Dear Neil: I spend a fair amount of time angry at my husband. When I’m alone, I silently say to myself that my husband has hurt me, or disappointed me or angered me—and I think of all the things he has done in our 17 years together that fit those emotions. I then started sharing these emotions about my husband with several close girlfriends of mine. That way no one gets hurt, and I get to vent, commiserate with others and receive support for my feelings. Recently I shared with my husband some of the things us girls have been talking about, and he got furious. He said that I was violating his trust and hurting our marriage. I said no I’m not, I’m just venting to friends. This has caused a rift between us. Do you have an opinion?
No Harm Meant in Connecticut
Dear Connecticut: It can be helpful to work out how you feel about an issue by talking with others. Nothing is wrong with talking things out with other people — that’s indeed what most counselors and therapists do for a living. But you have to be careful, because your husband could easily feel that you are revealing things to friends that may feel personal and private to him, and you don’t want him to feel that you have breached trust or have publicly undressed him.
There are actually three issues here. First, that you aren’t sharing information with other people that he would consider personal, private and confidential. Second, you are in the habit of consistently building a case against your husband in your own head. That means that from time to time, you look for more evidence to support your feelings or to justify how you feel. A short step later you will begin to prepare a speech in your head in which you accuse, try and convict your husband of wrong doing, or of being insensitive, selfish or inadequate.
You are now painting a portrait of your husband as the bad guy in your marriage. But by doing so, you diminish the good feelings you have for him, and therefore cause yourself to feel even worse. When you feel bad about him, you will also feel bad about yourself, because you are committed to him. You are “making a case” against your husband, as if you were in a court of law and he was on trial. But if you win this trial you also lose, because you have now worked yourself into an unhappy state with someone you presumably also love, care about and want to feel closer to. I don’t think doing this is in your own best interests.
Third, the one thing left out of your letter is any attempt to repair the relationship with your husband, and to work through all the hurt, anger and disappointed feelings you have about him. You’re not telling him how you feel, you’re telling girlfriends. And no matter how much your girlfriends commiserate with you, they can’t fix these problems.
But your husband could, and that becomes the solution to your dilemma. Tell him what’s bugging you. But instead of just complaining, tell him also what you’d like him to do differently.
It’s the only way you’re going to heal your marriage.