The Parts of Your Marriage to Never, Ever Discuss With Friends
Here, in the year 2018, it takes one minute to order a pizza, 30 seconds to craft the perfect tweet, and the space between two sips of beer to text your best friend about that infuriating thing your partner just told you.
Inconveniently, it generally takes a few more sips to realize that maybe you shouldn’t have shared that choice bit of private drama, but tough luck — it’s done. It’s out in the world, your control. And it was far too easy to unleash.
Every married couple makes their own rules, usually through awkward or even painstaking trial and error.
One of the most important sets of rules any couple will consider, however, is where to draw that line between the private world of a marriage and the public world of its partners.
What can we share with our friends? What should we keep to ourselves? How should we confront each other when we feel a line has been crossed? These are all difficult questions, and how you answer them could spell the difference between a healthy and unhealthy marriage.
“The best thing about this epoch in history is how open we are,” said Dr. Claudia Luiz, an award-winning psychoanalyst and author.
“The line between what’s personal and what is private has definitely shifted, and in my opinion, much for the better. We are less afraid to talk about what is real.” Still, she cautions, there are certain realities best kept between partners.
Two main things to watch out for? Unnecessarily badmouthing your spouse and over-sharing about your sex life.
Venting about your frustrations is a natural and (depending on the circumstances) healthy act, but you should be careful that you’re venting in a productive way. “Try to present your partner in a positive light if you need to talk about a disappointment,” Luiz suggests.
Venting about your frustrations is a natural and (depending on the circumstances) healthy act, but you should be careful that you’re venting in a productive way.
It’s important to also take into consideration what, exactly, you’re venting about, and if your friends might not the proper audience for your complaint.
“If your spouse has triggered you to despair or uncontrollable rage, the most productive place to vent is with a therapist so that you can grow,” she says.
“Productive venting with friends is when you can use humor and lighthearted banter to help you deal with the unavoidable and irreconcilable differences that you nevertheless feel okay with in the larger scheme of things.”
Dr. Saudia Twine, a licensed marriage and family therapist, agrees that while it’s common to turn to your friends about a disagreement you’re having with your spouse, it’s important to ask what you want the interaction.
“Sometimes when we’re trying to be validated by another person, we might want to share with friends in hopes that really they’re on our side or seeing our point of view,” she says.
“And sometimes that’s oversharing, because in essence you’re trying to work on the relationship with your spouse, but you don’t particularly need your friends to validate or support [your argument].
You’re trying to get alignment with your spouse.”
Twine suggests that often the best way to get that validation is simply to be open and honest with your spouse, to try to get them to see your side.
If you’ve encountered a more serious impasse, then your friends are unly to be able to help you anyway. If it’s “something that might be too much information for an outsider,” she says, “you might want to seek professional help.
Because you have an unbiased third party who’s not gonna hold that against that other person later on.”
As for the other frequent subject of over-sharing, sex, Luiz and Twine advise that you remember that your sex stories are also your partner’s.
As with other marital issues, you don’t necessarily have the right to share stories that your partner doesn’t want shared. “Talking about sex can be similar to [venting] if it gets too graphic,” Luiz says.
“Your partner may feel betrayed, so make sure you keep details between you.”
Twine agrees that whether it’s sex or family secrets or whatever else might arise, the sanctity of the marriage comes first. “We always want to be mindful of, are we sharing our own business or we sharing our spouse’s?” she says. “Because even though we might be one in this marriage, it’s always their story, if they decide that they want to share.”
If you feel your partner has crossed a boundary, there’s one basic conflict resolution tactic to keep in mind: making “I” statements rather than “you” statements.
Over-sharing certainly isn’t a healthy habit, but it also shouldn’t mean the end of a marriage. If you feel your partner has crossed a boundary, there’s one basic conflict resolution tactic to keep in mind: making “I” statements rather than “you” statements.
