Nov 042013 21 Responses

Only Tell Your Problems to Two People

We make two mistakes when it comes to talking about our problems with other people:

Some tell everyone everything.

Some tell no one anything.

Neither is a good option.

While being an open-book has noble qualities, few things can destroy our lives as much as failing to have boundaries with other people. Telling everything to everyone can have disastrous consequences.

I see this when an affair is found out. Often the hurting spouse will quickly spread the word of what their husband/wife has done. It feels good in the moment. It keeps the spouse from having to put on a front and pretend like everything is okay. It publicly places the blame where it often should be placed.

Yet, I’ve never seen someone who told everyone everything who didn’t later regret it. If the spouse chooses to work on the marriage, having everyone know “their secret” is not helpful. It can sabotage the marriage recovery as each person gives their two-cents of what the couple should do.

Conversely, I know many people who never tell anyone anything. On the surface this appears as a great strength. Yet the appearance of stoicism is not strength. It’s weakness cloaked in power. It’s dangerous.

No one was created to navigate this world on their own. No matter the pain and sorrow of past relationships, everyone should risk inviting someone into their lives and sharing their problems with someone.

This raises a key question: Whom should I tell of my struggles?

When it comes to the private issues of life, I would recommend only telling your problems to two people:

Only tell someone who can help. This is the most important rule when in the midst of a difficult situation. It provides a guardrail from keeping you from telling to many people. Only tell those who can help you deal with the issue. When I deal with couples who are dealing with an affair, I tell them—tell one friend, one pastor, and one counselor. The friend can help you with the details of life, the pastor can assist you spiritually, and the counselor can help your marriage. Don’t tell anyone else unless it is absolutely necessary. While it feels necessary to tell every friend and family member, it will not be helpful. Remember: you can always decide later to tell someone else, but once you tell someone you cannot take it back.

Only tell someone it can help. After you have navigated a tough time, there is a second group of people to whom you can tell your story. If hearing your story can help someone else, tell them. Stories are powerful and we can often leverage them to assist others. Generally, telling our story in the midst of the struggle is not helpful to others, but once we get a step or two down the road, we can use our stories to assist others. This takes courage, transparency, and vulnerability, but it is often worth it.

Everyone deals with problems. Some situations tempt us to tell everyone. Other situations tempt us to tell no one. Rarely are either of those two options appropriate. By only telling someone who can help and someone who it can help, we maintain our privacy while also joining others in healthy community.

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