I have to vent, don’t I?

Evie: My boyfriend doesn’t like it when I talk to my girlfriends about our problems. He says I’m sharing our personal business but I tell him I have to vent to get things off my chest. I tell him it helps me feel better but he’s still mad, especially since he found out I told my girlfriend about a huge fight we had last week. I think he’s just embarrassed because he was such a jerk. Aren’t I right-everybody needs to vent?
Therapist: I know this might seem off topic, but how was your parents’ marriage?
E: Don’t even get me started. My dad drank too much and my parents fought all the time. I felt so bad for my mom.
T: Did she ever talk to you about her problems with your father?
E: Yes, of course, she had to talk to someone and I was the oldest.
T: How did that affect your relationship with your father?
E: Well, it wasn’t too good. We were never close. Anyway, he worked all the time and when he was home he was drinking.
T: Do you think talking about her marriage with you helped your mother?
E: I’m sure it made her feel better.
T: How did it make you feel?
E: Well, I was glad to be there for her. But I guess it also made me feel uncomfortable because he was my dad, after all. I kept telling her to get a divorce if she was so unhappy, but they’re still married. Can you believe it??
T: Looking back, do you think your mom’s “venting” led to any changes in her situation?
E: Now that I think about it, I guess not. She could have done something, she had a good job and lots of family to help her-she talked to them about it too, and they couldn’t stand my dad-but she just put up with it. I used to get so worried and frustrated about everything.
T: Do you think the act of venting to you and others was connected to her “putting up with it?”
E: (long pause) Maybe so. When I’d tell her to leave, she’d always say she didn’t want to be alone. It would drive me crazy. No wonder I was such a brat to him!
T: I’m sure she didn’t mean to, but it sounds like she got you to do her “dirty work” when you mouthed off to dad. What would he do when you were being a brat?
E: Yell. He could really scare the you-know-what out of me.
T: What you are describing is what we call a relationship triangle; you were triangled into your parents’ marriage in a way that made it easier for them not to deal with each other directly, and not to deal with their problems at all.
E: You mean my mother’s venting actually kept them together? But it’s not right to put a kid in the middle!
T: We make triangles all the time, and it’s not necessarily bad or good because it’s normal human behavior, but in this case what do you think were the consequences for you?
E: Well, I always want to complain to my friends about everything. Sometimes I know I’m bugging them with the same old issues. And now that I think about it, my grandma used to complain to my mom about my grandpa. Do you think I’ll do the same thing to my kids?
T: If nothing changes, what do you think?
E: But what else can I do? I have to talk to someone, right?
T: What happens when you vent about your issues with your boyfriend?
E: I feel much better. And my friends give me advice.
T: You feel better forever? And you take their advice?
E: Well, they don’t really understand the situation like I do, so they don’t necessarily give me the right advice. And I only feel better until the next time he pisses me off! (pause) O.K., O.K., I see where you’re going with this. I’m just like my mother, right?
T: Well, you have certainly learned a lot about relationships from both your parents, and all the generations of parents that came before them, but I’ll bet you can learn to figure out some things for yourself.
E: I’d like to try. I sure don’t want to dump my problems on my kids!

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