Last year, my partner and I hit a rough patch. It’s a time I refer to as The Terrible, God Awful, Very Bad Fourth Year. Miraculously, we survived it, both different and better for the wear we endured. What did not fare well after the roller-coaster dip, though, was our friends’ and families’ feelings about our relationship.
People we allowed to be involved in our relationship over the years — especially during that tumultuous time — developed cross feelings after hearing our complaints about each other. Then, as he and I painstakingly worked through our issues with the help of two talented therapists, our friends and family members were left with their disdain. His people dislike me, and mine can’t stand him.
Today, my partner and I are getting along just fine. Knowing many of our friends and family members haven’t resolved their feelings about our relationship the way we have, we’ve learned to keep much of our personal affairs between our therapists and us.
On one hand, it’s natural to want or need to talk to someone about the ups and downs of your relationships. In some cases, doing so is harmless. If you’re honest with yourself, you know pretty early on whether the person you’re with is a keeper. You have an idea of whether you can see yourself dating this person for many years or even getting hitched if that’s your thing. That gut feeling is what separates the keepers from the ones you throw back into the lake. It’s also what should determine how much you divulge when confiding in friends and family.
If you’re anything like me, you may have casually dated someone for a few weeks before putting an expiration date on your relationship. You may have found yourself saying something like, “It’s cool, but they’re not the one. I give it six months, tops.” Maybe the person drinks too much, is too argumentative for your taste, lacks professional ambition, or something else that you can’t quite put your finger on. Whatever the case, you know they’re around for a good time, not a long time.
But then, one day, someone comes along, and you know they’re going to stick around for a while. You know they’re not perfect and that at times it won’t be easy, but something inside of you is sure they’re worth the time and effort it takes to build a meaningful relationship. You’re compatible in most areas, and in the ones where you aren’t, you balance each other beautifully. They hold space for you in the areas you lack and vice versa. You’re both equally motivated, respect each other’s views and opinions, love each other and being together, and find value in giving each other space. So you commit to each other and begin a significant, long-lasting journey. You’ll learn, grow, and be better for having known and been together.
In comparing these two scenarios, it’s probably less risky to discuss the details of a fly-by-night, short-term relationship with your folks than to divulge the intimacies and hardships of a serious, long-term love. Telling your best friend that your intermittent lover — who they might never meet — is a terrible cook is much different than disclosing the same thing about your life partner or wife, who will be around for the foreseeable future (and very possibly preparing meals while hosting said homie).
Compartmentalizing and editing the relationship details you offer your close friends and family doesn’t mean that the most intimate aspects have to be secret. Still, they should remain private — and there’s a difference. Secrecy implies shame or dishonesty while privacy evokes feelings of respect and protection. Your family and friends obviously know you’re in a long-term, meaningful relationship. They may even know when you and your partner are going through challenges, but what they shouldn’t know is the sort of details that may:
- Open up you and your partner to unsolicited advice and opinions about your circumstances.
- Make your family and friends feel justified in unduly expressing their true feelings about your partner and your relationship, which may not always be favorable.
- Set a precedent of oversharing, causing them to give you too much information about their relationships and assume they should always have this level of access to your relationship details.
While it’s healthy to confide in the people who love and want the best for you, there should be a limit to the sort of details you share with your family and friends about your partner and relationship. For instance, you should never, ever divulge:
- Details and gripes about your sex life: This should go without saying, and even though I doubt you’d sit around talking to your mom about your sex life, you might feel tempted to blur the lines of respect and privacy with your boys. Well, don’t. The last thing you want to do is give your friends a mental image of your wife naked or having sex.
- Complexities of your finances: Money can come between couples, family, and friends alike. Keep the details of your financial struggles and triumphs to yourself. No one needs to know when you and your partner have come into or fallen out of money.
- Disparaging remarks about your partner’s family, friends, and their issues with them: We all have drama with our families and friends at some point. Luckily, one of the best feelings in the world is having a partner with whom you can gossip, cackle, and share your innermost shade. No matter what, never break that circle of trust by sharing that with your friends and/or family.
Look, I’m no expert in making a relationship last. Unlike most women, my relationships tend to max out after just a few years, when I get bored, outgrow my partner and/or circumstances, and look to move onto a better situation. That’s something I’m working out in therapy. I am, however, an expert in ruining a relationship, and trust me: TMI is a sure-fire way to tank your union.
At some point, you may survive your relationship’s version of my Terrible, God Awful, Very Bad Fourth Year with my partner. Maybe you already have. But no matter how bad things get, if you hope to salvage and improve your relationship when the tough times are over, limit the details you share with your friends and family. Even when things are great, be mindful of revealing sensitive information that could hurt you or your partner in the long run or strain your relationships with your families and friends. Instead, invest in the help of a neutral third party, such as a family, marriage, or sex therapist, to assist with your interpersonal challenges or a financial and tax expert for your money woes.
We all need someone to talk to, but when we go spilling too many details about our relationships to the wrong people, none of us benefit.