“Instead of saying ‘you over shared,’ you might say something “I’m not comfortable with people knowing that much about me. Can you spare me the discomfort?” Luiz suggests.
“There’s always a tendency to attack our spouse for our own feelings of discomfort, and while it may be true that our spouse has betrayed us, it is always better to blame yourself if you really want to get your needs addressed.”
“When we make ‘I’ statements, we train the issue toward ourselves,” Twine agrees. “The other person is able to hear our feelings behind the issue, as opposed to criticism of the person or the issue.”
While the line between public and private may be harder to pin down by the day, Luiz thinks this is ultimately something to celebrate.
“In most circles, what used to be private is now merely personal,” she concludes. “We are a much more open society, and much more sophisticated emotionally.
From where I’m sitting as a psychoanalyst, this is a good thing. Not only do people come talk to me with less stigma attached, but they are also so much more emotionally aware and conscious.
This is one of the best things about our society today.”
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Why You Should Avoid Discussing Marital Arguments With Others
First, I have to say that I'm not a counselor, I don't have a degree in psychology or anything related to it. However, I do have a tendency to observe others in relationships. I then try to emulate what seems to work well and analyze what doesn't seem as effective.
I've lived quite a while now, have had many married friends and family over the years, and have been with my husband for over 10 years as well. I have had plenty of chances to observe a number of behaviors and experienced the results of a few of my own.
What I'm going to talk about is based solely on that; my observations, experiences, and thoughts.
I had dinner with a group of friends recently. One particular woman in the group is someone I have known for at least eight years. In those eight years, I've heard her refer to her husband, beyond just a passing mention, perhaps five or six times.
At least four of those discussions was a diatribe about a disagreement they were having.
Although I understand the frustration and heightened emotion around some marital disagreements, and the desire to vent those feelings, I am baffled as to why someone would present their marriage or their spouse in this way.
So why would it be destructive to discuss you marital arguments with others and is it ever appropriate to do so?
Perhaps people go into a social situation with friends or family and feel a need to let off steam. Or, maybe they are simply looking for a bit of advice to help them work through things.
Perhaps their friends are able to just listen, nod, and offer emotional support without passing judgment or holding on to the negative information they are hearing. Then, maybe the aggrieved party is relieved of the weight of the situation and can now calmly and coherently address their spouse or partner when they return home.
However, that doesn't appear to be what I've seen happen. What I've personally witnessed appears to be more an escalation.
Typically it seems the offending spouse is eviscerated in front of friends or family, then everyone jumps on the bandwagon. Soon, the absent party has been officially declared wrong by the majority vote. I'm always concerned that the original complaint has been inflated, by the angry mob.
This group beat down would seem to escalate any outrage rather than assisting in calmly assessing the situation.
While this is occurring, I also recognize that the people around the table don't exactly represent a fair and balanced view of things. These are the friends and family of one party in this mess. They know and love you. They have accepted your shortcomings and quirks. Unfortunately, their main view of your spouse is what you present to them.
Sometime in the coming days, you will ly work through the issue with your spouse. But there isn't usually much of an update to those involved in the tribunal conducted days before. The other individuals are left with a slanted view of your spouse.
One that doesn't include your spouse's change of heart, a compromise proposed, a realization on your part that you had been overreacting, or a really sweet apology. No, your spouse's reputation has been damaged permanently in many cases.
I do recognize the short-term payoff in sharing some details about arguments with your spouse. As I said before, you simply feel better when you get it off your chest, it's rewarding to have others who love you provide support at a stressful time, and so forth. However, what is the long-term consequence?
In my eyes, you just betrayed your best friend. It's kind of dragging their skeletons the closet and displaying them for others to see. In families and tight-knit groups of friends, it can be viral. You just spread vitriolic gossip that won't die.
Those family and friends will often view your spouse in a negative light forevermore. Is that really what you want? For all of the important people in your life to dis your spouse? In some instances, I would think this could put you in a difficult spot.
You've put friction between the various relationships that are most meaningful to you.
