Relationships sometimes bring out the best in us; other times, they bring out the worst. They can trigger our insecurities and old inner wounds; they can bring up our fears and automatic protective responses. Such protective responses can be anger, judgment, the rational voice, or a part in us that pretends we don’t care. All these “power selves” protect our inner vulnerable child.
When we struggle in our primary love relationship, the temptation to confide in someone close is great. We all have those moments when we just want to hear from someone who loves us, “Poor you!” We have the tendency to find somebody who confirms we are right and that we have been treated so badly. It seems harmless to do that, doesn’t it?
It isn’t harmless at all. It is short-sighted. Confiding in somebody who has a relationship with both partners is often detrimental to the relationship, as it destroys trust. I see over and over again with my clients that a marriage or relationship which is already struggling is weakened even more by one—or both—partners complaining about the other one to a close family member or friend.
So if I feel misunderstood by my partner, should I complain to my mother or father about him or her? Not unless I intend to destroy the relationship between my mother or father and my spouse. Very few people can still truly respect another person once they have heard the dirty inside scoop that comes with every relationship. Especially for a parent, it is hard to remain neutral and not side with the poor daughter or poor son. Even if they are aware that every story is subjective and that there are always two—or more—sides to a situation, they hear, “My daughter/son is not happy with this other person.” Most parents will have a hard time not giving advice or not meddling in the relationship if their child approaches them apparently being unhappy.
The same thing applies to other family members or common friends of the couple. If my partner has been insensitive or uncaring, or if there has been an even worse betrayal, like cheating, should I go crying to our common friends? Resist the temptation! A person that my partner also has a relationship with is not the right confidant to talk to. No matter how much I want to be pitied or feel that somebody has compassion for me, I always have to remember that I am most likely destroying the respect that person has for my partner. So, no matter what my partner has said or done, I am making it worse by sharing something that most likely is embarrassing to him or her.
So, who should I talk to? If I need to talk a situation through, I need to find a person who has no relationship with my partner, preferably a professional who can listen to me. That professional can also help me to make the best decisions about what to do in a situation, looking at it from a neutral outside perspective. A professional coach or counsellor can teach me how to successfully speak to my partner, set boundaries and meet my needs.
Of course, this sort of destructive dynamic does not only occur when a love relationship is in a crisis. I have come across several mothers who complain to one child about the other child. Some mothers have this down to an art. They will call up one sibling to complain about the other sibling or the children of the other one. Usually, it is also part of this dynamic to switch allies. Tomorrow, the mother might be dissatisfied with that sibling and complain to the other one instead. We can all see that this is not a healthy dynamic. It destroys the trust between the siblings and, at the same time, the trust between the mother and their daughters or sons.
So, don’t complain about somebody behind their back! If you have an issue with your partner or another family member, seek out a calm and non-violent communication with the appropriate person. If you need a professional to coach you, use that resource. Then sit down with that partner and work it out together without pulling other people into the relationship who are bound to side with one or the other. Can you move beyond right and wrong? Instead of making it a question of blame or of who is right and who is wrong, you can both be honest with your feelings and needs and find creative solutions to your problems.
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