In therapy we know that we can only listen, educate and then let the cards fall where they may.
I’ve always looked down on therapists who try to therapize their friends. In the same vein I also totally despise it when people say they want to be a therapist, because “my friends all tell me I’m a good listener,” or “I’m always helping my friends with their problems.” A good friend does not a good therapist make, necessarily. And, yet I found myself doing the unthinkable, the thing I despise the most: Giving unsolicited advice.
Like many couples, they’d been together for many years. They own property together. They even run a business together. What made this couple different from any couple who came into my office is that this couple were good friends of mine. At what point did I think it would be okay to play therapist in their lives and meddle in their business. It totally went against my policy, and my philosophies.
In part, I blame society a little. I mean everywhere I go, social outings, parties, etc..and people hear what my profession is, that I am a sex therapist, people inevitably start asking me questions. They want advice, they give me hypothetical scenarios (which I already know who they are really inquiring about anyway) and as much as I want to leave my career at the front door before entering the party or social event, I have to say it’s the others who bring it out in me. This is Los Angeles, and in a big city full of sex and love I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
I also blame in part my personal experiences. Between getting divorced and then breaking up with the last guy who was also my live in I have a plethora of insight as to why my past two relationships failed. It just so happens I am now in a relationship with a guy who is just as focused on making the relationship work as I am, who’s relationship history is similar to mine. So, all of a sudden I think I am miss know-it-all.
So, I started talking shop at parties. Now that I think about it I’ve even done mock therapy sessions with couples without their knowledge, or them knowing it. And at some point it escalated to this. Every time we’d be at a party, after the party was in full swing, he would start talking to me about his girlfriend (my good friend) of 7 years. And me, partially thinking I’m being a helpful friend, partly bragging and showing off my great therapy skills particularly in the area of couples counseling decide it’s a good idea to go back and forth between him and her, first just asking questions to get them to talk but then after a few parties, skipping the small talk, and blatantly spewing advice on what the two of them need to do to save their relationship. And so it escalated. I thought I was being funny, I thought I was being helpful. I thought they were listening to me. Until one day, my good friend texts me, the text that made my heart sink down to my feet: “ Thanks to you, we are over.”
They’d broken up after the party and I was to blame. Apparently he interpreted what I was saying as, “You are too good for my friend and you deserve better.” Really? I decided to drop it. Why try to fix something that was already broken. More meddling? I thought best not to do more damage. And you might be thinking well they obviously had some other issues to begin with, but for me those thoughts fall on deaf ears. The damage had been done. I did the unthinkable, the very thing I’d never said I’d do. And, I felt horrible.
All we can do is learn from our mistakes and not make the same mistakes again. Your friends’ relationships when they are best left up to a therapist, one who they pay and see in an office are just that, Not Your Business. This is why dual relationships are cautioned against in our field. The therapist is often the easy one to blame. God forbid it should be a friend.
The nice thing also about therapy is that the couple shows up together, asking for your help. In this scenario, they weren’t asking for my help necessarily, they weren’t showing up together, and he wanted to vent. They weren’t ready for change, at least not the kind of change I thought they wanted, or should have (read: to stay together) and this time my words fell on deaf ears, and were grossly misinterpreted. I wanted them to have a better relationship. Change has to come from within and perhaps if they were ready to hear it they would have heeded my advice, but I gave it even when they weren’t asking for it. Furthermore, if they really wanted help they would have sought it out themselves. Or maybe, just maybe, the lesson is that we can’t control how people will interpret what we say or do. We cannot will our ideals onto them. We cannot make the decision for them, how they should and should not change. They are the experts on their lives. In therapy we know this. In real life, it’s quite a different thing. In therapy we know that we can only listen, educate and let the cards fall where they may.
So the lesson is this, yes, I may be a sex therapist by day, but at the end of the day, I am still little old me when it comes to my friends. No expertise needed there. Leave that at the office.
And, with all of that said, I am also publishing my first eBook, a guide for couples who have a need to hear what I have to say, and may even use it for change.