If a Friend Complains, Shouldn’t I Commiserate?

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I received a great question from a wife about what to do when someone else complains. She said she normally would complain about her life, too, so the person would feel she could understand them and they wouldn’t feel alone. And she worried that if they said they were really tired and she didn’t tell them she was really tired, too, that they would maybe feel like she thought her life was better or that she would come across as being rude in some way.
This is a really important issue! I’m super excited it has been brought up.
 
We can empathize and sympathize with others if they are sick, tired, upset, etc… But we don’t have to complain about our lives, too.
 
If a friend/coworker/customer says she is really tired, I can say:
  • “I’m so sorry to hear that. It sounds tough.”
  • “Oh, no. I hate that you are so exhausted. That’s no fun.”
  • “Hey, is there anything I can do to help?”
 
I do think that one reason women tend to complain about our husbands together is this very thing. Many women want their friends to feel like they understand them and can relate. So if one wife complains about her husband, the others will join in. We don’t want other women to feel isolated or abandoned. We want them to know we all have similar struggles.
It’s a good thing to want to be a supportive friend.
 
But a negative, grumbling, complaining spirit about our husbands (and other things) hurts us. It hurts the way we think of our husbands. It hurts our marriages. It hurts our friendships. It hurts our relationship with other coworkers or our boss – if we complain about them. It hurts our ability to witness effectively for Jesus. It grieves the heart of God. And it stunts our ability to be thankful and to live by faith in God. So we need to be cautious about this, my precious sisters.
 

If a Friend Has Significant Issues Going on:

If a friend begins to complain about her husband, I can empathize that she is feeling upset. “I’m so sorry things have been frustrating. That sounds really discouraging.” And then I can pray and invite God to give me wisdom about how to be an encouragement to her. Depending on the situation and how close of a relationship we have, maybe I can:
  • Listen and hear her heart and pain. Try to understand the situation.
  • Validate her feelings.
  • Relate to her struggle. (Without complaining about or disrespecting anyone in my life.)
  • Pray with her about the situation and invite God into the situation to work for His glory.
  • Do a spiritual checkup with her to be sure she is receiving good things from God.
  • Possibly share some things I have learned that have helped me in similar situations.
  • Offer insights or possible helpful resources as the Lord leads.
  • Make sure she is safe – if she is facing abuse or something truly awful, she may need more help and resources for a very difficult situation.

It depends on the relationship – and how much time we have – how we would approach another woman in this situation. Ultimately, we will need the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit to give us exactly the right words to share in each scenario. We want women to feel validated and supported. And then we want to be able to point them to the hope that is available to them in Christ. We may even be able to witness and share the gospel with them if they don’t know the Lord. Or if they know the Lord already, but are struggling with faith, we may be able to encourage them to yield to His Lordship. God may help us see exactly what they need.

Some women may be open to some positive new suggestions from us. Especially those who are really close to us. Others would not be. Some may be offended if we try to encourage them to look for good things in their lives. We can’t force anyone to change her thinking. We can invite them to. But if they clearly don’t want to, we can respect their decision. That is their choice to make. We can back away.

If a Friend Has a Pretty Good Situation, but Just Has a Habit of Complaining

Some women in our lives may not have big problems in their lives or marriages, they may just be in a bad habit of thinking and talking about only negative things. In a situation like that, I may be able to gently mention some blessings she has in her life, or encourage her to think about the good things in her life. I may even invite her – in a sweet, friendly way – to join me on a fast from negative words. Who knows, she may be excited about it!

If Someone Is Very Emotionally/Spiritually Toxic

Sadly, there are some people who are so negative and toxic, we need to be careful about how much influence we allow them to have on our lives. They could easily drag us down. There are times when we may have to distance ourselves from those who insist on focusing on complaining, resentment, bitterness, hatred, negativity, insults, arguing, etc… If someone encourages me to resent my husband or to think and speak in negative ways about him, my life, other people, my job, or the Lord, that can be a problem. If someone tries to divide my marriage or other relationships, I want to be very cautious.
  • As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him. Titus 3:10
  • Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” 1 Cor. 15:33
  • Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. Prov. 13:20
  • A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends. Prov. 16:28
  • Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends. Prov. 17:9
  • Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare. Prov. 22:24-25
 
Let’s seek to bring the God’s joy, peace, and a spirit of thanksgiving into our homes, workplaces, and relationships. This is part of how we can be salt and light!
 
