Being Influenced By Negativity in Relationships
November 20, 2006 5:29 AM   Subscribe

How do I stop myself from being affected by my friends' relationship problems?

I am currently in a stable 3-months relationship - he's my first boyfriend, he's brilliant and caring, and we have a great connection together. It's been amazing so far.

Many of my friends have relationships and I often become their listening ear for their relationship issues. So far, during my 3 months, many of those friends have been in volatile, unhealthy, or just plain bad relationships - often breaking up or going through trouble. Sometimes I know both parties in their partnership, which usually ends up with me hearing the same complaints twice.

While I am honoured to be trusted enough with such personal matters, it is starting to take a toll on my own relationship. I tend to take in the worries of my friends and start overthinking my own relationship - "oh, what if he's doing this? or not doing that?" etc etc. Most of the time the worry is unwarranted; any concerns and issues we face, we discuss with each other calmly and honestly. I am however a bit of a paranoid person (always have been!) and those issues still affect me!

Also I think a big part of this is the fact that this is my first (I'm 21) and I'm still trying to work out what being a girlfriend entails - I don't think I quite processed the fact that I have a boyfriend yet! So all this is really a learning experience. I've lived through various relationships via my friends for many years and now it's my turn. (the fact that we're separated by miles for about 3 months - uni holidays - doesn't help much either!)

Reading up on more successful stories helps bring back the positivity; however, the ones with negative relationships are louder and more persistent, while those who are actually happy tend to be more quiet. I do stop and think properly about my concerns, which helps too - but I don't want to be so worried all the time.

My boy is a great guy; I'm so blessed to have known him and to be with him. I don't want this relationship to be ruined unnecessarily by paranoia and insecurity. At the same time, I can't tell my friends "hey, stop dumping your issues on me" because often I'm the only person they can trust. What can I do?
posted by divabat to Human Relations (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
At the same time, I can't tell my friends "hey, stop dumping your issues on me" because often I'm the only person they can trust.

Are you their friend or their therapist? If your friends are making poor decisions over and over and over again and then leaving you to pick up the pieces, that's not really fair. Why are you putting yourself in that position? I don't know if you can listen to their garbage without having it affect you in some way (garbage in, garbage out). You might want to try to limit your listening time with these friends.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:20 AM on November 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

I vote for telling your friends to stop dumping on you. A) you are not a trash heap; B) It might be helping them but it isn't helping you; C) Friends worth have are friends that understand when you overload.

I call this the fireman rule: If you don't keep yourself alive and healthy, you can't help others. Put yourself first.
posted by ewkpates at 7:20 AM on November 20, 2006

Find things to do with your friends that aren't exactly conducive to talking. Like dancing, or vigorous hiking, or movies. I'm sure you can think of others. This way you are spending time with them and "supporting" them while controlling the volume of their mindspew.

And if they try to work it in anyway, you can say with genuine sweetness, "Wow, things have gotten so bad, I don't remember the last time we went out and were able to leave all that behind for a while. You have all the time in the world to sort this out, let's just have a good time. You've been going through a lot, and it's going to wear you down if you can't enjoy yourself a little bit more." Or something to that effect.
posted by hermitosis at 8:17 AM on November 20, 2006

I am not trying to be condescending to you at all, but part of this probably has to do with your age. In my circle I remember there being endless drama and hookups and fights and people not speaking and everyone taking sides and running around hysterically. Lots of people just don't get it together on this score until much later. Certainly, very few are discreet. If you seem at all happy and together, people tend to bring the drama to your door, wanting your advice.

I really hate wallowing and shit-talking so if someone starts in with that and we're not close, that's pretty much the end of that. I'm still friendly, but I don't make personal plans. For people I really like a lot, I try to sidetrack. As soon as it gets into the drama, I say "Wow, you seem really unhappy -- let's go do (whatever awesome thing) and get cheered up." If it persists, I'll just say "You know, I hope you guys work it out, but I really think you should say all these things to him." And then, I just drop it. Of course if something major happens, I'm supportive. But the constant low-grade bitching? Life's too short. (On preview: just like hermitosis says.)

