Did you know that by hitting the * button on your phone you can un-send a voicemail before it is irretrievably sent out into the world? Yep, you can. And I thank my lucky stars for that because two weeks ago I would have left the most furious, self-righteous and all-around regrettable message on my husband’s phone. Because I was REALLY mad.
Here’s the deal: My husband Josh tends to pretend his cell phone doesn’t exist. That is, he’s got a phone, but when he’s not at work he’s just not all that attached to it. On the one hand, this is actually a good thing because it means he is being present doing whatever he’s doing and living in the moment. On the other hand, it’s less great when he and my son are out and I can’t freaking reach them when I need to, and sometimes I have no idea where they are or when they’re coming home.
The other day, they went MIA again. When there was no answer after I called a bunch of times, I basically flipped out. Hence the frantic and fuming f-bomb of a voicemail. However, before I was done with my tirade, I was wise enough to press that lucky * key to delete my message.
Why? Because I knew it would solve nothing. It’d serve no purpose other than to make things worse. But… I still needed a place to vent or I’d combust. So I did something that would have horrified my mother: I called a girlfriend and ranted about my husband.
This is something I was raised to NEVER do. Once, my mother and I were at our local pool and overheard a group of ladies chattering about their husbands; my mom was appalled and told me it was just plain disrespectful. No one’s private family business was for public consumption, she said — and I got what she was saying. But now I think she was wrong. My friends and I offer each other a ton of support when issues come up in our marriages, and personally I don’t know what I’d do without this support.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t share personal marital matters willy-nilly. Marriage is such an intimate and private bond that needs to be protected. It can be a real slippery slope when you start to open up your most important relationship to anyone else’s thoughts or opinions. But, the union of two unique people under one roof for ever and ever is kind of a major thing. How is a person expected to do it without a support network — and why should she?
So, yes, I 100% lean on my friends to help me through the muck of marital challenges—I’m just careful to follow these rules:
1) Know what you want to get out of venting.
What do you need in the moment? Are you looking to just blow off steam? Do you want advice? A sounding board? Connection? Do you want someone to set you right with complete and total straight-talk? Before I do anything, I try to take a breath and think about what I want to accomplish with this conversation. (And that will also help determine who I talk to.)
There are times I just want someone to listen, and nothing more. I have a very dear friend who always listens and responds with “Yeah, I get it. I get it.” And it just feels good, you know? Truth be told, I could be telling her I want to shave my head and run through the neighborhood naked and she’d still react this way. She offers love and understanding when I’m really not in the mood to hear nuggets of wisdom.
Other times I actually want a solution. One of my girlfriends has a corporate background and geeks out on lists and diagrams. If I reach out to her, she’ll bullet out the issues, propose different strategies and consider the pros and cons. I mean, yes, it’s a little academic. But when I need less emotion and a more practical “go forward plan” it’s very useful.
Most often, I like someone to help me examine my feelings after I unload them. Maybe it’s the psychology major in me, but I want to figure out what’s behind the anger. Am I hurt? Afraid? Insulted? Next, I want to figure out if my feelings are justified or whether something else is causing me to overreact. Like, since I’m a big-time worrier, maybe I’m more likely to spin out over Josh being unreachable than the average person would be? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? These are the times when I want complete and utter honesty and turn to a #nofilter friend who’s not afraid to tell me if I’m being a whackadoo. (Btw, this time I wasn’t.)
2) Choose the friend carefully.
When you’re really upset, it’s natural to want an ally, i.e. someone who will validate all your feelings and take your side no matter what. Man, it feels good to be right.
But for the most part, the safest people to talk to are those who really, truly, fundamentally believe in you and your partner — like, as a unit. Because no matter how riled up you are, that person will come from a place of optimism when it comes to your marriage. Because their faith in your coupledom is firm, they’ll really be able to listen, or problem-solve or set you right or whatever it is… without freaking you out over whether or not you and your partner are a good match. That part is a given.
So when I need to let my feelings fly, I make sure to choose a friend who really knows my husband and also loves him to pieces. For example, my dear friend who was the Maid of Honor in our wedding is our biggest fan. The day she met Josh, boom! She was on the Josh-&-Amy train, rain or shine. Since then, even though she’s my bff, the two of them have a friendship of their own that’s pretty awesome. So it doesn’t matter what I say, she loves him unconditionally. This is important. Because even if he sometimes makes me nuts, I definitely want to grow old with the guy. I want people in my life who get that, and will root for my marriage. Only then will I trust them with my dirty laundry.
3) Be clear (with yourself) about what topics are off limits.
Boundaries, you guys. Sure, everyone’s parameters are different. But you gotta know when you are heading towards a TMI trainwreck.
To be honest, I’m still evolving on this; I haven’t quite settled on a personal rule here. On the one hand, I’m an open person and am not interested in offering up a sanitized version of my life; I have no interest in keeping up appearances. I dig sharing the real and sometimes messy parts. It’s those conversations that remind me that I’m not the only one puzzling through the complicated world of couplehood. But I also know that when talking about my marriage, I’m not just exposing my own life, but my husband’s, too. So I’m learning to feel out the appropriate boundaries, and I apply them situationally. I’m not gonna dish about my sex life to my son’s third grade teacher, but give me a couple of glasses of wine at a girl’s weekend and I’m ready to pull out the visual aids.
I like to apply the “reversal” test. How would I feel if Josh were sharing the same info about me? Sometimes, if the shoe’s on the other foot, we might not like the open book routine so much.
Basically, don’t be a hypocrite and dish it out if you can’t take it.
4) Your friend is not your therapist.
There are some issues that are just beyond the qualifications of even the most devoted, wise friend. And this goes back to point #2… It isn’t fair to expect a friend to offer much more than an occasional ear when dealing with potentially serious matters. After all, because she truly cares about you and your spouse, your friend will be impacted by your pain and can feel very overwhelmed. So manage your expectations of what friends can and cannot help you with, and if you are facing issues that feel really heavy and unmanageable, seek professional help.
The bottom line–don’t go it alone.
Several years ago, Josh and I celebrated our anniversary with some close friends and family. As we raised our champagne glasses, I remember looking around the dinner table and thinking how true it is: it really does take a village. I know, it sounds cheesy, but I just felt the truth of that in the moment. With friends and family propping us up — whether by empathizing, advising or just celebrating all the happy milestones — we were way stronger as a couple than if we tried to keep our lives under lock-and-key. AND THAT INCLUDES THE HARD STUFF.
By the way, Josh and I have, for the most part, worked it out on the vanishing act front. But still, I’ll always have a few choice friends on speed-dial. It’s a must. And just in case, I’m really happy to know that that trusty * button exists on my phone. And now you know, too. May we all use it wisely.