Are you a short-term or long-term investor in your relationships in your romantic relationships? Perhaps you are a hybrid? You honor some relationships over time and discard some relationships once you have extracted what you need or want out of them. Whichever may be the case, and as we discussed in last week’s blog, let’s remember to honor and respect the people in our lives that play the relationship game differently than we do.
What are the effects of speaking negatively about our partners to others? Why hold back from giving into this common temptation? How is our relationship benefited by our discretion?
I recently read a Facebook post that briefly discussed the dissolution of a woman’s marriage a year prior and how she felt this year on Valentine’s Day. It was such a vulnerable post that I messaged her the following note:
I didn’t know [about your divorce], and I’m glad I didn’t know. That’s classy. Too many people share too much of their relationship troubles on FB. Nice job. And blessings to both of you (and your family).
I am not the Facebook police and did not go searching through her posts over the previous year. Therefore, I don’t know for sure that she didn’t say anything earlier. And had she publicly revealed her divorce earlier, she may not have said anything negative about the relationship or her partner. Nonetheless, I am happier that she seemed to share absolutely nothing. Saying nothing certainly is consistent with saying nothing negative. I am not suggesting that we never reveal we’ve divorced. However, if my perception is correct, she avoided speaking during the volatile period that occurs during and just after a divorce. Again, kudos to her.
In sharp contrast, I worked with an individual who, putting it mildly, got regular counsel from relatives on the ins and outs, the ups and downs, of their relationship. Ironically, none of these ‘advisers’ had any significant relationship success. People who have little to no track record of relationship success are probably not the best advisors … unless you want what they have.
These scenarios showcase the spectrum of how we might talk to others about our partner. One is respectful and restrained, and the other is disrespectful and gossip-laden.
It’s easy to fall into this prevalent trap. It may be fairly innocent, even unknowing. We may talk about our partner or relationship to a professional, a friend, and/or a family member in an effort to legitimately improve things. It may be a more egregious betrayal, such as venting and/or complaining to a sidepiece or a paramour.
I used to take shots at or make fun of a partner when we were around people. This exposed her to the opinions of others who then scrutinized her (and me) based, at least in part, on my comments about her. This was not all right. I was working to make her look bad in front of others. I am sure that I made myself look bad in doing so, too. These are all varying degrees of betrayal.
How are these acts of betrayal? How are we betraying our partners when we speak negatively of them to others?
An intimate relationship is … well, intimate. And that intimacy gets to be honored by both partners. We share moments and parts of ourselves so that we can connect closely. Intimacy’s partner is vulnerability; vulnerability inherently opens us up to criticism, mockery, and being taken advantage of. Without vulnerability intimacy cannot exist. And when we take advantage of the gift of intimacy by criticizing our partner in front of others, we are betraying the intimacy (and the relationship).
When we betray our partner, we also disrespect ourselves. No relationship would exist if two people didn’t intentionally come together to create it. We would not have these issues or this partner to complain about if we had not first made a decision to connect. Our connection came first; the discord came second. If we speak negatively about our partners, we are speaking negatively about ourselves – about our decision to have a relationship with this person! Honor your partner, yourself, and your original decision to connect by keeping your discontent within the relationship. Treat that relationship as unique, special, and important. And if it stops being important, leave it. Even then, let’s keep the details to ourselves.
In a healthy relationship we can be safe while also being flawed. It is an environment where we can make mistakes and survive. We all want to know that we can relax and show how stinky our feet are without our partners revealing this vulnerable information to others. Just as we want this, our partner wants it, too; we must treat them the same way we want them to treat us.
And let’s not mistake co-betrayal, where both partners are doing the same thing, as any level of justification. If our partner has made this mistake, it does not give us permission to do the same to them. I am only speaking to individuals right now. Hopefully, both parties are reading this.
Do not talk negatively about your partner to others. It’s very simple. As noted above, the worst betrayals happen when we slander our partner with anyone who has conflicting or potentially conflicting interests with them. The egregious nature of this betrayal cannot be underestimated. This may be another person we’re having sex with, it may be an enemy, it may be someone our partner is in conflict with, our friend, their friend, a counselor, or whoever. If we would not say it to someone in front of our partner, do not say it to them at all.
If you are asking yourself, “How do I find solutions to my relationship problems if I don’t talk to others about my partner?,” please keep in mind that we can learn without dragging another specific person into the discussion that we have with others. We can learn new skills and receive relationship advice by asking questions. If I am having a tough time communicating with my wife because she is often cutting me off in discussions, I might ask a friend, “How do you remain calm when you are speaking with someone and they keep cutting you off after you have remained quiet when they were speaking?” Please note that I said nothing about my wife anywhere in my question. If asked, “Is this pertaining to your wife?,” I can say (and it would be true), “I am asking so that I have a better understanding of effective negotiating.” We will discuss this further in an upcoming blog.
And always remember how important it is for our partner to feel safe. Even when we have the best intentions, our partner may be uncomfortable being talked about to others. This is important to understand and respect. Let’s ask our partners for permission before we speak to someone else, even a professional, about them.
In all of this, there is a presumption that we are interested in our partner feeling safe in our relationship. If this is the case, there are few times when the feeling of safety is more important than when we are in the midst of a relationship challenge. Let’s keep our partner feeling safe by never speaking negatively to others about them. Take care of each other and rest assured that this conversation is not over. We will soon talk more about the valuable skill of talking about our relationships without talking negatively about our partners.
Frank Love coaches individuals who are in (or wish to be in) a relationship on ways to be more loving. He is also the author of “Relationship Conversations You Don’t Want to Have (But Should Anyway)” and “25 Way to Be Loving.” To schedule a free consultation, contact Frank at Frank@FrankLove.com.