So yeah, shut down your friends when they start in on that. Be discreet about your own minor problems with your boyfriend, and continue on as you are doing by dealing with them while they are minor instead of letting them build into major grudges. If you stick with that, you'll be far more likely to avoid the bad scenarios you see playing out around you. Those people are miserable for a reason and friendship doesn't obligate you to join them.
posted by melissa may at 8:35 AM on November 20, 2006

I challenge the notion that by listening to their unhappiness you are helping them. People tend to reinforce their negative views and their personal unhappiness by repreating stories of how they were wronged. However, they are not the only ones responsible here, you are also responsible because by listening you are partiicpating. Why don' t you become an active and positive listener and try to improve everyone's life?

I suggest you take the following tactics in regards to all this negativity:

1. When they start to unload, let them talk for a couple minutes, then ask them to think constructively about how THEY could act to improve the situation. If their relationship is over, ask them how they would act differently in the future to make a better relationship - in other words make the conversation focus on the positive not the negative.

2. If they can't make this change, gently turn the subject away from the topics that you are finding really negative and start talking about positive things - how beautiful the weather is, how much you were refreshed by going on a hike, how nice it was to get a full nights sleep. Encourage them to do the same.

3. If they continue to resist a positive approach, invite them to do something that makes talking difficult and is a positive experience for all - for example, a vigourous hike, or going swimming or pick your sport of choice.

4. If all of the above fails, tell them you really love them, but that listening to all the negative emotions and way of talking about other people is harmful to you and that you would like to talk about life in a more constructive way. Help them learn to do that.
posted by zia at 8:39 AM on November 20, 2006

I'm with zia. You have to set boundaries with them. It's good for them, anyway, because humans have a tendency to perseverate on our problems, losing our focus on everything else, when we are worried or upset about something. If you can encourage your friends to strip down their issues to the core when they talk about them, you benefit because you're not getting sucked into these long, involved dramas, and they benefit because that kind of perspective is really useful. Win-win, and then you move on to another topic.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:13 AM on November 20, 2006

I can completely relate to how you feel. I know you love your friends and want the best for them, however, you are the only person to whom you're accountable. Take a break from them, now. As you separate from their barrage of negativity, you'll start to regain your positive outlook. And then eventually you'll be able to find yourself centered in yourSELF enough to provide positive support to them without soaking up their negativity.

If you can soak up their negativity, then there must be a way for them to soak up your positivity. But first you have to get that back. Good luck!
posted by kat at 9:57 AM on November 20, 2006

The last thing you should do is listen to what I have to say since I don't know you or your situation; however, I love to share my thoughts and I thought your situation was interesting (not to mention a situation I've found myself in).

First relationships (actually, first ANYTHINGS are scary), so try to take some of the pressure off yourself. Here's a hint: you are not going to have all the answers in this relationship or in any other. It's just not going to happen. Try to listen to your heart and act as you feel is right in any given moment.

I have found that an exercise that really helps to figure out what your heart is telling you is to take "quiet mind time" everyday. Let your overstressed, overworked brain take a coffee break a couple of times a day. Try to think of nothing or look around a room and try to notice details that you never took the time to pay attention to before. You might be amazed how much those "brain coffee breaks" help your perception.

As far as your friends go, I suspect you like to know what is going on with them and want them to know what is going on with you. One thing I have had a lot of success with as far as limiting garbage and stress from other people's relationships is to preface any advice I give with a statement saying "the last thing you should do is listen to what I am going to say because I don't know." The funny thing is that people pay more attention when you say this and it makes it very difficult for them to shift the focus or the responsibility for their relationships and decisions back to you.

These two techniques have made all the difference for me. But, hell, I'm a bit of an oddball, so maybe they only work for me.
posted by melangell at 12:38 PM on November 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

TPS: Are you their friend or their therapist?
ewkpates: C) Friends worth having are friends that understand when you overload.

Amen. I once told a friend, who broke up with her bf the same week I had a death in the family, "Sounds to me like we covered all the angles on this situation over the last few phone calls. All I can suggest is what I said last time: [blah blah blah], and I love you and you have my support. Also I have to say actually that the topic and repetitiveness are getting me down, so how about we give it a break and talk about other things [stuff we both have fun talking about] instead?"

She was taken aback and hung up fairly quickly, but called a few days later. She apologized for having been self-absorbed, and for not thinking about how her hamster wheel of misery would affect me, too. We're still great friends (eight years after).
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 7:17 PM on November 20, 2006

« Older Help ! Spammers have found my PHPBB forum !   |   Mac Mini? Or not? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.