How is the 3 week fast from negative words going for you so far? We’d love to hear about your experience.
 
Much love!

RELATED VERSES

  • Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Eph. 4:29
  • Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thess. 5:18
  • And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Rom. 8:28
  • Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Phil. 4:8

RELATED POSTS

Other posts about complaining

If I Stop the Negative Talk – What on Earth Will I Talk about?

How Does Bad Company Corrupt Good Character? www.gotquestions.org

Is It Good to Have Close Friendships with Unbelievers? www.gotquestions.org

A Wife Begins a 21 Day Fast from Negative Words

Join Me for a 21 Day Fast from Negative Words

When a Husband Is Negative, Critical, or Hurtful

Prayers for Wives with Critical, Harsh Husbands – by Radiant

11 Reasons We Can’t Afford to Skimp on Praising and Thanking God

For emotionally destructive friendships or extended family relationships, please check out Leslie Vernick’s resources here.

14 Replies to “If a Friend Complains, Shouldn’t I Commiserate?”

  1. Hi April,
    Thanks for addressing this issue. I agree with everything you said in that post and appreciate your wisdom.

    I also agree with you that it is wise to distance ourselves from negative, toxic people who try to cause divisions among others. I have distanced myself from a few people like that and am happier as a result.

    Here is a related question about friendship. I have a female friend who has been raised to put money first and only date rich men. I was not raised that way and happily married a poor man because I loved him. Out of love and concern for me, she has tried to encourage me to get a pre-nuptial agreement and hide assets from my husband. My husband is very offended by her materialistic ways and the kind of advice she gives me even though I don’t take her advice at all. When she comes over to visit me, he actually hides in the bedroom to avoid having anything to do with her and he won’t attend any event if he knows that she will be there. He doesn’t try to encourage me to end the friendship but it’s a bit awkward for me. I’ve known her for over 20 years and care about her a lot. I accept that she was raised differently from me and I don’t take her advice or discuss any aspect of my marriage with her. She has no idea that my husband doesn’t like her. When he stays in his room or does not attend an event, I just tell her that he’s tired or sick.

    I’m not comfortable with this situation and would appreciate your insight.

    1. Nikki,

      That can be a really sensitive situation. I’m glad that you love your friend. I’m also glad you see that her advice is not healthy for your marriage.

      It is totally appropriate to prayerfully consider saying something like, “I know that you share this advice out of your love and concern for me. But I would really appreciate if you try to treat my husband and my marriage with respect. What I mean is, please don’t encourage me to do things that would hurt my marriage or my husband. I have no plans to hide things from my husband. I want us both to be open with each other and I want us to trust each other. I am so thankful for your friendship. But I am also very thankful for my marriage. It is my most important human relationship because it is a lifelong covenant before God. And it would mean so much to me to know that you support my husband and marriage. Thanks!”

      Or, you could prayerfully consider waiting until she says something that is disrespectful and then gently, but firmly, say something like, “When you say things like that – that I should hide things from my husband, it makes me sad. I know you love me and want to protect me. But I want to know that you support my marriage. I want to honor my husband, my marriage, and the Lord. So please don’t give me advice about how I should not be transparent with my husband. I know your intentions were good. But it would mean a lot to me if you treat my husband and marriage with respect. Thank you so much for understanding.”

      Much love!

      1. Hi April,
        I love those tips.
        I just need to know: Am I disrespecting my husband by maintaining this friendship?

