How much is too much to share with family and friends about problems in your marriage?

When you first meet someone you run to your friends and family and tell them about this great human that just entered your life. You look forward to introducing them and then hold a debriefing session, feverishly taking in their opinions and observations. You hold onto their every word, ask them for advice on how to proceed in situation X, and analyze your new found loves actions with your mates. confiding in friends about problems in marriage

After several months your love’s imperfections start to surface. You have your first fight. You might even ‘take a break’ to figure things out. Friends and family are there by your side the entire time. They help you figure out what is a deal breaker or how to help your boyfriend/girlfriend see your view point – because if they saw it from your perspective of course they would succumb to your influence. The input of your inner circle is crucial at this stage of relationship. 

In front of community at large you take your vows and commit to each other for life. After a couple of years the novelty of married life has worn off and real problems and grid lock situations emerge. So what do you do? You go back to what worked to begin with, you start seeking counsel of your inner circle that helped you at the onset of your relationship.

Traditional marriage is designed to be exclusive – a unique dyad that provides a safe confidential place for each spouses heart to live. When a third party is consistently brought into the relationship, safety and sanctity of the relationship gets disturbed. It is almost impossible for your tribe to offer unbiased advice. After all they are loyal and committed to you and therefore see you through rose colored glasses. The chances a Mother will tell her daughter how unreasonable she is, are pretty low.

Yet we are social beings and need to process situations and feelings out loud. So what is one to do. One obvious answer is to find a couples counselor who can help you both find solutions to unresolved issues or guide your communication to a cleaner and healthier path. But we still want to open up to people we love and pour our hearts out to those that care about us. For the record I strongly advise against airing dirty laundry in public. Confiding to your support system sounds like a good idea at the time but can drive a wedge between your spouse and you. They might feel betrayed and ambushed. Feelings of shame can surface prior to family gatherings which would effect your spouses desire to socialize. Please take all of this into consideration prior to opening up.

In 2014 research (1) by Kirsten Lind Seal for University of Minnesota showed that 73.3% of U.S. adults reported ever having been a confidant to someone with a couple relationship problem, while 62.6% had themselves confided in someone about a relationship problem. “Women were more likely to be confidants than men, as were individuals with more education. The most common confiding relationship was between friends, followed by siblings. Confidants had a wide range of marital problems brought them, including common issues such as disagreements over money along with serious issues such as infidelity and divorce.”  So now that we established we shouldn’t confide in others about our marital distress, but majority of us do, how to do it without ruining our marriage.

Best Practices of Confiding 

  • Set your intention in receiving help and guidance
  • Find a confidant that is non-judgmental, supportive listener and offers alternative perspective 
  • Avoid spouse bashing
  • Brainstorm solutions not just regurgitate the problem
  • Tell your spouse ahead of time that this is happening to avoid an unpleasant surprise
  • Share the gist of what is upsetting not the dirty details
  • Limit sharing to one person

Prioritize your marriage by dealing with your problems together. If you’ve already confided about your partner to others, don’t despair it’s not too late to make things better. Consider circling back to your confidant and mention some of the things you appreciate about your partner. At times we may feel hopeless that things can get better. As a marriage and family therapist for 15 years I can tell you that I have seen couples make huge turnarounds by putting effort and time into their love. It takes commitment to see how each of you contribute to the relationship from a negative and positive position.

Marina Edelman is a Licensed Psychotherapist in private practice for 15 years. She has helped countless couples design fulfilling beautiful relationships using Gottman Method along with Emotional Focused Therapy to create long lasting results. She has been published in Huffington Post and most recently quoted in The Lily (subsidiary of Washington Post)