Close friends and family are often the first line of support people go to when experiencing relationship difficulties. When things get hard in a marriage or with a girl/boy-friend, it is really nice to have someone to talk to about it. While there may be limits on how much information is too much information, usually confidants are happy to be help. Whether you would like to confide in someone, or whether you have become a confidant, here are some helpful tips to keep things on track.
If you want to confide in someone:
- Choose someone who cares about you and your partner. Doing this will make it possible for you to share what is going on without skewing the confidant’s perception too much. Then, when things are better, you don’t have to “fix” things between your partner and the confidant. Confidants who know and care about both of you will also be more likely to help you see a perspective you haven’t understood yet.
- Choose someone whose opinions seem sound. It might feel good to spout off to a superficial supporter, but what you get in return will be equally superficial. When you take your concerns to someone whose wisdom and depth have already been demonstrated, you can expect to get good, grounded responses.
- Choose someone who has experienced something similar, and resolved it. While his/her experience might not be just like your, these confidants can give you hope and help you find solutions.
- Choose someone who can spend time with you to listen. Some people, as great as they are, just don’t have a lot of time or emotional energy. If they are already stretched thin, look for someone else. It’s hard on both of you if your chosen confidant just doesn’t have the resources to be with you through this at the moment.
- Choose someone who feels emotionally safe. Being vulnerable enough to share your concerns can be challenging. When there is emotional safety in a relationship, it makes vulnerability doable and will likely protect you from negative repercussions.
If someone is confiding in you:
- Listen and validate. Just doing the work to understand the person who is confiding in you can make a big difference. Acknowledging the feelings and recognizing the concerns is important. “This is really a strain on your relationship,” “You feel really worried about this,” or even just “wow,” and a hug can all be appropriate responses.
- Give some perspective. This might come in the form of a brief personal experience, something you noticed about the situation that the confider might not have, or how you see the confider may be contributing to the problem, too. If you frame this in a constructive way, it can be very helpful!
- Refrain from criticizing. It might be tempting, in an effort to show emotional support, to criticize the confider’s partner. Criticism of either partner is not helpful, though, and can damage a person’s sense of hope or even their sense of worth. It also damages your relationship with the confidant, and more so if things work out with the partner later.
- Help them find their own solutions. While you might have an opinion about the “right” thing to do, refrain from sharing it. Ask questions, instead, to help the person find and analyze solutions of their own.
- If the problem seems too serious for your skills, or your worry about the safety of a person or relationship, suggest they see a therapist. Friends help friends get good help. While seeing a therapist has sometimes had negative associations in our culture, you can be the best support by encouraging them to get professional help. Your suggestion may diminish the stigma for them.
Our relationships are valuable; giving and getting support by sharing a confidence can be great, if we are careful and caring about how we do it.
Seal, K. L., Doherty, W. J., & Harris, S. M. (2016). Confiding about problems in marriage and long‐term committed relationships: A national study. Journal Of Marital And Family Therapy, 42(3), 438-450.
Written by: Julia Bernards, Masters student in Marriage and Family Therapy.