Murphy’s Love: When Venting Becomes Addictive
My friend/coworker is going through a bad divorce. She was struggling for a long time before they separated and I did my best to support her by listening and (sometimes) offering advice. But now it’s all we talk about. It happens during work, on lunch breaks, at happy hour, ALL THE TIME. I don’t even usually ask her how it’s going, she just steers the conversation back to it every single time. I really do feel bad for her situation, but I can’t take this anymore. She has no filter and does not seem to recognize my social cues. She needs a therapist, or a better friend. What can I do?
– Done With Listening
You actually do sound like a good friend, but a friend who is fed up. That’s okay. Many of us in the field have clients who first came to therapy saying, “My friends are sick of listening to me, so I needed to find someone else.” If you think you can be gentle about it (and I mean really, really gentle), you might suggest that she find someone who is trained to help support a person going through a divorce, because you “know she is hurting” and you “want her to feel better.”
But if she doesn’t take this hint, you should say something about how her struggle is making you feel, because it is making you feel something, and she might not know that. There is no reason to be harsh about it (e.g., “You are such a downer, Louise.”). If you are a good friend, you might be doing her a favor by admitting that her experience has become a burden for you (e.g., “I am noticing that I have a hard time moving on after we talk about your divorce. If I am having this kind of reaction by proxy, I can only imagine how hard it is for you. I really hope you can get to a place where you don’t have to bring this into the office every day. Is there anything I can do to help you with that?”).
Venting is a wonderful – and often necessary – tool for people to express pent-up emotions and move into a better space. But this behavior can be addictive. When we are allowed to take up all the space in a relationship with our own airing of grievances, we don’t always see that we are taking some of that space away from a friend. Acknowledging your true feelings about the circumstances can help steer the friendship back to more of a balance. And if the end result is that she is motivated to find a professional to talk with? Well, then you’ve been the catalyst for a real solution.
Stacy Notaras Murphy (www.stacymurphyLPC.com) is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing in Georgetown. This column is meant for entertainment only and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Send your confidential question to firstname.lastname@example.org.