Don’t share too many details about personal problems. For example, if you think your mate is cheating on you, you might share this with friends. However, don’t offer details that could make the gossip circle in your professional community.
Don’t unload too much negativity on others. Even if you’ve lost your job or you’ve been diagnosed with an illness, don’t tell others every detail. Why? Your problems, added to theirs, will make them want to avoid you.
Join a support group in some instances. For example, if your spouse is an alcoholic, visit an Al-Anon Group. For crisis situations, you need real answers, or you may try to solicit opinions from your friends. This is not fair to them.
Keep a journal. Write down your frustrations, fears and dreams on paper. By documenting your feelings, you won’t be as tempted to unload all of your emotions on friends and family members. Never try to deny or hide your deepest feelings. But, do keep certain feelings private.
“When I caught my boyfriend cheating on me, I told my two best friends all the details,” says a friend of ours we’ll call Emily. “I asked them not to share my pain with others, and they didn’t. But, if I’d told my sister this awful news, she would’ve told everyone.”
“We all can confuse love and friendship with turning someone into a god,” says a family therapist we’ll call Alana. “Most of us tend to believe our friends would never betray us. Not true. People are only human. They talk. They gossip. Not meaning to, they can give us bad advice.”
Alana believes we find balance by having a circle of friends, not just one or two. All of our friends, she insists, fill a different role in our lives.
“Some friends can give us good financial advice,” Alana points out. “Others might be great traveling companions for a vacation.
“I find it helpful to define what truly works in every relationship,” Alana continues. “I told my husband that I need his opinion on dealing with my cranky uncle. Should I visit Uncle Bill more, or should I back off and visit him less?”
Alana says her husband, Joe, is very grounded. He told Alana, “Why don’t you ask Uncle Bill and let him voice his expectations?”
Alana did just that. She asked her uncle what would make him feel comfortable. Uncle Joe told her he liked her visits, but he missed playing cards and watching sports on TV with another male.
“The perfect solution,” says Alana, “is that I now take my husband with me to visit Uncle Joe. A couple of times a month, they watch TV together while I clean Joe’s apartment. Once a month, the three of us play cards. My cranky uncle has turned into a different person.”
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Judi Light Hopson is executive director of the stress management website USA Wellness Café at usawellnesscafe.com. Emma Hopson is an author and a nurse educator. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.