Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: pexels.com
A few years ago, I was part of a facebook group of women who talked about motherhood, relationships and life in general. The tone was mostly one of kindness, loyalty and support for one another. One day, one of the women shared that her husband had told her he was leaving her. She was very angry and looked for support for her anger. And as we were loyal to each other, comment after comment followed the post expressing what an *** this man was. ‘I just can’t believe he is doing this to you’. ‘You’re so much better off without him!’ ‘I always knew he was no good.’ Somehow, we seemed convinced that these were the messages she wanted to hear, and that we were being good friends by justifying her anger against her husband, but is that really the best way to help?
When we reinforce someone’s story about the villain they have created in their minds, when we help them focus on this perspective of bad guy/good girl (or the other way around), we help the story grow. We help this person feel that their point of view is ‘right’ and the other person did something really ‘wrong’, and in this way we help them build their walls, their defenses and, in some cases their court cases. But is that really where we want to help people get to? To a conflict that seems impossible to fix? A story can easily turn so big that it leaves no room for reality. And it can become so rigid that it leaves no room for change, for evolution, for open conversation.
In my current relationship, I will not find this kind of loyalty. My partner refuses to join me in any kind of story that loses sight of empathy for the other person, and I don’t play the game for him either. It can be really frustrating, but it also keeps us from judging other people in ways we wouldn’t want to be judged ourselves.
I recently had a conflict with someone I love dearly. She said something that really caught me off guard, and in the hours afterwards, I noticed the plentitude of stories I was telling myself about the situation, stories in which I was, of course, right.
My first instinct is to go to my partner with issues like these, so I did. He gave me the empathy I needed (I see this hurts you really deeply) but also challenged the stories I presented (are you sure that’s true?), and pointed out the crucial aspect: ‘Does it really matter whether you’re right or not? Is that really what this is about?
By asking these questions, he helps me get beyond the stories to the people behind those stories. With coaching questions, he guides me to which needs I have and the other person(s) might have, so that there is room for dialogue. So there is a place to move on to after running into a wall.
This is what true loyalty looks like. It lies in doing what your partner, friend or family member needs you to do, rather than what they want you to do. Sometimes that can be acknowledging that their experience was horrible and that they should remove someone from their lives (in cases of abuse, for example). But many times it lies in challenging your loved ones, asking them the hard questions and helping them face the reality of a situation. That’s how you can help someone overcome their victimhood and grow stronger through it. You can’t do it by purely echoing back what they want to hear.
We’re tempted to seek out the kind of loyalty that agrees with us on all fronts. Friends who will ‘back us up’ seem to be the friends we trust more. But perhaps it is the friends who will tell us the truth even if we don’t want to hear it that we should hold closest to our hearts. When someone has the courage to tell you something you don’t want to hear, they are really putting themselves in risk of damaging the relationship. They don’t do this to antagonize you (well, some might, but you’ll know!), but rather because they think you deserve to know. They value you more than just how you feel about them personally. They don’t want you to be right, they want you to be happy.
I cherish these people in my life above all else, and I try to be one of them as often as possible (it’s not always easy to risk antagonizing someone). I hope you have someone just like this, and that you realise how valuable they are <3.
And I hope you are happy, even if you’re wrong ;-).