Managing Feelings — 18 November 2013
A Friend’s Complaint

Most coupled people experience intermittent frustrations with their partners. This is normal and understandable. It is inconceivable to be intimately connected to a spouse without occasionally encountering some frustrations, misunderstandings or conflicts about preferences, views or values. Yet, when a friend confides in you about his/her annoyance with a mate you may become bewildered about how best to respond to this information.

Though conflict in intimate relationships is a given, research indicates that it is a source of emotional and health hazards. Dr. Frank Fincham of the University of Buffalo, N.Y. writes, “Marital conflict has been linked to the onset of depressive symptoms, eating disorders, male alcoholism, episodic drinking, binge drinking, and out-of-home drinking. Although married individuals are healthier on average than the unmarried, marital conflict is associated with poorer health and with specific illnesses such as cancer, cardiac disease, and chronic pain, perhaps because hostile behaviors during conflict are related to alterations in immunological, endocrine, and cardiovascular functioning.”

It is thus understandable that as a method of stress reduction, mates in conflict would seek support from their friends. The battle-fatigued spouse may harbor doubts about himself/herself or the partner’s culpability in creating the painful emotions. Validation of one’s worthiness, lovability and conduct is desperately sought for the restoration of one’s esteem. Receiving an “objective” affirmation of the mate’s misconduct is stabilizing to one’s self-regard. Hearing that he/she is “rightfully annoyed with the mate” restores one’s balanced self-view and affirms his/her status as the offended party and justified complainer. It also exonerates him/her from the wrong conduct he/she may have engaged in during the conflict.

The listening friend is placed in a precarious position. Validating the complainer’s perception may directly malign the spouse. Also, the recitation of events and outcomes of conflicts greatly vary between the parties reporting the conflict. Since the listener is not privileged to hearing both sides of the feuding mates, it is hard to affirm the complainer’s version without rendering the spouse as the offending party.

Siding with a friend’s version of events is likely to ultimately alienate the listener from the friend’s spouse.  Since most pairs eventually reconcile their differences, forgive each other and resume their love connection, taking sides is hazardous to one’s friendship with the couple or the temporarily disgruntled party.

Expressing an opinion about the mate’s emotional stability, personality, mental wellbeing or innate emotional traits is very unwise. When the couple eventually restores their healthy interaction, the confiding mate may disclose your assessment of the spouse and may eventually cause you to become estranged from your friend.

The only option you have is to support your friend’s emotions and marital relationship without passing judgment on either party.

When consulted about another’s marital rift,

  • Support your friend’s emotional distress about the conflict with his/her beloved.
  • Avoid assessing the spouse’s behavior, words or character.
  • Be supportive of their union and reassure your friend that their relationship will be restored in love again. 

    Do you need to improve your relationship? Contact Offra Gerstein, a clinical psychologist in Santa Cruz with more than 30 years of success in helping couples restore their love. Call 476-7666 or visit







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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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