Author Topic: how to deal with family gossip-- is it my place to speak up?  (Read 4764 times)

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flickan

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how to deal with family gossip-- is it my place to speak up?
« on: October 11, 2013, 08:06:32 AM »
There was recently a situation in my extended family that I had no idea what to do about and I ended up doing nothing.  I'm wondering how this could have been handled better.

A family gathering had ended and the remaining members enjoying coffee and conversation together after the party died down.  It was a group of about fifteen people, mostly my aunts and uncles, so people in the generation above me and two young teens.  I only mention the ages because although I'm an adult I'm more of a "junior" family member in this situation and that made a difference to me.

The conversation suddenly turned to marital troubles between two family members who weren't there.  It wasn't catty or mean.  It started out as expressing concern everyone knew they were going though a hard time.  But as the conversation went on it got truly uncomfortable.  One aunt started telling stories about things the wife had said to her and another would chime in with things the husband had said.  It turned from benevolent concern to methodically deconstructing their marriage with details I'm sure the couple would be moritifed to know the family was sitting around discussing.  I sat quietly for a moment and then I got up and left and sure enough when I came back after about half an hour it was still going on.

If this has been a group of my peers I would have immediately said something like, "Let's not talk about this," but it didn't feel right to say that to aunts, uncles, great-aunts; these aren't mean-spirited people they just didn't seem at all uncomfortable with casually picking apart this very personal issue.  I suppose I could at least have appealed to the two young teenagers to come and spend time with me elsewhere but I didn't think of that.  In the moment they were also offering their opinions on the marriage and that seemed a bit too much to bear.

What could I have done differently?  There was definitely bias on my part, I feel very protective of the couple in question because I'm a "black sheep" in our family and they're a little more offbeat like I am.  That and the realization that if my marriage were in trouble and family got wind of it this exact same conversation could be going down about my spouse and I-- that made me want to do something but what?  Is there a right way to handle this?

AvidReader

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Re: how to deal with family gossip-- is it my place to speak up?
« Reply #1 on: October 11, 2013, 08:50:57 AM »
My very frank self would have probably said something quite generic, but also quite true, "Well, when it comes down to it, we all know that only the partners truly know what goes on in a marriage" as I left the room or gathered my things for my departure.  It might have given everyone pause.....but I doubt it would have stopped them.  But then, I'm part of the older generation of which you speak, and am married. 

Flickan, please excuse me if I am wrong, but I infer from your post that you are not married, so such a statement from a singleton might not have had much cred in this situation.  I doubt there was much you could do other than absent yourself from the conversation, as you did.  Your retrospective insight that you might have invited the teens to accompany you elsewhere in order to remove them from the conversation is on point.  Jeez, look at the lesson those kids just learned!

flickan

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Re: how to deal with family gossip-- is it my place to speak up?
« Reply #2 on: October 11, 2013, 09:12:28 AM »
Flickan, please excuse me if I am wrong, but I infer from your post that you are not married, so such a statement from a singleton might not have had much cred in this situation.

No, I guess I should have been clearer, I am married but only just.  We're still quite green so I agree that it would not have had as much cred regardless. 

Twik

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Re: how to deal with family gossip-- is it my place to speak up?
« Reply #3 on: October 11, 2013, 09:46:00 AM »
My very frank self would have probably said something quite generic, but also quite true, "Well, when it comes down to it, we all know that only the partners truly know what goes on in a marriage" as I left the room or gathered my things for my departure.  It might have given everyone pause.....but I doubt it would have stopped them.  But then, I'm part of the older generation of which you speak, and am married. 

Flickan, please excuse me if I am wrong, but I infer from your post that you are not married, so such a statement from a singleton might not have had much cred in this situation.  I doubt there was much you could do other than absent yourself from the conversation, as you did.  Your retrospective insight that you might have invited the teens to accompany you elsewhere in order to remove them from the conversation is on point.  Jeez, look at the lesson those kids just learned!

I don't think one has to be married to indicate that gossip is not polite, or healthy. This is not marriage counselling.
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cwm

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Re: how to deal with family gossip-- is it my place to speak up?
« Reply #4 on: October 11, 2013, 10:07:58 AM »
I would have asked them if it was standard procedure in the family to discuss relationships of whoever wasn't present. Then I would have left the room.

SnarkyCwm would have told them as I left that they were now free to discuss my marriage (or lack thereof) since I was no longer there to say anything.

lowspark

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Re: how to deal with family gossip-- is it my place to speak up?
« Reply #5 on: October 11, 2013, 10:19:56 AM »
I'm pretty outspoken when it comes to this sort of thing. When I'm in a situation where people are discussing something that I feel is inappropriate, regardless of the topic, I have no problem speaking up and telling them that I think it's inappropriate and it's time to change the subject.

But now I'm going to qualify what I just said.

First of all, I'm at an age where I've had enough life experience to feel confident enough to speak up. In my younger days, I was a lot more reticent about that sort of thing and probably would have done just as you did: left the room.

