Marriage is hard work. And sometimes we all need an outlet to talk about struggles in our marriage. But who you talk to about your marriage could actually be sabotaging your marriage instead of helping it.
IS MARRIAGE CONFLICT A BAD THING?
Over the past 12 years, I’ve had the privilege of meeting with numerous couples in all stages of marriage….from the starry-eyed engaged couples to the figuring-things-out newly-weds to the decades-long married couples who are still learning about their partner and having to put in the work it takes to maintain a healthy relationship.
And in all of these various phases of married life, I’ve noticed a few themes.
First of all, no married couple is without conflict and challenges.
Secondly, every couple feels like “opposites” in some (and usually most) ways.
Thirdly, every couple gets frustrated at times in their relationship and looks towards a third party for emotional support.
This is normal! Conflict in your marriage doesn’t necessarily mean you have major issues. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. And it certainly doesn’t mean you missed the mark and married the “wrong person.”
Actually, conflict plays a crucial role in healthy relationships. I love how marriage counselors Les & Leslie Parrott put it, “Conflict is the price you pay for deeper intimacy.”
If you NEVER have conflict in your marriage, you can actually miss out on a depth of connection that, when conflict is handled well, can produce longevity and happiness in your marriage in a powerful way.
It is pushing through hard times, weathering storms, and working out our differences that help us learn each other and realize that our marriage is worth fighting for.
When I meet with couples and they share with me that they are experiencing conflict, I commend them. If you have no conflict in your marriage, you’re probably not communicating enough. [Read The #1 Secret to Healthy Conflict Resolution in Marriage.]
But how you handle that conflict makes all the difference. To help you use conflict to make your marriage stronger and create a safe place for hard conversations, I created a great resource for you! Download your copy of 12 Fair Fighting Guidelines below!
What surprises most couples is that the communication they have with each other is only one part of the problem. Sometimes the bigger issue is the communication they are having with OTHERS in their lives ABOUT their spouse and their marriage.
IS TALKING TO OTHERS ABOUT YOUR MARRIAGE A BAD THING?
Yes and no. Truthfully, we can all benefit from a third party perspective sometimes. Especially when the conflict we are working through with our spouse becomes more than we feel like we can handle.
But most people don’t consult a professional or even a truly neutral third party in this case. Instead, they call a family member or friend.
3 REASONS VENTING TO FRIENDS OR FAMILY IS A PROBLEM
1. They are only hearing YOUR side of the story.
And they are often hearing it in the heat of your anger and frustration. When we speak out of a place of hurt and anger, we often exaggerate the situation.
So when you call your best friend and vent about how your husband forgot your anniversary or left his socks all over the house or even texted that hot new girl at his work, your friend is often hearing the worst version of the story, and only one side. It’s impossible for a third party to be objective when they are only hearing one side of the story.
2. Their first allegiance is to YOU, not to your marriage.
Herein lies the biggest problem. When you call your mother, or your sister, or your bestie, they will almost always take your side. You are their closest connection. So no matter what happened or who was at fault, there’s a strong chance they will end up taking “your side” and encourage you to do “what’s right for you.”
While that sounds like a noble thing, it’s just not the full picture. The truth is, you are not one person anymore. You are two. You and your spouse have vowed to become one. So doing “what’s right for you” is to have a healthy marriage.
[Note: There are extreme cases where abuse is involved and this does not apply to those cases. But even then, I encourage people to seek a professional 3rd party who can help them make a safety plan and get the help they need.]
3. They rarely see or hear about what happens next.
Have you noticed how, when it feels like everything is falling apart, we reach out and tell a friend all about the drama? But, when things get resolved, we rarely call that friend back and say, “You know, I actually was as much to blame as my husband. But we asked each other for forgiveness and made up. Thanks for listening!”
Instead, we often leave third parties with only the bad side of what happened and not the reconciliation. Over time, this can taint their view of your spouse and cause other issues. Especially if you are venting to a family member who sees your spouse at family gatherings or kids’ soccer games, etc. By venting our frustrations to mom or sister, we are often unknowingly sabotaging their relationship with our spouse.
But who CAN I talk to when my marriage is rough?
These are the simple guidelines that I encourage couples to take when they feel the need to talk about their spouse or their marriage with a third party. They will help you avoid toxic venting and start building trust, even in the midst of conflict.
1. Make your first choice to talk to your spouse directly.
Give yourself some space to cool off, get your heart in the right place, and come back together and work out your conflict together as a team. Make sure your goal is understanding and connection, not being right. Venting to someone else about your marriage should never be the first option.
2. Decide together who it’s okay to talk to.
If you do end up needing some 3rd party perspective, decide TOGETHER as a couple….in advance (not in the heat of an argument)…who you both trust and feel comfortable with your spouse speaking to.
“But I tell my mom everything!” That may have been the case before you got married. But now, your primary allegiance is to your spouse, not your parents or siblings or friends. And one of the best ways to build trust in your marriage is to preserve your spouse’s privacy and reputation in this way. So talk about who it IS okay to talk to and who each of you feels comfortable with each other speaking to.
3. NEVER vent about your marriage to…
- Your Children. This. Is. So. Important. Kids are not able to understand the complex dynamics of adult relationships and should never be put in a place where they feel like they have to choose a side or defend one parent to another. No matter how bad your marriage conflict is, please never dish to your kids. It hurts them more than anyone else.
- Your Parents or Siblings. (or any relatives really) Not only is their allegiance to you first, but it also creates a complex dynamic in their relationship with your spouse that isn’t healthy.
- Someone of the opposite gender. When you are in a vulnerable place in your marriage, talking to someone of the opposite gender about your frustrations can open a door to an extra-marital relationship even if you’re not looking for one. Just decide ahead of time to keep that door closed.
4. Choose someone whose first allegiance is to you as a COUPLE, not to one of you as an individual.
When you talk to someone with primary allegiance to one of you, they will always feel the pull towards your side, even if they are trying to be objective. So find someone who is rooting for your marriage more than they are rooting for you individually.
Confide in someone who you know will always steer you back to each other and towards a healthy relationship, rather than simply validating your frustrations.
5. Find someone whose marriage you admire.
I can’t tell you the number of times I hear of people venting about their marriage to someone who has not had a history of healthy marriage themselves.
While they may be supportive of you as an individual, and while this is no judgment of who they are as a person, they probably don’t have the tools you need to actually be helpful in this particular situation. Choose someone whose marriage speaks for itself.
EXAMPLES: A professional marriage counselor, a pastor with a healthy marriage, or a married couple whose marriage you admire (preferably not your parents or in-laws). Also, take your marriage frustration to God. He’s a great listener, has lots of wisdom, and is invested in the well-being of your marriage.
It’s okay to have conflict in your marriage. In fact, it’s the very thing that can bring you closer as a couple and help you learn each other on a deeper level. But careless venting, even to great people you love, can actually have detrimental effects to everyone involved.
So the next time you feel the need to talk about your marriage to someone else, implement these simple guidelines and let it bring you closer to your spouse, rather than further driving a wedge.
P.S. Like this post? Share it on Facebook, pin it to Pinterest, or email it to a friend!
P.P.S. Be sure to subscribe to our insider list for more simple strategies for a happy family!