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Bashing Partners

Air Date: 09/30/10 Dr. Rebecca Jankovich, PhD can be reached at 322-1839.9-30-10 What to do when You've gotten in the MiddleMost often it's women who talk with one another about the ups and downs of their relationships; guys tell me it's just "male bashing". Women talk about their relationships because sharing their personal lives draws them closer and women like to be close. They talk about their partners because they want their friend to validate the way they feel and tell them they would have felt the same way; and of course, because sometimes, they just want to complain. This whole concept of talking about the personal details of an argument, bad treatment, or questionable character, is sticky. The partner, be they male or female, hates being talked about and exposed; they don't like wondering who knows what about them. Few of us want our partners bashing us and only presenting their side of what happened. Women tend to not understand the differences between male and female personalities so they often hold men to a female standard of perception, reactions, interpretations. When women complain to women about their male partners, the other women think the men were wrong because they didn't behave the way women think they should that doesn't mean the men were wrong from a man's point of view. So the complaining just reinforces a woman's perspective that men should be more like women. And then there's the inherent damage of complaining: griping doesn't change anything, doesn't help you look at your contribution to the problem, doesn't create a solution; it doesn't even help you get over your complaint. All complaining does is make you upset again and keep the wound alive.That said, women have been complaining to each other for years about their mates and aren't likely to change now. Here's some advice for the woman listening to her friend complain: just listen; do not jump on the complaint train and tell her how right she is to be upset because the partner is really awful; when the complaining seems to be running down, shift the focus onto two things: what was your friend's role in this problem and what can she do now to make it better. As the listener, it's your job to hold the belief that there are always two sides and since you can only change yourself, it's useful for your friend to find out what she has to change about herself to turn this problem around.But let's say you thought your friend was through with her relationship, this looked like the end, and you let go with just how terrible you think the partner has been. You validate her complaints, add a few of your own, tell her all the other friends who don't like the partner either, you're relieved she's finally leaving the jerk. And then, miraculously, the woman makes up with her partner. During the make up fight, she probably told her mate everything you said, using your perceptions as big guns to validate her feelings against her mate. Now, they're back together, only her partner can't stand you because you didn't support the relationship and he or she knows you think they're a jerk. Kind of makes it hard to keep the friendship going because the partner now sees you as a threat to the relationship.OK, so you blew it and said what you really thought. Now, you want to make peace with the mess you've created. Talk with your friend and find out how she's feeling about what you said about her partner. Try and get your friendship worked out so she doesn't hold hard feelings for you and she sees that you were trying to support her because she was so upset. If you want to support her in this relationship, then support her. If you can't, then tell her although you deeply care for her, you can no longer support this relationship so you're not able to be a sounding board for her complaints about her partner in the future; you're setting up the boundary that "we can be friends, but let's not talk about your relationship". Sometimes the friendship between you will be so damaged you can't fix it; sad as it feels, not much more you can do if your friend won't overlook your opinions of her relationship; she always has the right to choose partner over friend. If you can support the relationship, now you have to mend the mess with her partner. Find out what she told her partner about what you said; the less she revealed, the better. Regardless of how much she spilled, go to the partner and tell them that you're glad the fight is over and you hope things work out in the future. Best to have this talk face to face, but if you don't usually see the partner anyway, a phone call can work. If the partner nails you for what you said, don't defend yourself just apologize and say you were just being supportive. You're trying to avoid getting into the details of what you said so you don't open up a can of worms that will permanently put you in the dog house.It's so much easier to just keep your mouth shut and listen.