  2. Hi April, thanks for letting me know about this post since it was related to an issue I am having. Actually this very thing happened to me yesterday when I was at a group and a friend was telling me of an issue with family members and it was pretty negative. I immediately began sharing my current issues within our family in which my mother joined in and it ended up being a negative slandering session that I left feeling really defeated and guilty about as this has been an ongoing sin issue for me. Yes I agree that we as woman do tend to try to make others feel like we understand by sharing our own struggles but I realised a long time ago that it does not help any one and is a terrible witness for Christ. It isn’t healing at all. God began dealing with this in my life years ago in which i truly sought to deal with the heart issues so that it wouldn’t just be me trying to stop saying things in the flesh, since we know that ‘out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.’ (Mathew 12:34) I found that since I am very weak in this area and trying to overcome bitterness and hurt with people in my life, that I needed to limit the time spent around my mother who was also bitter and feels that it is quite justified to slander people if it is true. I love my mother but our interactions have been making it near impossible to overcome in this area. I have explained and spoken to her about how this affects me but it hasn’t helped. It has affected my marriage and relationships because it has confused me and not allowed me to heal from what people have done. So it is important to guard ourselves and be careful around other negative people unless we are strong enough not to be influenced by these sins.

    1. Megan,

      I think when we are cherishing bitterness, it becomes extremely difficult not to say negative things about the people we are upset with.

      Bitterness can become an idol. Eventually, it takes over our entire identity. It is extremely caustic to us and to all of our relationships. And it opens a door to let the enemy have a lot of ground in our lives. The longer bitterness is allowed to fester, the bigger it grows and the more area it overtakes for the enemy. Then we give our mouths to the enemy and allow him to attack others through our words. We allow him to speak death to others through us instead of giving our words over to the Lord to speak healing and life.

      I have a number of posts on this topic. You are welcome to search “bitterness.” And you are welcome to search, “forgiveness.” Of course, if someone is continually hurting you and they don’t repent and aren’t willing to rebuild trust, you may be able to forgive them in the power of the Lord, but that doesn’t mean you can – or should – trust them. Those are two different things entirely.

      And if you have someone in your life that is very bitter, like your mom, Leslie Vernick’s posts may be a blessing – especially the ones about toxic and critical people and destructive people.

      Let me know if you need more resources or if you would like prayer. Much love!

  3. I would like to share my experience. A few years ago I was complaining to my sister about my husband and expecting her to agree with me. But she didn’t and that was a real wake up call for me. I can’t remember what she did say but she just wouldn’t join me in criticising my husband and I really thought she’d agree with me about how I was right and he was wrong. I really respect my sister so the fact that she obviously didn’t agree with my assessment of the situation made me rethink. I am very grateful to her.
    I think showing a different approach can be very powerful.

    1. Cariad,

      Thank you for sharing this. We have an incredible opportunity to be a godly influence in the lives of those we love. May the Lord give us all wisdom for each situation, that we might shine for Christ.

  4. I love this post. I have a question (unrelated to this topic). I am trying to abstain from youtube and other social medias that I believe are sucking up most of my free time. I find myself gravitating towards other unhealthy ways to fill the day such as shopping at random, etc. I wondered if you have any ideas or nuggets of wisdom you can share about not staying “idle” as a godly wife. I know we can cook and clean, but when we aren’t doing that and the home is empty… can you share some ideas you might have for this?

    1. Amber W.,
      Some things I love to do – sing praises to God, have long times with Him reading Scripture and journalling prayers, walking outside, and finding my calling from the Lord to minister to others.

      Invite God to show you what gifts and abilities He has given you to bless the Body of Christ. Invite Him to show you opportunities to use your gifts and to be a blessing to others and to share the Gospel. Yield your time and abilities to Him and see what amazing adventures He has in store for you.

      Much love!

    2. Hi Amber,
      It’s possible that you’re a bit lonely and disconnected during the day when the house is empty and may be turning to your smart phone/ipad for company. That would lead to the unhealthy behaviour you are describing.

      Would you consider volunteering with those less fortunate a few hours a week when your kids are at school?

      When a boyfriend broke up with me years ago, I was 36 and single – going home every day to a sad, lonely, empty house and feeling just awful. I knew that turning to Facebook would not fill the hole in my life so I started volunteering at an orphanage two afternoons a week. I helped them with homework, played with them and just loved them. It was really fulfilling and helped me to recover from the break-up very quickly, while making a positive contribution to the children’s lives and serving the Lord through serving the poor. It may be something you can consider doing as well.

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