Recently, The Huffington Post ran a piece that asked if women would be better off talking about their marriages to strangers. The idea is that if you were to speak to a totally uninvolved person about the troubles in your marriage, that person would be able to give clear, concise feedback because they were not emotionally involved in the situation. The author of the post, Susan Pease Gadoua, references the “acrimonious dynamic between a woman’s husband and her best friend” as a reason to avoid speaking to your best friend about your relationship woes. The reasoning is that when the woman complains to her BFF about her husband, the friend begins to think the husband’s a real jerk, and vice versa. I can see Gadoua’s point. It can be a difficult balancing act to talk to my best friend about her husband. But I also think this limits women with the idea that we only share the bad things with each other.
When my best friend told me last June that she was officially engaged, I knew things were about to change. I was ecstatic for her, of course. But things became different. When your BFF gets married, there’s now a new person in their life who takes priority over everything else. I’d heard it was difficult for newlyweds to stay close to their single friends, just because everything changes after the wedding. I was determined not to let that happen to me and my best friend.
I have to admit that I was worried. The few times I’d met her soon-to-be-husband, I’d been certain he didn’t really like me all that much. I assumed his silence was him judging me and/or hating my guts. I tried to get him to talk to me, in what I can now see was probably something resembling an interrogation. I can be intimidating to people sometimes, and my default defense mechanism when I’m uncomfortable is to be bitingly sarcastic. I’m sure that didn’t help my quest much.
So when I sang at their wedding and stood in their receiving line, I was so, so happy my best friend had married a man who loved her and made her happier than I’d ever seen her. But I still wasn’t sure he and I were going to be friends. In the coming months, my best friend and I had to learn how to navigate these new waters in which one of us was married and one of us was not. She wanted to respect her husband and the privacy of their relationship, but she also wanted to share with me and get my feedback. In some cases, I think my emotional involvement with her has been helpful when we’ve talked about her marriage, because I know them both and that gives me extra insight. But it has been hard at times, and I’ve made a few mistakes.
Eventually, I learned two things. The first is when I realized her husband didn’t hate me. He was just quiet. It took me awhile to get to know him, and once I did, I stopped worrying that he disliked me. The second thing I learned was that when listening to my BFF recount an argument with her husband, I had to keep this one thought in mind: I’m not on her side–I’m on their side.
What I mean by that is that it is more important for me to support my best friend and her husband both than it is for me to support just my BFF. They’re married now, so they’re a joint effort. If they have an argument, I want them to solve it and recover. I don’t want to say things that only fuel the fire. They’re a team, and I want them to succeed as a team. So I am very careful to be sure and never say something hurtful or unkind about her husband, even when I may disagree with something or feel upset because my friend’s upset. My BFF has thanked me for my approach, and forgiven me when I’ve bungled things.
It’s still hard at times. While I’ve managed to mostly find balance with my friend and her marriage, I can definitely say that Gadoua is correct in some circumstances. It would be so easy for me to say something hurtful and cruel and wreck my relationship with my friend when we discuss her marriage. I try and steer clear of conversations with friends I’m not as close to about their significant other for this very reason. It’s an act that requires so much trust and vulnerability. The anonymity of a stranger could potentially be very refreshing. I can also point to my relationship with my mother to say that it’s wiser to not talk to people close to you about your marriage. For years, my mother unloaded her frustrations with her marriage to me. Obviously that was difficult for many reasons (being that the husband in question was my father), but the emotional toll was hard because we were so close. Gadoua also made the point that a stranger wouldn’t feel hurt if their advice wasn’t taken, whereas someone close to you would. I can say firsthand that’s true.
What do you think? Is it a strain in your best friendship to discuss marriage or relationship issues? Should you begin confiding in strangers?
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