Just a married woman who likes to examine my own behavior and to emulate others when I see relationships done well.
How Do You Present Your Marriage and Your Spouse?
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?
Problem Solving or Escalation?
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 like 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 beatdown 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 likely 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.
Short-Term Gain, Long-Term Loss?
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 like dragging their skeletons out of 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 dislike 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.
Trust and Friendship
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 likely to have your back than to stab you in it.
How Many People Are in This Marriage Anyway?
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 based on 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.
"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."
What Happens If Disagreements Are Often Discussed Outside of Your Marriage?
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.
When Talking About Disagreements Can Make Sense
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.
Who Can You Safely Discuss Marital Disagreements With?
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:
1. Write About It
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 likely to arise.
2. Consult a Professional
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.
3. Post in an Online Marriage Forum
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 unlikely 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.
4. Do Some Reading and Research
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.
5. Talk About It in General Terms
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.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2009 Christine Mulberry