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, out of 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 out of 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 unlikely 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 like “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.”