• Resolving Problems

Friends who complain and don’t really want advice

Published: January 3, 2016 | Last Updated: January 3, 2016 By | 18 Replies Continue Reading
When friends are in turmoil, they may snap at those who offer advice—even good friends.


Hi Irene,

This has happened to me twice now. I’m 56 years old and have no children of my own. I have a dear friend whom I’ve kept in touch with long distance who has VENTED to me UMPTEEN times about her adult child who is gay and his lover, and her soon to be teenage daughter. I’ve listened and made suggestions and recently some serious issues have come up with her youngest who needs anger management.

So after listening to her rants I offered more advice to which I now get the response, “Don’t offer me advice on my children.” Yet I get pages of emails about these kids CONSTANTLY. We have been friends for a long time but this really has sent me over the edge with her.

My stepsister did the same thing to me—always bitching and griping about her kids and then turned around and told me not to offer her advice since I had no children of my own and did not have a clue. Really, now what? Thank you.

Signed, Karen


Hi Karen,

A few thoughts:

  • Friends who are upset may need to vent—even it they aren’t necessarily ready to listen to your advice or make changes. In fact, although it may not seem that way, they may have heard and appreciated what you’ve told them.
  • How often and how long you are willing to listen to someone who is constantly complaining about the same thing depends on your own patience and the strength of the bonds of friendship. Your tolerance can be tested if someone like your stepsister turns around and lashes out at you.
  • It doesn’t sound like you did anything wrong. To offer advice, someone doesn’t have to experience the exact same problem as a friend. And it’s a natural instinct to try to offer solutions when someone you care about is upset.

Since you seem to value both these relationships, you may need to set some ground rules. With you friend, you might want to respond supportively but remind her that you know she doesn’t want your advice and you hope things improve. Remember that she is under pressure. Hopefully, you and she have other things to talk about and share.

With your stepsister, simply stop giving her advice unless she asks for it.

Try not to take these rebuffs too personally. Many parents bristle when other people, with or without children, offer advice. They often misperceive it as the other person questioning their parenting skills, which they may already feel insecure about.

Hope this helps.

My best, Irene

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Comments (18)

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  1. GwenG says:

    My new favorite question to when people are telling me their problems is short and sweet and works like a charm…

    Do you advice or support?? (brought to you by Ally McBeal)

    Certainly lets me know what complainer is looking for.

  2. Lyn says:

    You sound like a very good friend but some times friends can only take so much complaining.
    I think your friend sounds so wrapped up in her own problems she has no thought to how this is making you feel.
    Also some people no matter how you try to help them do not want a solution to their problems if they do find one they then find some thing else to complain about,
    You can only do your best as far as your friends problems are concerned I would tell her straight how it’s making you feel.
    Then I think you will find out if she really is the type of friend you need in your life.

  3. SusieQ says:

    I came across this article recently that I love.
    The Help Resisters
    By Martha Beck
    From the December 2008 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine

    Article removed by moderator. Thanks for posting this but it is a violation of copyright to re-post an article in its entirety without permission. Instead, I’ve posted the link to the article below if anyone wants to read it.


  4. Anonymous says:

    Karen, do you think your advice comes across as criticism? This can be in the tone of your voice, not necessarily the words you say. I would just ask your friends what they need. Do they just need a sympathetic ear? I do not agree with that because you don’t have kids of your own that you cannot have valuable insights or advice. To me it sounds your friends just need to vent and are probably somewhat insecure about this area in their life. You sound like a very nice person and might need to set some boundaries if your friends’ complaints are getting to you. I myself have listened way to many hours to complaining friends who didn’t want any advice. If the friendships are valuable, you might say that you have to go in a certain amount of time. I detest lying so I would want to have something that is plausible to me why I can’t talk any longer.

  5. Mary says:

    Hit the delete button without reading the emails and keep smiling at them, they will love it! Of course, the remark: “I’m so glad I didn’t have kids” will also stop them dead. As for me, I always wanted someone who would give me advice and I never found anyone. How do you like that? Nobody wanted to get involved. That’s pretty far the other way. What I learned for myself due to that is, stop venting too much, have faith in both God and my own instincts to help lead me. Could you maybe play back their message to them to mirror for them their concerns and their own instincts about a solution. Keep neutral and keep smiling.

  6. Lorraine says:

    Does your friend vent only when you ask, “How are you?” If so, maybe you need to find another opening line to steer the conversation away from it being about your friend all the while.

    It is very hard to keep opinions to ourselves when in a you’re in a situation like this.

    We all have the solution to the problems we face. What I’ve done in the past is to ask, “What would you like to do?”

    Otherwise, I would suggest you fill your diary with various things you enjoy doing, and when your ‘friends /specific family members’ ring to chat, vent, moan or meet up, you can honestly say you have an appointment of some sort to go to.

  7. Salstarat says:

    Whilst it is true that some people need to vent to their friends now and again, when a friend does nothing but vent to you constantly then have the incredible bad manners to rebuff you when you try to help her, then it is clear that she is completely self centred with absolutely no regards for your feelings. There are givers and takers in this world and those type of complaining, self indulgent people who just think of themselves and their own problems soon become exceedingly tiring! Ask yourself these questions: When was the last time this friend ever asked how YOU were? When was the last time this friend ever had something positive to say? When was the last time you and this friend shared a joke, some good times or went on a holiday together? If the answer to any or all of these questions is “Never” or “Not for decades”, I would seriously review the friendship. You should not allow yourself to be surrounded by NEGATIVE people … they just drag you down. Misery loves company and this person is so wrapped up in herself she doesn’t really value a friendship, she just wants someone to offload all her bitterness onto. I have had cause to rid my life of some negative “friends” over the years and I have never regretted it! Always befriend people who make you feel good about yourself … negative people are only happy when they are griping.

