On Saying "Bad Things" About Your Spouse

By Maggie Reimherr

When we were gearing up to get married, I read a lot of well-meaning marriage advice that sounded something like, “Don’t say anything bad about your spouse. Only talk with your spouse about issues.” The idea is that sharing marital conflict with anyone but your spouse can create tension in the relationship when “word gets out.”

After 10 months of marriage, I’ll come out and say it: this rule doesn’t really work for me and Derek.

Derek is an external processor, so sometimes he needs to hash things out with a friend. I really love my community and feel the need to be genuine about what's going on with me. Anytime Derek and I talk things out with our circles, we walk away grateful for the outside perspective.

Your community is meant to be there for you. Not letting them in kinda defeats the purpose of friendship, don’t you think? And when we bottle things up, it doesn’t protect us - the secretiveness can breed shame.

And where does shame thrive? You guessed it - in the darkness. Bringing issues out into the open with your people there to support you is what begins about reconciliation that may need to happen.

Sure, sometimes sharing problems can create relational baggage. But instead of swearing off even mentioning each other's bad habits, some different advice has been more helpful for Derek and me.

(Disclaimer: no marriage advice is a one size fits all approach. What works for us might not work for you. We're here to share our experiences, not tell you how to live your life.)

 

1. Don’t talk negatively about your spouse to the wrong people.

Who are the wrong people? Sorry to say, but talking to parents and family complicates things. At the end of the day, they’ll always be loyal to you first. Loyalty = biased. Moreover, sharing relational struggles or issues with family could put strain on those family and in-law dynamics. There are already growing pains when a new person joins an existing family. Don't complicate it further. You've gotta be your spouse's champion with your family. Oh, and you know that one friend who always shares the group’s gossip with you? They’re probably not going to be the steel trap you need them to be when being vulnerable about your marriage. Finally, RUN, RUN FAR AWAY from opening up to that guy or gal who has an “innocent crush” on you. Come on, people.

Who are good candidates for your trust? People with some wisdom. Wise friends have a gift with words and have a knack for saying the right thing at the right time. They don’t help you clap back at your spouse. These friends dive in with you asking thoughtful questions and provide (as best as possible) objective advice. Look elsewhere for blind loyalty because you might be getting called on your BS by one of these friends.

Derek and I are really fortunate to have an incredible group of married friends. I feel comfortable turning to the women and Derek feels the same with the guys, either for actionable help or just venting a little. This group is committed to fighting for each other’s marriages.

It’s totally okay if you don’t have a larger community like this. Don’t let that stop you! Go talk to a therapist. Heck, even if you do have a good community, consider talking to a therapist. Derek and I have both seen them at times in our lives. Therapists are awesome, y’all. It’s their job to be a mirror and help you see things from an unbiased angle. Also, they’re legally obligated to keep your secrets. So that one thing that may not be safe or feels really uncomfortable to chat with friends about? Ding ding ding, a therapist might be the right option for you.

 

2. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t say directly to your spouse.

My extrovert husband has modeled a healthy way to live this out. Sometimes when he knows he may be too riled up on a subject, he’ll flesh things out with a friend first. He’ll dig through to the heart of an issue so he doesn’t say anything (intentionally or unintentionally) hurtful to me. His group of guy friends like to play hardball with each other. If he’s upset about something silly, his friends will say, “Knock it off." Then we’ll laugh about it later. If the issue is more serious, his friends help him walk through what he’s feeling so he can approach me level-headed. Then we can have a conversation that’s not fueled by anger or resentment but instead by rationality.
 


I get it, I’ve only been married for 10 months, but here’s what I know: we’re not supposed to live life as islands, even little married islands. We need people. Cultivate an inner circle, and let them into the good, bad, and ugly. You’ll be glad you did, I promise.