One of my favorite things to do in friendship is to offer my friends a “safe space” to get things off their chest and say what they’re really thinking (i.e. an unpolished rant of sortS), so they can stop swirling it around inside or be tempted to act on it in an unhealthy way.

For some, this looks like being able to send me a voice note expressing their feelings, knowing that it’s not directed at me, and I won’t take offense – and knowing it gives them the chance to process through things before approaching the other individual in a healthy, mature, free-from-heated-emotions kind of way, so they can work towards a resolution. They can send me a message instead of reaching out to their ex, or going off on their boss, or sending a snippy response to their mom.

For some, this looks like sending me a message that they’d otherwise be tempted to send to an ex, or an unhealthy distraction, and they know that wouldn’t be their best course of action.

For some, it’s writing out a bullet point list of things they for sure want to include in an upcoming business proposal or big conversation, and giving them the chance to share it all in one place and get feedback.

Part of this is actually extending the invitation. For a lot of people, the assumption might be there that “of course this is a place you can do that” but if it’s not expressly said, it may be that neither of you go first, and then you miss out on growing in your friendship together by working through this thing with one another.

The other part of this is establishing the expectation of what’s being shared, and what the response is.

For example, I don’t want my friends to coddle me if I’m complaining. I want compassion, but they also have my permission to call me out and not sit with me in pity.

In some circumstances, it may make sense to give feedback / advice / opinion / wisdom. And in others, it may be that they simply need a safe space to share, but don’t even need a response.

I’ve found it particularly helpful to establish these things up front, so if they send something not needing a response, we’re both clear and they won’t be waiting for one that’s not coming.

And if a friend is walking through something where they’re taking space and time to fully heal, it may be that when they bring it up, we’re not diving into the nitty gritty and working through it all right then – they may simply be sharing to a listening ear.

A question that can help this is “do you want to focus on this or do you want to be distracted from this?” Use your discretion, because as a true friend, it’s not helpful to distract someone from healing and sweep things under the rug, pretending they’re not real. But, you get to have grace and not force healing when their process looks different than you think it should.

Akin to giving my friends permission to speak into my life when I’m complaining/venting, I want them to point me back towards healing and self-responsibility, and I want to know that what I share with them stays with them. Same goes for what they share with me. It’s a two-way street.

And can I just speak to the elephant in the room for a moment? If one of your friends shares something with just one of the people in a couple, can you respect that it was only shared with you and isn’t meant to be a subject of discussion between you and your spouse? Obviously use discretion, as you’re not meant to hold harmful secrets or be pitted against each other, of course not. But if I’ve shared something intimate about my life with my dear friend (the wife), I don’t necessarily want that to be information that her husband knows about me. There are certain things that really aren’t meant to be carried by the opposite sex, so please keep that in mind when you’re having a “how was your day, honey?” /slash/ ”you’ll never guess who I ran into today!” discussion with your spouse.

I get that “two become one” so you don’t need to hide the fact that we talked, or that your friend is walking through something, but recognize that what they shared with you was for your ears only and the details aren’t meant to be shared with others, spouse or not. This isn’t specific to a married couple, although it’s where I see it most often needing to be applied.

And, paired with that, I will say that as a single woman, it can be so incredibly helpful and healthy to have intimate conversations with the married couple, together, and have a man AND a woman’s perspective as you navigate different scenarios. So, don’t shy away from talking with multiple people who have your best interest at heart. But you, too, get to use discretion and recognize that not all things are meant to be shared with your friend’s husbands. You do get to respect boundaries and honor their marriage.

So, who would you count amongst your friendship safety zone? Who are your go tos? Have you had these frank discussions with them to set expectations and open up this dialogue? It’ll be wonderfully supportive when you do!

Cheers to you and your friendship safety zone!