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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bashing and trashing may feel like support, but who is it really helping?

It isn't rocket science to understand that relationships are hard!  Anyone who has been in a serious relationship or marriage knows that even under the most ideal circumstances, dealing with another person is not child's play.

Healthy relationships require a level of maturity, communication, commitment and trust which can consume a great deal of time and energy to be successful. But, as they say- you can't live with them, and you can't live without them. To many people, relationships are a mystery, to others a blessing.

So what happens when one person in the couple fails or betrays the other? It happens every day. Most of us have seen friends, family, and co-workers relationships fall to pieces. It is a fairly common human experience. But there are some individuals who feel personally indignant when they learn of a friend's relationship hitting a bump.It brings out a ferocity and venom that can be downright hateful. But why?

Very few people reach middle age without experiencing some heartbreak. If you believe the statistics, divorce is almost the norm. For those who have managed to master marriage and stay together, there are still often issues, deficiencies and serious problems.

Let's face it- relationships are difficult even under the best circumstances. Two adults attempting to work through life together, day in and day out, can find their relationship exhausting and discouraging. For all the wonderful aspects of having a significant other or spouse, there are also restrictions, limitations and inevitable frictions.

I have noticed that when a spouse starts to "vent" to their friends, others may feel they are being supportive or kind when they jump to that person's defense. And in doing so, the bashing can start. One very insidious occurrence is the incidence of bashing that occurs if a couple is fighting, or more especially, if they break up. Then the gloves come off and the nastiness flows. It is very easy to be drawn into these discussions and to jump on the bandwagon or bash-a-thon. In some instances, a friend may be venting some of their own anger while comiserating with their friend. This is not productive for either party.

"He is a low-down, cheating, jerk and you are better off without him." "She was a controlling, b*tch who always held you back." "He isn't fit to live." "She was a pathetic excuse for a wife." 
And on and on and on.

But is it helpful to engage in this kind of bashing? Does it make the other person or injured party feel better? Maybe in the short term, but I think it is very sad and a bit pointless to engage in this sort of speculation. The only people who really and truly know what has happened in a relationship are those two people.

Even they have differing views and concepts of what has happened, so how is it that outsiders who have perhaps only glimpsed snippets of the couple's interaction and no one can fully understand the entire relationship dynamic. Certainly there are situations where people can speculate, but that hardly seems relevant or productive.

Let's use current events to draw from as an example. A famous married actor and politician has a child with the housekeeper and keeps it a secret from his wife and children for over a decade. Everyone has an opinion and the outrage is understandable. Of course we all feel decieved, lied to and disappointed that someone we may have admired would act in such a manner.

Suddenly, women everywhere feel entitled to bash this man and call him every name in the book. If they ever had a boyfriend or spouse betray them, they dredge it up and drag out all the dirty laundry. "All men are liars, cheats, jerks!" Perhaps it brings back the feelings of hurt and disappointment in their own lives; then when it happens to their best friend, they feel it is showing support for her to trash and bash her husband for being the same kind of jerk! But does it really help?

Does any woman feel better from hearing her friends put down the man she once loved? And even if it does make her feel better in the moment, is it productive or of any value? I can't imagine how it could make anyone feel better. If anything, it would make me feel worse.

Human nature is complicated.  I believe we make it so much worse when we attempt to cast judgement on people in situations which don't involve us. We all make serious mistakes we wish we could change. No one is completely free of  fault or poor choices.  Of course we are entitled to opinions and feelings.

Naturally it is important to sympathize with someone who has been hurt or disappointed. There are ways to comfort, counsel and empathize without becoming hostile or caustic in reactions or words.

Perhaps a more constructive way of showing empathy and support is to point out that you can love a person but still be very disappointed and furious with their actions. Love the sinner, hate the sin is a very wise saying. It reminds us that while we may absolutely abhor a person's actions, we shouldn't lose sight of their humanity or fallibility.

No one likes to hear of a marriage or relationship breaking up- especially if one party has hurt or abused the other one in an extreme or public manner. But really, is it anyone else's business or right to insert their opinions into the fray? What good comes from saying nasty things about the person's errant spouse? What does it prove?

If negative, bitter talk provides any insight or clarity, I'll eat my hat. All it really does is stir the proverbial pot of anger, resentment, bitterness and perpetuate the belief that men are dogs, women are cats or whatever cliche you choose. Isn't it better to give both people some dignity and spare all the banal accusations and comments?

