According to clinical psychologist Lindsay Jernigan, PhD, relationships are one of the most crucial parts of our life, and thus require delicate care to uphold. Sometimes, we can be too harsh with our partners, and we need people to hold us accountable. Other times, we need a second opinion about whether we have a right to feel hurt or upset. Because how else can we grow, if not from friends’ feedback? “Rattling around in our own brains with such important personal experiences isn’t always the path to self-knowledge or clarity,” says Dr. Jernigan, who contends that issues like sex often aren’t discussed enough privately or in broader culture. “This is unfortunate, because knowledge is empowering, and a lack of knowledge can lead to unnecessary confusion and shame.”
While TV shows often focus on more light, surface-level sex talk, Dr. Jernigan has found the IRL version of these conversations tend to focus on vulnerability, honesty, support, and empathy—all factors that are helpful to explore for way more than a mere laugh. “It’s a good idea to seek a friend’s perspective if you’re feeling confused and are trying to sort something out; processing feelings like sadness, anger, or resentment; or simply want to celebrate something joyful,” she says. “Being heard is incredibly healing, and helps us know ourselves better.”
That said, certain rules of thumb can help you navigate how to to share. For instance, there are friends with whom you can spill the tea, and friends around whom you’d be wise to stay mum. “Relationship talk is helpful if you want to process your emotions or your issues,” says clinical counselor Karla Ivankovich, PhD. “But friends also have to understand emotions change—and sometimes rapidly.”
“It’s best to consider how you would feel if your partner found out. Or, think about what would happen if your friend told others." —clinical counselor Karla Ivankovich, PhD
Meaning: Your boyfriend’s flirty Instagram behavior might lead you to vent to all your friends today, but once you work it out tomorrow and the two of you are still together, how will they handle it? Will they resent your partner for the information you shared before you two resolved the issue? Furthermore, before sharing personal information with a friend, decipher how objectively they're at assessing situations. “Look to confide in friends who are great at giving you validation and empathy, but who also aren’t afraid to challenge you and point out your blind spots,” says Dr. Jernigan. “Avoid confiding in friends who crowd your experience out with their own opinions. If they think they know what you should feel, then they aren’t really listening, they’re projecting.”
A good litmus test for knowing a you had a productive conversation about your romantic relationship is if you come away from it feeling more confident in yourself and your point of view—not as though you simply co-opted the opinions your friends were serving. “Relationship choices and reflections shouldn’t be a matter of groupthink," say Dr. Jernigan. "They should be about what you think. And communicating with the right friends will help you know what that is.”
That said, you want to make sure you’re not crossing any boundaries with your significant other—especially if you share friends, and especially when it comes to intimate details. “It’s best to consider how you would feel if your partner found out,” says Dr. Ivankovich. “Or, think about what would happen if your friend told others. The newspaper test works well for this one” (The newspaper test requires you to ask yourself, ‘How would I feel if my actions in this moment were reported on the front page of the newspaper, and everyone found out—my partner included?’).
“If your partner wouldn’t want a certain friend knowing the inside details of your relationship, then ideally you find a different friend to be your confidante." —clinical psychologist Lindsay Jernigan, PhD
Furthermore, if your partner doesn't like a certain, specific friend, it’s best to find someone else to talk to, says Dr. Jernigan. “In these situations, it’s important to honor your partner’s privacy, as much as possible,” she says. “If your partner wouldn’t want a certain friend knowing the inside details of your relationship, then ideally you find a different friend to be your confidante. This doesn’t mean you can’t confide in someone who knows or is friends with your partner, but choose wisely.”
You probably know which of your friends has a hard time keeping a secret, for example. If someone's shared intimate details of another friend’s life with you? Best to find another friend. “Look for a confidante who can respect your confidentiality to the highest degree,” says Dr. Jernigan. That said, when shared with the right person, no single matter necessarily needs to be off the table, depending on the communication guidelines and expectations within your specific relationship. “Chances are, whatever you are experiencing in your romantic or sexual relationship is something others have experienced, too. And, chances are, if you choose to share with the right friend, you’ll come away from any conversation feeling closer to yourself, to your friend, and better equipped to show up authentically with your partner.”
Research shows that self-disclosure creates trust, intimacy, and closeness between two people, whether they’re partners, colleagues or friends. So, go ahead. If you’re not having enough sex, aren’t getting along with your boyfriend’s family, or can’t agree on how to decorate your first place together, get some feedback from your squad. Choose the right person to open up to, and you may end up closer to your partner and friend.
For some more intel on friendship, learn the three types that exist (and the only type you actually need). Also, here's how to host friends for a weekend without spending a million dollars.
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