Secondly, that same life experience tells me that my objections will not stop these people from having this exact discussion. Yeah, they'll stop it for now since I've made it clear I won't tolerate it, but believe me, they'll pick up right where they left off at the first opportunity they get. So it's not like I'm actually squelching the gossip, I'm just postponing it. My real accomplishment is that I don't have to hear it and that I get to stay in the room and continue joining in on the conversation which has now switched to a different topic.

BeagleMommy

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Re: how to deal with family gossip-- is it my place to speak up?
« Reply #6 on: October 11, 2013, 10:29:00 AM »
I doubt you could have said anything to quell the gossiping.  They had their teeth into the subject and would keep biting until the subject was no longer of interest.

If the conversation made you uncomfortable (and from your post it did) you did the right thing by getting up and removing yourself from the conversation.

veronaz

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Re: how to deal with family gossip-- is it my place to speak up?
« Reply #7 on: October 11, 2013, 10:36:23 AM »
I agree with cwm and lowspark.  Actually I also like Snarkycwm’s tactic, and I see nothing wrong with it …if said with a smile.  >:D

I have an aunt who has always been a gossip.  She worked in a field where talking the way she did about people who came into the office was a clear breach of confidentiality.  (Her husband even cautioned her about this, but she didn’t change.)  She gossiped about other family members constantly, then if anyone dared to call her out on it or distance themselves from her she put on an innocent act.  Although she has many wonderful qualities, I’m careful what I say around her. 
« Last Edit: October 11, 2013, 10:44:59 AM by veronaz »

lowspark

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Re: how to deal with family gossip-- is it my place to speak up?
« Reply #8 on: October 11, 2013, 10:57:45 AM »
I agree with cwm and lowspark.  Actually I also like Snarkycwmís tactic, and I see nothing wrong with it Öif said with a smile.  >:D

I have an aunt who has always been a gossip.  She worked in a field where talking the way she did about people who came into the office was a clear breach of confidentiality.  (Her husband even cautioned her about this, but she didnít change.)  She gossiped about other family members constantly, then if anyone dared to call her out on it or distance themselves from her she put on an innocent act.  Although she has many wonderful qualities, Iím careful what I say around her.

Ya! Regarding the bolded: That's the exact lesson to be learned from this experience. Be careful what you say and to whom you say it. The only good thing that I glean from hearing this sort of gossip is that these people will tell all so they go on my list of people with whom to have superficial conversations only.

veronaz

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Re: how to deal with family gossip-- is it my place to speak up?
« Reply #9 on: October 11, 2013, 11:05:07 AM »
ummhmm..I'm careful what I say around her for two reasons:  1) I don't want everything I say to be repeated, AND 2) if I comment on  anything she has said about others she will repeat that.

Many times she has talked about someone in a manner I know would not be appreciated, and from me she gets silence. 

nuit93

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Re: how to deal with family gossip-- is it my place to speak up?
« Reply #10 on: October 11, 2013, 12:04:04 PM »
I find this an interesting topic since I'm also a bit of a black sheep (major introvert in a family of extroverts, for starters), and family gossip about others' financial/marital troubles has been kind of an ongoing thing.

Luckily I'm not privy to a lot of it, but some of it really makes me shake my head.

Winterlight

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Re: how to deal with family gossip-- is it my place to speak up?
« Reply #11 on: October 11, 2013, 12:10:41 PM »
I think in future I'd remove myself and the teens if possible.
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TootsNYC

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Re: how to deal with family gossip-- is it my place to speak up?
« Reply #12 on: October 11, 2013, 12:12:30 PM »
I think you could say, as you leave, "I'm not comfortable with this topic--excuse me, I have to get something to drink."

Or, I do like the lighthearted, "Well, I'm going to step out, so you can talk about *my* marriage for a change." Said with enough humor, I think it would be fine. And there may very well be some more "well-established" people in that group who would welcome the opportunity to say, "yes, let's not talk about them."

NyaChan

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Re: how to deal with family gossip-- is it my place to speak up?
« Reply #13 on: October 11, 2013, 12:13:50 PM »
I agree with lowspark - from my experience with my dad's side of the family who is not happy unless they have someone else to rip up when they get together (the most recent before they switched to the state of my life and my sister's was how fat my cousin's INFANT was getting) and the gossip spans across the globe.  There is no stopping them, they are shameless.  The most you can do is get them to not do it around you - and even that only works if my parents get really tough with them on a specific subject, they aren't about to listen to "the kids" and especially not ones who aren't long married and are childless.

I think you at most you could have dropped a line in a smiling way that "oh let's talk about something else! I'm sure they'll figure things out without us all butting in" and then tried to change the subject, and then left.  That way you feel like you spoke up even if they ignore you.

Betelnut

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Re: how to deal with family gossip-- is it my place to speak up?
« Reply #14 on: October 11, 2013, 12:14:53 PM »
A quote I like and try to keep in mind:

Great minds discuss ideas.
Average minds discuss events.
Little minds discuss people.

I don't think you can change people but perhaps a reminder that the conversation has gone too far would help?
Native Texan, Marylander currently