Reality Check: Speak up or stand down, continued

We’ve already looked at a couple who had neglected to share important aspects of their lives with each other until it was almost too late. It is important to recognize when it’s time to speak up about what you are thinking and feeling.

There are also times when it is helpful to keep thoughts and feelings to yourself. Really? When?

Mary has been unlucky in love. Regardless of whether you perceive the cause as bad luck, poor choices, or unfortunate circumstances, the consequence is that Mary has had an unhappy love life.

Over the years, her friend Beth has noticed that Mary’s romantic encounters share a theme:  head-over-heels excitement, followed by misunderstandings, leading to conflicts, culminating in a traumatic break-up.

Now, Mary has met someone new. She’s enthralled and tells Beth, “This one is different!”

Beth is not so sure. Mary’s past choices have resulted in such distress that Beth is instinctively suspicious of anyone who gets involved with her, even when she has no specific reason.

Now, Mary has surprised Beth with, “He’s suggested that I sell my house, quit my job, and take up beachcombing with him in Mexico.” Mary adds, “Beth, please be happy for me.”

As Mary’s friend, who genuinely wants her to have a happy and satisfying life, what would you do?

Notice that Mary hasn’t asked Beth for her opinion. Not asking can be a remarkably clear indication that your valuable opinion isn’t wanted!

Of course, Beth could offer advice anyway: “Don’t get carried away! We both know what happens when you get infatuated. Better walk away now, before you get hurt.”

Before speaking up, however, Beth might ask herself two questions, “Would this advice tell Mary something she hasn’t already thought of?” And, “Will saying this help or harm my relationship with Mary?”

Ultimately, what’s right for Mary has to be worked out by Mary, even if it looks foolhardy to Beth. Personal freedom means that each of us makes our choices, both the wise ones and the foolish ones. Then, we have the opportunity to live with the consequences!

However, we can support and encourage someone without supporting and encouraging all of their choices. For example, Beth could tell Mary, “I’m here for you, no matter how things work out.”

If so, then it will be helpful for Beth to ensure that she and Mary have the same perception of what “here for you” means. That meaning could range from, “I’m here for you to call when you are feeling down” to, “I’m here to sell your house, adopt your cat, and send money if the beachcombing doesn’t work out.”

The level of support and encouragement that Beth offers is her choice; the decision of what to do is Mary’s choice.

If you are in a situation where you’re not sure whether to speak up or stand down, try this criteria:

  • Are you providing information?
  • Are you strengthening a relationship?

If neither, maybe it’s appropriate to remain silent.

Do you think Beth should speak up and voice her concerns? Or simply offer her friend unwavering support?

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