  8. Nick says:

    Most people only see the value of advice when they have to pay for it, be it from health professionals or fortune tellers.

    Had a friend going through a rough spot. She would complain and I’ll patiently listen. She’ll often pose an open ended question which I used to offer my perspectives, not even advice, only to recieve verbal attacks in return. It took me a while to learn that she doesn’t really want to discuss her problems other than to vent. Those open ended questions were her way of wondering out loud.

  9. SusieQ says:

    I live alone and sometimes I just need to vent. I have very few people I can talk with, most are acquaintances not friends. I will tell someone from the start that I just need to vent or just need someone to listen as I talk/process my situation. I don’t need someone to rescue me, save me or get advice. If I want an opinion, I’ll ask. If I want to brain storm a problem, I’ll state that. If the person doesn’t want to listen, OK. I’ve always got the crisis number I can call. When the role is reversed, I will listen. If my opinion or advice isn’t asked for, I won’t give. My role is to listen.

    • CountryBoy says:

      When living alone you still need to vent your frustrations when they come along. Living alone with no company (not even a dog or cat or birds)seems to me already a frustration. It is good to be upfront with people it safes a lot of misunderstandings. I had to listen to my daughter Susie often, have given her many times advice to her benefit (economic in a divorce), she is stubborn and blinded by the frustration of divorce. So whatever she decides I respect her as an equal adult. She has been bullied for 13 years by a Tiran about 13 years older than her. Who didn’t have respect for his own parents or better to say for no one who didn’t agree with him. I guess we all have to learn life’s lessons. Seems we al go through them and after the fact we always say (in most cases)”I should have listened”. I always think a good listener analyzes the words spoken to them. But many listen with a half ear or let say; “one ear in other ear out”. I’m glad my daughter with her daughter is on the road to normal. Since I have a lot of patience I’m a good listener, but when I feel it brings my mental stage down I would remove myself from it. Then it is time the professionals can take over.
      Hope for many in 2016 will bring true friendships and that for many who are lonely, that their loneliness may disappear through finding true love or friendship.

  10. DJ says:

    Yes I agree often people do simply want to vent and all you can do is listen, perhaps ask them what they think they can do about it. But at the same time decide how much time you feel you wish to give that topic ie 20 mins, then change it.p as all conversations shouldn’t be about their issue only.
    However if you are concerned that it is a real issue that needs resolution then consider saying something like I’m really concerned about your X issue/problem and it doesn’t appear I can help you have you considered getting professional advice/help.

  11. Greta says:

    I never tell my personal business to Anyone, they can’t help you in the end you have to sort it out.

    • CountryBoy says:

      Greta, you are right if you have the strength to keep it to yourself. There are to many advisers but not enough true listeners.
      When personal problems come along they always seems to solve themselves. I tell people wait a day or two, and say to them; “After Rain Comes Sunshine”

      What I experience in the last 20 years is through the electronic media there are more misunderstandings than the face to face communication. Anno the electronic media we face a lot more crime too. To many scams and there are a lot of vulnerable people out there. Please ask Irene to remove your email.

  12. jacqueline says:

    It’s like the old story when a woman complains about how miserable she is with her husband, and rants on and on about him and you agree with her that she should leave him….Then, you find out later on how they got back together and how “happy” she is…. I find the best thing to say is, “I support you in whatever you decision is.”

    Sometimes, people just vent, and when they are emotional, say alot of things that they do not really mean, or that they wish they hadn’t.

    • T says:

      I personally got sick of listening to an ex friend harping on to me about her husband,only to find out she was just as bad as he was. She would talk to me saying all she wanted to say to him only to be back with him within days: It just depends on how much time you want to waste on people harping on to you about their problems…..I had enough after 6 years of her moaning.They were as bad as each other actually,as there was more to the story I fugured out.When they were all good,I never heard from her or she was too busy. Now Im too busy to listen to any of her drama.

      • CounrtyBoy says:

        I think it is pretty sick someone talking about their partner who they supposed to love and trust. They should keep their dirty laundry within this relationship. Being a friend to this type of people is dangerous when you are in the middle of it.
        I have seen many friendships going down the drain by being supportive to one. I would be very short with them: you made the bed and you lay in it. Don’t bother me with your story. Or I will listen to you when you sorted out your personal relationship problems.
        I found women are more tend to this type of drama than men do. But there are men who bitch about their spouse…….shame on them.

  13. Amy F says:

    Sometimes people vent and validation for their concerns, and sometimes people want advice. Knowing the difference is key to maintaining relationships. Since you’ve had two recent experiences, maybe you’re having difficulting understanding what others want. Asking the question, “How can I best support you?” Is a good way to tell what your friends are looking for.

    You are well within your right not to want to listen to people complain and do nothing to improve their situation. Most people find that annoying. Responses like, “I feel frustrated listening to such similar stories. Can we please change the subject?” You are allowed to have boundaries about what you do and do not want to talk about. You can still be a good friend/stepsister without listening to the same stories again and again. I’d probably suggest counseling to a loved one who was caught up in the same problem and not able (or willing) to change their behavior to improve things. I do so because I believe therapy is a gift you give yourself, to improve your life. You’ve got to do this in a loving, supportive manner, However, if the person you’re talking to is insecure, she may respond in an angry way. As long as you know you’ve been supportive in your words and feelings, allowing a defensive reaction without a response is your best step, since that reaction is all about the person if you’re delivered the message appropriately.

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