We know that there are (at least) two sides to every story. But somehow we seem to keep forgetting.

Whichever petitioner comes to us first is usually the “side” we take. (Why do we even feel compelled to take sides? Why can’t we just listen and be empathic without taking a position?) Even if we’ve known the other side for many years, our sympathies seem to be with the first story told.

This is not only true when it comes to relationships, particularly marriages, but in almost any situation of conflict.

A recently separated woman came to my husband and me to air her complaints. Based on her description, her (soon-to-be former) husband had completely snapped, had gone from the loving, caring spouse he had been for the last 30 years to a completely unrecognizable human being. Was it hormonal (yes, even for men)? Was it some kind of mid-life crisis? Who knew – but our sympathies were with her and our horror at the story she told.

And so it remained for many months until her husband dropped by. What a different tale he told – of her constant nit-picking and criticism, of her lack of affection and appreciation – and on and on.

When we stopped to think about those two people whom we know pretty well, I could see that there was definitely some truth in what he was saying. And that moment of awareness turned my whole analysis upside down. Actually, not totally upside down because I’m not saying that I completely reversed my position. It’s not that he was now all in the right and she was now all in the wrong. It’s that I saw – for the umpteenth time! – how important it is to hear both sides.

And I was chagrined to see how easily I had been duped (yet again). I think it comes from a good place – a certain empathy and caring and desire to connect and relate – but nevertheless it steers us in the wrong direction. It is not our job (unless we are the judge or jury in the courtroom) to take sides. It is not our job to lend our support to one position or the other. It is our job to be a friend – to listen with empathy and caring, to provide emotional and financial support where necessary – and, if relevant, to even point out the error of our friend’s ways.

We are actually not being a true friend if we accept their version without any qualifications, without further investigation or information. Maybe they are making a serious mistake and our thoughtful intervention could prevent a calamity. Each situation is different and often there is very little we can do to change things. But we still have a responsibility – to them and to ourselves – not to judge and not to take sides.

It’s another one of those lessons that needs to be constantly relearned. So let's stop to remind ourselves and not allow ourselves to get sucked into the emotional vortex of the first person who approaches us. It’s a delicate balance, a nuanced dance – but it’s also the only appropriate response.