We continue our series on divorce with another round of “things you should think long and hard about…and then probably just not say anyway”.
This one, actually, is something I’ve been guilty of rather than something that has been said to me. When finding out your friend’s marriage is in trouble or struggling in a real and substantial way, it is tempting to jump in and take sides against their spouse. On the surface, this seems helpful and supportive. You are in your friend’s corner. Boosting them up. Making sure they don’t feel alone and that they know the behaviors they’re describing and enduring are NOT ok and they’re not Just Making Too Big of a Deal About Things.
Here’s the problem with how this plays out:
Scenario #1– your friend does not get divorced and, to some extent, works out the issues their marriage was experiencing (or at least decides to live with them).This leaves you holding a bag of resentment and makes any kind of interaction with the spouse in question, at the very least, strained and awkward. Plus it makes it very difficult for you to be able to truly support your friend’s marriage in the healthy helpful way they likely need from that point forward.
Scenario #2– your friend does get divorced, which removes the “getting along with the spouse again someday” obstacle but also tends to make you the “I need to complain about my ex” companion. Plus you may find yourself wondering if you in some way contributed to the marriage’s end by being a constant source of criticism and encouragement for potentially jaded perceptions.
To simplify- if you bond in negativity, you stay in negativity. And it’s very hard to shift a negative bond to a positive one. And a struggling marriage- even if it seems your friend’s spouse is very clearly completely at fault- does not need more vitriol added to the mix. It has enough with just the two people directly involved (and there’s another thing- it’s generally not wise to get emotionally entangled in a situation that is, at the end of the day, not about you or related to you in any direct way).
What you can do instead: be sympathetic, but resist the urge to vilify the spouse as a show of “support”. Use phrases like “I’m sorry, that sounds so frustrating” instead of “wow, he’s a jerk”. Ask questions like “Do you think she’d be open to trying counseling?” instead of “wow, does she even hear herself when she says that?!?” Focus on the issues, not on the person who seems to be causing them.
Basically, as with most situations that require you to be a self aware adult, be the bigger person. It’s hard, and when someone we love is hurting we generally want to dehumanize the person causing them pain. But the reality is people are people and sometimes some people do really mean hurtful things. The best thing we can do is be there in a positive and uplifting way, not one that makes monsters of someone they once did (or still do) love.