When I became engaged to be married, a dear friend gave me some wise advice. She said that “the best thing you can do for your marriage is to have a good best friend who is not your husband.” I have contemplated on this advice many times over the years. Having someone who you can count on, run your concerns by and open up about the difficulties of married life can be invaluable IF the relationship is supportive. And if the sharing with this friend does not take you away from the sharing in your most important relationship- the marriage itself.
So how do we know if a friendship is a supportive one or not? Paying close attention to one’s feelings after sharing with a friend can help you to know whether your time spent together was productive or counter-productive. Was it healing or did it just add more fuel onto a burning fire? Does the friendship support you as you move through a difficult process or does it attempt to sway you to the other’s point of view? How you feel as you leave the interaction helps you to answer these questions. Finding friendships that feel safe to share in without fear that your feelings and difficulties will be shared is crucial to your healing from relational trauma.
I think you will find this article written by Floyd Godfrey, MAPC, LPC, Director of the LifeSTAR program in Mesa, Arizona beneficial in your consideration of the above questions. While written specifically for spouses of sexual addicts, I believe, the principles outlined are universal for all friendships.
Stacey B. Thacker, LMFT
By Floyd Godfrey MAPC, LPC, CSAT Candidate
I will never forget the moment I first learned that my wife had been discussing our marriage with her close friend. What horrified me most was realizing that she had been in private discussion with her friend for over a year. The thought of someone else knowing our ‘personal’ lives left me feeling vulnerable. Over the days which followed I came to a stark realization: her friend had treated me the same. When we visited with their family or interacted at church, not once would I have guessed that she held confidential information about me, my wife, or our marriage. This encouraged me as I recognized my wife had sought healthy support. My wife wasn’t man-bashing. She was venting and seeking feedback – something we both needed. She needed other women for support, as much as I needed other men.
Unfortunately, some women’s hurt and trauma can easily move them from venting into toxic anger and blame. Additionally, other women who are hurt or traumatized can unknowingly increase the toxicity of the situation. But be careful men. If you’re hanging out with other men to rant about your wife then you are doing the same thing. Rather than offering healthy support, the venting and feedback becomes what some have nicknamed “bashing.” What’s the difference? See if any of the following rings true. Remember that you DO NEED support, and that your feelings ARE IMPORTANT. You just want to make sure you have healthy people and healthy places for healing communication.
Bashing & Unhealthy Support
- Does the interaction leave you feeling worse? If the visit ends and you feel more triggered, more upset, more anxious, or more panicked… it’s very possible the interaction was not healthy.
- Does your support person spur on the anger and frustration? If so, you may be seeking support from someone who is stuck in their own trauma. Or who in some cases, does not wish to let go of the anger. Sometimes the communication becomes increasingly harsh or aggressive in its tone. Continued interaction of this sort will hamper the healing process.
- Is the person you choose to vent with “safe?” An ability to maintain confidentiality is essential for healthy support. Someone who gossips or shares private information about you, your spouse, or your situation, is not safe. Find someone safe. Also, remember that support from the same gender will typically be less triggering for your spouse, and provide important perspective.
- Does this person offer encouragement for your healing and also the healing of your marriage? Those who can uplift and encourage you during moments of crisis or turmoil are very helpful. Advice is unnecessary when you want encouragement. Likewise, good support offers words of hope to difficulties in the marriage.
- Does this person listen without judging or criticizing? This requires maturity. It’s a person who can stay grounded when emotions are high. Similarly, it’s a person who doesn’t get wrapped up in your situation or create more drama. They can stay level-headed yet empathetic. They can avoid giving you advice when it is unnecessary.
- Does it feel that your feelings were important and recognized? Most women who experience relational-trauma learn to stuff their feelings and ignore their own needs. You need someone to hear your feelings and validate that what you’re experiencing isn’t ‘’
- Do you leave the interaction with new personal insights? Visits which help you increase your personal awareness provide peace and direction. This also improves motivation for self-care.
- Did the interaction help you to release or let go of any pent up emotions or shame? Venting is okay… as you learn to release the emotion, let go of it, and move on. If the interaction keeps you feeling stuck in the anger, or feeling worse about yourself, then chances are the interaction was not healthy.
We at LifeSTAR of the Central Valley hope that these suggestions will help partners gain the safe support they need to help them weather the difficult storms ahead as they heal from relational trauma. For information on our program for partners of sexual addicts, contact us today.