our BFF, and shared our feelings that she would be better served by speaking to a licensed therapist instead of us. Luckily, she's a real and true friend, and did not reject us for saying so.
Anyway, I know folks generally want to vent and have people empathize with them while doing whatever it is they really want to do anyway - and it is great there are spaces out there on the internets for that. Up to a point. It can't go on forever. Whenever I read same, I can't help but want to move right into SOLUTION mode, and make a comment about improving the communication, or going to therapy, or working through a Hendrix or Gottman book together as spouses. I have a bias towards Doing Something About It.
So I don't generally comment.
Look, I don't claim to have all the answers to the problem of being married to a good person but having fallen into a shitty dynamic you can't seem to address. That said, I do feel qualified to say that I know what does not work.
What generally does not work is kvetching to your mother or your friends in real life who will then be forced to continue to interact with both you and your spouse forever. More often than not, they will begin to resent your spouse if you talk too much shit about them. It's just human nature when you care about someone. You'll eventually forgive them and have sex. Your friends and mom won't. So please, go ahead and talk directly to your spouse. And exercise extreme caution when bitching about your spouse behind his/her back.
Bottom line. Licensed therapists, relationship books, blogs = yes. Overburdening your friends and family = no. End rant.