Your friends or family may become quick to judge your spouse. If your spouse is aware of your choice to air your grievances with them, they are left alone, perhaps avoiding their accusers, the other important people in your life. My guess is the long-term consequences aren't really worth the short term gratification.
If you look at those same people with whom you're spewing those frustrations, would they be as devoted to you if they knew you were describing them in a similar manner that you're describing your spouse right now? Probably not. People who stay lifelong friends aren't the ones that you gossip about in front of others. Why wouldn't the same be true of a spouse?
Most would agree that trust is an important part of a marital relationship. To me, you've violated the trust with your spouse by basically sabotaging them while they weren't present. If this incident is discovered, wouldn't their trust in you be shaken? Basically, in a good relationship, a partner should be more ly to have your back, than to stab you in the back.
When I have an argument with my spouse, I want to discuss it with my spouse. Last I checked we were the only two people in the marriage. No one else's opinion matters.
We need to do our own negotiating and come to our own conclusions. Furthermore, what other people say they would do, and what they would really do in our situation is often two different things.
Therefore, I stick with my own instincts and what the two of us decide.
If there is a need for a negotiator, then I'd see a counselor. If I just want to hear about other people's situations to see if they have information that will help their successful marriage, then I'll have a general discussion about the topic but not lay out the blow by blow or any specifics of my situation.
Personally, I think that couples merely need to think carefully about what or how they choose to share the disagreements that they have.
A basic discussion with a trusted friend about how they split expenses can be useful, but a scathing editorial about your spouse's ideas and actions don't fall into the same category.
Betrayal is harder to get by than most simple domestic disagreements about who empties the trash, whether you buy the 2 door or the 4 door car, and so forth.
In my opinion, if you routinely report the conflict that you are experiencing with your spouse to friends and family it may have no negative influence, but there is certainly a risk that it will:
- Create feelings of mistrust or betrayal if your spouse learns of it.
- Cause an escalation of your negative feelings if your listeners join in on your outrage.
- Cause a rift between the important people in your life; your spouse and your family or friends.
- Increase defensiveness or avoidance in discussing issues in the future when your spouse feels you will represent them badly to others afterward.
- If any of the negative outcomes I have described occur, you have also put up a barrier to true intimacy because of the violation of trust.
Now I want to acknowledge that there are times when it is appropriate and even desirable to discuss marital disagreements with others. Two situations come to mind:
- Clearly, in a relationship where abuse seems to be emerging, information is best shared. If you find yourself being criticized or threatened frequently, bullied, beaten, or excessively controlled, then finding a close friend or family member who could help you problem solve, determine an exit strategy, or just provide validation that things aren't as they should be could be useful. Ideally, this friend or family member would direct you to professional help.
- Talking about marital disagreements also makes a great deal of sense with a professional. Counselors have the training to listen objectively, help you work through the situation, and not escalate the problem. Talking to a counselor alone or with your spouse can be very useful.
Certainly keeping a reoccurring argument pent up inside could be destructive. Talking about it might help you process it. However, it would seem that before you do so you should consider:
- your purpose in talking about the disagreement and
- the potential long-term consequences before deciding with whom to discuss it.
It would seem most productive and least damaging to do one of the following:
- If your purpose is just to vent and think through an issue, writing about it in a journal, in a letter, or in an email to your spouse even if you don't send it might be an option. These are great ways to get things off your chest, to release some emotion, and to begin to organize your thoughts to begin problem-solving.
The other advantage of doing this is that there is no long-term negative consequence that is ly to arise.
- As stated previously, if your purpose is to get help in solving an issue it is best to consult a professional, someone trained to help you think through the issue and deal with it. This is especially true if there is a recurring argument or a pattern which may indicate a larger or broader issue that needs to be handled. If you don't have the resources for a professional you can search for free or very low-cost options through your church, community center, or perhaps your school or employer offer employee assistance that will cover it. Some insurance also covers marital counseling.Even if you don't feel ongoing counseling is warranted, it is possible to consult a professional online in a very limited fashion for a bit of advice.