Next time a friend has a problem with their spouse or significant other, take time to listen, be compassionate and make positive suggestions. Don't sink down to the level of bashing or baiting. Keep your own anger and feelings of hurt to yourself and remind yourself that we all have our own weaknesses and issues to contend with.

When a relationship ends, no matter how "bad" one party behaved or what the circumstances were that ended it, there is loss for both parties. Give it the dignity it deserves. It takes a great deal more maturity and composure to keep positive and stay on the high road. Dipping into the gutter only makes you dirty.


  1. Diana, I really appreciate your insight. And as a therapist, I've seen several clients who had friends play armchair couples counselor, to the detriment of both people involved. You're right---bashing does no good. I'd love to see you write a follow-up to this on ways to support a friend who is going through a painful patch in a relationship. The other side of this--and I've lived it--is when no one says anything to you but is bothered, disturbed or concerned when you're in a relationship with someone who doesn't seem to be healthy for you. And when more than a few people who know and love you feel this way, it's something you might want to look at. Great article, Diana---thank you!

  2. Diana,

    Thank you so much that you would so eloquently write about relationships. Having experienced a very painful divorce, in the only relationship in which I truly felt I finally knew the feeling of loving and being loved in marriage, I still agree completely with every word of your post.

    My marriage ended after I learned, not just of infidelity, but that it had been occurring over a period of many months, for when it was discovered, my husband's now wife, already was pregnant and nearly due. I remember how much I wanted only that one person, whether family or a friend, just be there to listen, maybe not even trying to advise me, for I already believed I knew what path I would then take.

    When we hurt that deeply, the type of "bashing" to which you do refer, does truly only hurt us more. In my case, I could not feel anger, only hurt. Because of my husband's profession and that his affair was with a co-worker, very known by many people before I learned of it, there were many who felt inclined to discuss what had been occurring. I really refer to gossip for it was not that they chose to speak with me.

    I imagine many people do not understand what is appropriate to say and I am sure many people want to reach out and truly just do not know what is best or how to help when they may want to.

    For me, I wish only that people then, even one person, would have chosen that they would offer just words that would make me know that even if they did not understand everything, even if I did not desire to discuss it, they would be there, if only to make me know they understood I was hurting inside.

    I know a person may never truly "fix" another, and I never sought that. Because of some of the very behavior you discuss in your post, I instead chose that I would isolate myself, just so I may find peace in my heart. So in reality, it probably is as this for many of us, that we sometimes only need that somebody will be with us in solitude, walk with us and just know it truly does not help to hear somebody say negative things about a person for whom we must have deep feelings, a person we love.

    One person did make a difference then. It was a person who knew what had been occurring and also a best friend to my husband. Though he did not say anything then, he later said to me that he knew and felt sorry that he could not tell me. I respected him so much that he did not. That I could tell he did understand how much I was hurting inside was all that mattered to me, not that he "side" with me, or even try to be anyone other than just a person who knew I was hurting. Friendship to me is sacred. Because he was my husband's best friend, if he would have chosen to tell me, I may have viewed that as a betrayal of sorts to my husband. This also relates to what you say about how nobody else truly knows the dynamics of another person's relationships.

    I made it through and still today I may not know all the answers as to what happened, for I truly did believe he too was very happy and would never violate my trust. Still, I made a choice based on what I felt I needed to do to make it through that heartbreak. I never have regretted the experience of being married to him, nor even the ending, and I am proud of that. Nobody may take away our memories. Even a bad ending does not remove any happiness which was once shared.

    I hope people will read your post and apply it, not only to any situations they are, or may find themselves in the future, but that they may also remember it, should ever anybody for whom they care, might need them to help them make it through.

    I appreciate and am grateful for you and that you share your gift of your insight and eloquently written words with others.

  3. Excellent observation. Unfortunately one that's unlikely to be heeded. Human nature can be a nasty, petty creature and the form of bashing you focus on tends to be learned habits from junior high through high school. Not only that, but the group think is only enforced by the lewd, but dominating programs on television that have the audacity to claim "reality". I agree with you wholeheartedly that a person with dignity should actually take offense to someone weighing in on a relationship that they have only observed from outside. Unfortunately I am guilty of this so called bashing, my reasoning, though I have never thought about it until now, have only been to console. I just never really grasped the gravity of words in wake of the moment.

  4. I am honored and humbled that I have said something that may give someone an insight that they have not previously had. It is my sincere hope that through communication with one another, one person at a time- we can all shed some light on situations which have previously been clouded. THANK YOU ALL for your comments, observations and opinions. It helps! Keep coming back.