"How can I get relationship advice without gossiping? And is therapy just a big gossip fest?" Somebody asked me to write a blog post about this, and I think those are really interesting questions.
Gossip is "idle talk, groundless rumor." (The Oxford Desk Dictionary)
When we're gossiping, it's none of our business. But I feel better when I talk about so-and-so's terrible trouble with her children. I go away feeling satisfied because she is way worse off than I am. It is unhealthy, harmful, and mean-spirited, even when I dress it up with a "bless her heart and call the prayer chain."
My personal guideline for avoiding gossip is to tell my own story.
I can't completely avoid talking about other people, because my life is comprised mostly of relationships. Other people's actions do impact me, and often I need to process what I think and feel in response to someone else.
But I can feel in my gut when I've crossed the line from telling my story to making somebody else look bad for my own entertainment. Doesn't always stop me, but I can feel it there.
Advice is "counsel, guidance, suggestion." (Oxford)
And I hope this is what happens in therapy. My goal in therapy is to help my clients tell the truth, sort out their feelings, own what they can, and decide upon a healthy course of action in the relationship. We're trying to be healthy, to respect everyone involved, and to work toward understanding and forgiveness. I think all those things separate therapy from gossip.
So that's my basic answer.
But then there's this other fascinating thing, called triangulation.
When we triangulate, we "reduce anxiety in one relationship by focusing on a third party, who we unconsciously pull into the situation to lower the emotional intensity in the original pair." (Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Anger.)
We can use gossip to triangulate, and I think women do this a lot.
Say I'm anxious about my relationship with Friend A. She and I get together for lunch, and I feel like there's a distance between us. It's really easy to say, "Hey, did you hear about Friend B?" and then Friend A and I can agree about whatever bad thing is going on with Friend B, and we feel closer together.
Triangulation can go far beyond simple gossip, especially when there's entrenched anxiety in important relationships, especially in marriages. A lot of times, people will blow up another relationship when their marriage is in difficulty. It's better, on the relationship-anxiety scale, to be upset and distracted about a bad friend or a bad kid or a bad boss than a bad marriage.
So, what do you think?
What tempts you to gossip? Why?
Can you find patterns of triangulation in your life? What's the underlying anxiety?