Using a counselor shouldn't create any of the fallout issues described earlier in this article.
- If you want a bit of advice but don't wish to consult a professional, there are marriage forums where you can pose questions to a group for discussion. At least in this instance, the individuals you talk to are unly to know you or your spouse and therefore, won't create some of the long-term negative consequences discussed above. On the other hand, it's important to remember the advice givers aren't typically professionals.
- If you want advice on how to better handle an issue, you can also spend time researching it via books and other resources. You won't get the advantage of being able to vent, to get advice tailored specifically to your situation, or receive assistance in figuring out what exactly is going on, but you can certainly gain a lot of valuable insight. Certainly, not all books are as useful as others. A good one will provide a way to assess your behaviors, provide insight into the behaviors of your spouse, and supply activities or assignments to help you get on track.
When choosing a book, or a counselor for that matter, it has to be the right fit for you and your situation. So, what is right for one couple may not be right for another.
For me personally, the book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work was very useful.
It really seemed to capture some of the destructive behaviors that go on over time in a marriage and it provided concrete activities to begin to change those behaviors.
- If you still feel you should be able to share some of the conflicts you experience in your marriage or partnership with family or friends, it would probably be best to do so only in very general terms. For instance, if you are having arguments about spending and you need some advice, you could mitigate potential damage by simply saying that “we're having trouble getting on the same page as far as spending, how do the two of you handle it?” You don't have to share the specifics, blame your partner, or try to bolster your own case.
Again, you need to remember advice from other individuals comes only from their perspective. What works for one couple doesn't always work for another. In addition, what a friend says they would do in your situation, isn't always what they would really do if they were in your shoes. They aren't in your shoes, so it's all hypothetical.
© 2009 Christine Mulberry
The 8 Worst Things You Can Do During An Argument With Your Partner
All couples fight. In fact, not arguing at all can be a sign of an unhealthy, unhappy or disconnected relationship. When neither partner has the energy or desire to patch things up, it may signal they’ve checked the relationship.
That said, there are productive, respectful ways to hash things out with your partner. And then there are unproductive or toxic ways to handle such matters. (And, it should go without saying, that abuse, whether physical or emotional, is never OK. If you need help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline or the National Dating Abuse Helpline.)
We asked therapists to share the worst things couples can do during an argument so you know what to avoid next time you’re in a spat.
Name-calling or zeroing in one of your partner’s insecurities or vulnerabilities during an argument is a low blow. You may be angry, hurt or frustrated in the moment, but that’s no excuse for this type of behavior.
“If you’ve been with your partner long enough, you probably have a sense of certain things about them that would be especially hurtful if you brought them up during an argument,” marriage and family therapist Gary Brown told HuffPost. “For example, if you know that your partner deals with anxiety, it would be unnecessarily hurtful to say something , ‘You’re always just a ball of fear. What a weakling you are!’”
The problem with these type of jabs is that they can be particularly difficult to move past, clinical psychologist Gina Delucca said.
“Try focusing on the issue at hand rather than making personal attacks and saying something about your partner that you will probably later regret,” she said. “Arguments can be tough to get through, but you still want to demonstrate mutual respect towards each other.”
Stonewalling — when a person completely shuts down or disengages in the middle of an argument without warning — makes your partner feel as though you’ve pulled the rug out from under them. The conflict is still unresolved and it leaves your partner alone, confused and even more frustrated.
“In heterosexual couples, this is typically the guy, who may feel overwhelmed, or afraid of his own anger, or perhaps this is a passive-aggressive way of striking back,” marriage and family therapist Amy Begel said. “Whatever the unconscious motivations, this maneuver is unfair, covert bullying and cowardly. It reduces the other partner to rubble, emotionally.”
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and need a timeout, that’s fine. But it’s better to voice that to your partner than to just bail.
