(Names and situation changed)
I had a very wise friend who once told me that when her kids were young, she wanted them to tell her everything that went on in their lives. As they grew and became teens, she wished they shared less, as her sleepless nights were directly related to things she couldn’t control and battles that were long since over − only she wasn’t aware that they were no longer a problem for her children.
Once married, she was really sorry when her children shared as much as they did. “They fight and I’m upset with my son/daughter-in-law. Then they make up and I don’t even know about it and I’m still angry. It changes my relationship with their spouses and how I relate to them long after the fight is over. It is really between them, and I’m better off not knowing.”
How much we choose to share with those around us is very individual. It depends on our relationship, our feeling of trust and how close we may feel to the person we choose to share with. Conversely, do parents or friends have a right to be upset if you choose not to share? Does our closeness give the people we are intimate with the right to know everything that goes on in our life?
When discussing this with a well spouse support group, many of the participants said they hated being questioned about the details of their spouse’s illness. They felt that eventually questions would be asked that were private and intimate in nature. Questions they were uncomfortable dealing with. Yet, at the same time, they felt that not knowing what was going on in your life kept their friends from being supportive and often got you the accusation of being less of a friend.
When Sarah, a well spouse in the group, recently attended her best friend Gayle’s funeral, she was shocked to learn that her closest friend had a stepfather she knew nothing about. The newly discovered relative, attending the service, not only was not Jewish, he was of a different race than Gayle. “How could we have been the closest of friends for over 10 years and I never knew this? I feel betrayed and wonder if we really were as close friends as I thought.”
Miriam, another group member, had felt betrayed when her best friend Joyce wasn’t there for her when she was going through a hard time. Weeks later, she heard from mutual friends that just at the time that Miriam was going through her difficulties; Joyce was having serious problems with her daughter. Miriam felt betrayed again. “Not only wasn’t she there for me when I needed her, but she didn’t allow me to be there for her when she needed me. As her friend, she should have shared with me so that I could have been there for her.”
Do we have a right to know everything about our friends? Does friendship mean sharing everything in our lives or are we entitled to privacy − even secrets − without offending those closest to us? Why do our friends get offended when we choose not to share what is painful in our lives?
Perhaps when a very close friend doesn’t share something that is hurting them and we find out about it, we feel defensive. It challenges our image as a good and close friend. We begin to wonder if we were really as close a friend as we had imagined. Surely if that were true, we would have known what was going on in their lives. They would have used us to share their pain. We would have been there for them had they let us. Which begs the question, “Why didn’t they tell us?”
Viewing it this way, however, moves the focus from our friend and their pain to us and ours. And our hurt is not what “being there” is all about. Some people find it easier not to share when they are in difficulty, no matter how close the relationship is. They know that sharing will lead to questions and questions can be obtrusive and upsetting. Questions, even, “How are you managing today?” may be more than they choose to deal with at the moment.
What our friends choose to deal with in time of pain should really be up to them. Some people are only too aware that when they share problems they are having with spouses or children, their confidants will never be able to see these people in the same positive light again. The painful situation will pass, but our friends will forever see our loved ones, our momentary adversary, in a negative light.
If we want to support our friends and if it is truly about their pain and not our rejected need to give support, aren’t those we are close with entitled to share or not when they are ready and not on our demand? And aren’t we a better friend for respecting what they want instead of imposing what we want on them? Further, knowing that what they say will color how we relate to their loved ones, maybe we are better off not knowing, as my wise friend believes.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.