The Downsides of Rehashing Problems With Friends

by Shayla Love at Psyche: It’s Friday night. You’re sitting down to dinner with your best friend, with no limit on your time together. What do you talk about? It’s one of life’s delights to enter into deep discussion with a friend, whether it’s about your love lives, your jobs, your five-year plans, or the places you dream of living. But there’s one type of relating that can end up backfiring if you do it too often.

It’s called co-rumination: when people talk together about their problems, how bad those problems are, why they’re occurring, and how terrible it’s making them feel. In certain relationships, people gravitate toward ruminating over the same issues again and again. Maybe your friend wants to go over the timeline of their last breakup once more, despite having done so many times already over many months. Or you describe at length, and repeatedly, how terrible it made you feel to be passed over for a promotion at work, and how much you dislike your co-worker who got the raise instead.

Co-rumination can make you feel closer to your friends, but engaging in too much of it can have a variety of negative side effects, such as intrusive thoughts, worrying and symptoms of depression. ‘At least in Western cultures, getting problems off our chest is thought to make us feel better,’ wrote Amanda Rose – a developmental psychologist at the University of Missouri who coined the term co-rumination – in 2002. ‘The idea that talking about problems could make us feel worse may seem counterintuitive.’

To avoid the pitfalls of co-rumination, and retain the perks, the solution isn’t to keep all your problems to yourself but to recognise how too much of a certain kind of conversation can be unhelpful.

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