Folks wanting a pause “can state that they want to hear more and understand, but need to stop the discussion right now,” psychotherapist Carol A. Lambert said. “They can identify that they feel too upset, confused, angry or whatever it might be, to keep listening and talking it through. They can ask their partner to table the argument until later and set a time.”
When things between you and your partner are heated, you probably don’t have the clarity necessary to make a weighty decision. Instead, wait until things have cooled down before you try to come to a consensus.
“Unless you are in an immediate health and safety situation such as domestic violence, it is usually wise to refrain from making important decisions during the heat of battle, when emotions tend to run high and judgment tends to run low,” Brown said.
Bringing up your laundry list of unrelated grievances in the middle of an argument is only going to make matters more contentious.
If you want to fight fair, then dredging up your partner’s past errors in a bid to “win” the argument is a big no-no. It’s often irrelevant to the present debate, counterproductive and can make your partner extra defensive.
“When one partner is especially thin-skinned, anxious, guilt-ridden or just can never admit they’re wrong, they may employ a variety of methods designed to put the other person on the defensive,” Begel said. “One method is to ‘throw in the kitchen sink,’ to list all the flaws of the other partner, to refer to past transgressions or to distract from the argument at hand by changing the subject.”
If there’s something that happened years ago that’s still eating at you, set aside a separate time to discuss it.
Even in the heat of an argument, try to remember that you and your partner are on the same team. So proving how “right” you are and how “wrong” they are isn’t a worthwhile pursuit. Plus, if you’re more focused on building your case than you are on understanding your partner’s point of view, you’re not going to get very far.
“If their partner is important to them, the ‘I’m right’ person needs to take the time to listen and be open to what their partner has to say,” Lambert said. “Finding middle ground or agreeing to disagree helps a relationship to thrive while both partners feel worthy of consideration.”
Texting is great for sending emojis, wishing your partner good luck on their job interview or figuring out what’s for dinner. It’s not so great when you’re trying to resolve an argument because text messages can easily be misconstrued.
“You can’t hear your partners tone of voice, nor read their body language, or interpret what their facial expressions may mean,” Brown said. “This is especially true as so much of our communication is non-verbal. There’s too much room to misinterpret someone when you aren’t sitting face-to-face or, at the very least, talking on the phone.”
In making your point during an argument, you may inadvertently say something that hurts or otherwise invalidates your partner’s feelings. Even when you didn’t intend to cause any harm, it’s important to acknowledge that he or she may have been affected by what you said, sometimes in a lasting way.
“While it may not have been your intention to cause harm to your loved one, the impact of your words or behaviors may very well have been harmful,” psychologist Jamie Goldstein said. ”When we overlook the potential for causing harm while in an argument, we further that harm through continuing to dismiss our sweetheart’s experience.”
During an argument, we’re often so focused on what we’re saying that we’re not paying attention to our non-verbal behaviors.
“Feelings that are common in conflict ― such as anger, frustration, and emotional pain ― tend to come with big energy,” marriage and family therapist Lynsie Seely said. “As a result, we may inadvertently ‘puff up’ or get big, slam a fist on the table, make large and abrupt gestures, get up into the other person’s personal space or yell loudly.”
Sometimes, though, these cues are more subtle, avoiding eye contact (by looking at your phone or turning toward the TV), rolling your eyes or using other facial expressions that convey contempt, Seely said. And you may not even realize you’re doing these things.
“Body posture and non-verbal cues are extremely important to be aware of ― especially if either partner has relational trauma in their history,” she said.
Instead, Seely recommends using deep breathing techniques or sensory mindfulness (rubbing something soft, squeezing a stress ball, smelling an essential oil) to help you stay calm and present, in spite of the difficult emotions you’re experiencing.
“Assume a body posture of openness: Turning toward your partner, arms relaxed, soft eye contact, can be a great way to connect in the midst of conflict and sends the message to your partner that you’re on the same team,” she said.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.