When you’re in a relationship, occasionally venting to your friends about your partner is normal and even healthy: it can help you process your feelings or put certain problems in perspective. But when the complaining is constant, it becomes unproductive and can put strain on the friendship, too.
Hearing your friend complain again and again inevitably begins to colour your perception of their partner.
“If they are only telling you about the negative aspects of their relationship and partner, they are giving you an incomplete and possibly inaccurate picture of the relationship,” therapist Anna Poss told HuffPost. “You may then start to dislike their partner and become frustrated with them for staying in a relationship that you understand to be wholly negative.”
And if your friend relies on conversations with you to deal with the issues, rather than talking them through with their partner, it could be doing a disservice to their relationship.
“It’s kind of like procrastination. You can put off that big project, instead settling into the couch with some popcorn, but that project is not going anywhere,“ said Nicole O-Pries, a therapist at Virginia Affirming Counselling. “And if you keep procrastinating on that project, it’s going to make you feel bad tomorrow and the day after that. You have to work on the project. You have to work on the relationship.”
Below, therapists share some signs that your friend’s complaining may be excessive and advice on how to respond.
When Venting Goes Too Far
While you want your friend to be comfortable coming to you with their relationship troubles, listening to long rants about their partner every time you hang out isn’t good for your pal, their relationship or your friendship. Consider these questions when trying to determine if your friend may have taken their venting to an unproductive level, Poss said.
How much of your time together is spent talking about their relationship problems?
Are they talking predominately about their partner, or do they share equally about other important parts of their life?
How often are they asking about your life?
Are they talking about the same issue every time and ignoring your advice or comments?
How To Handle The Situation
Don’t be afraid to set some limits.
Healthy relationships should be able to handle healthy boundaries. So it’s OK to put some parameters around the amount of time dedicated to negative conversations about their partner, Poss said.
“You could say something along the lines of, ‘I’ve noticed that when we are together, our conversations seem to mostly be about your relationship. It would mean a lot if we can spend our time together catching up on other aspects of our lives,’” she said.
Resist the temptation to give them advice — unless they ask for it.
After hearing your friend go on and on for the umpteenth time about how their partner never helps out around the house, you may be thinking: Why don’t you just break up with them already?! But reserve your judgments, as voicing your opinions could backfire should they stay together.
“Keep in mind that you are not the one in a relationship with him. What might be annoying or even a deal-breaker for you, might not be for your friend,” marriage and family therapist Caroline Madden told Verily Magazine. “Don’t press her to break up even if she says she wants to break up or that’s what you think should happen. What might be common sense to you will feel like too much pressure for her.”
Suggest they talk to a professional.
Remember: You’re their friend, not their therapist. There’s only so much listening you can do.
“Letting friends know that their relationship issues are something you do not feel equipped to help them solve is one strategy,” Poss said. “Suggest that they may benefit more from speaking to a professional counsellor or therapist.”
If you suspect your friend is in a toxic relationship, support them.
There’s a big difference between a friend bemoaning their partner’s annoying habits and someone whose relationship could be threatening their emotional or physical wellbeing.
Many victims of abuse don’t open up to their friends about the toxic dynamics in their relationship. So if your pal does confide in you, act as a safe space by listening when they want to talk, offering them a place to stay or helping them find a therapist or other resources.