“Don’t air your dirty laundry in public.”
When I was married, all of my friends knew what was going on in my marriage. They didn’t know the extent of the abuse going on (because I kept that private, even though I shouldn’t have), but all the small annoyances, problems, and disagreements they knew alllll about.
It was something a lot of my friends and I would do: vent about our partners. The old marrieds that I looked up to did it the most. We’d sit down for lunch and immediately air our grievances: “He doesn’t do enough around the house.” “He never puts the toilet seat down.” “We don’t have sex enough.” “He constantly complains about his job.”
We would sympathize with each other’s woes: “OMG. What a jerk!” or “Are you serious?!?” or “You are so right for being pissed about that!”
Sometimes, not always, we might say, “Have you talked to him about it?” And the answer would most assuredly be, “No,” or “I did once, but nothing’s changed.” The focus was definitely on complaining about our partner, not on brainstorming a solution.
I never knew this was a problem because it was people I guessed were in healthy relationships (and how can you really know if you’re not IN their relationship?) did. The old marrieds in my life seemed to be in happy, healthy relationships, yet the wives were the ones throwing themselves into a seat across from me in a coffee shop or restaurant and then laying out exactly all of the things they do in their home while their husband reclines on the sofa.
But now I’m in a relationship with someone who doesn’t air our dirty laundry.
To air your dirty laundry means to talk about private issues amongst others that are not involved. It originates from the fact that your dirty laundry (an analogy for dirty secrets) should be kept out of sight when people are visiting, otherwise it could be embarrassing for you or them.
When my partner has a problem with me or our relationship, he talks to me about it. This has been insanely foreign to me. What? You’re annoyed with me? Whaaaa? I’m not perfect?!?
I don’t like hearing these things because it usually means I did something wrong or I have to address something, but you know what? I’d much rather him come to me than go complain to his friends about me.
I should be the one that knows something I am doing is upsetting my partner, not his friends.
It actually feels respectful. He values our relationship enough to talk about issues WITHIN our relationship, instead of dragging outside people into the fold who have their own opinions that don’t even matter.
Why You Shouldn’t Air Your Dirty Laundry
- Because it betrays your partner’s trust.
We all do dumb things within our intimate relationships that we’d rather everyone else not know. Think about how you’d feel if your partner told all of his friends something you said when you were mad that you didn’t even believe. If you value and respect your partner, you aren’t going to want to embarrass them, and you’d want the same for yourself.
- Because your friends commiserating with you doesn’t actually help you sort out how to handle the real issue(s).
When we share our side of the story, we are only sharing our side of the story, regardless of how objective we try to be. There’s no way for that friend in your life to see both sides unless both you and your partner are present. For that reason, your friend is most likely going to take your side or sympathize just with you, which doesn’t help you figure out your part and how to REALLY handle the issue with your partner.
- Because sometimes complaining to other people about your partner means you don’t tell your partner.
When I was married, I vented to my friends all the time about my ex-husband. Just like a tea kettle, the steam would be released, and I would go home feeling happier because I wouldn’t be irritated or mad anymore.
But then the exact same issue would arise again. And again. And again.
If issues are left unaddressed, they start to fester into resentment. By venting to my friends, I was relieving the pressure, but the issues in my relationship weren’t getting fixed because I wasn’t addressing them with the only person I needed to: my partner.
- Because you may find yourself telling your friends ONLY the bad things about your partner.
I’ve been in relationships before where because I’d ONLY been complaining about my partner, my friends would say to me, “Why are you with that guy?” And I would then run to my partner’s defense: “He’s actually a good guy because _________!” But I hadn’t been sharing any of those things with them before, so it just seemed like a reaction, not reality.
I ran to my ex-husband’s defense often in our marriage, and it kept me stubbornly in a relationship I shouldn’t have been in. If I had been actively addressing my issues with my ex-husband instead of venting to other people about him, I would have realized MUCH sooner that things were not okay and left.
- Because once the information leaves your mouth, it can make a minor thing into a MAJOR thing.
Sometimes, when we share a minor grievance with someone else, it then becomes a MAJOR grievance because we hear our friend’s response. “OMG! Your partner doesn’t help you with the dishes ever?? That’s awful!” And then you tell yourself, “He’s right! I do everything around the house, and she does nothing!” Even though you’re conveniently forgetting all of the other things that your partner actually does when she isn’t getting to the dishes.
When you share your relationships issues with a friend, you also then don’t know who your friend is going to turn around and tell next. I’ve actually seen two relationships erupt because one of my friends told her friend something that had happened in her marriage. Her friend turned around and told HER husband what had happened, who then told the first friend’s husband. My friend’s husband was mad at her for telling, and my friend was angry at her friend for breaking her confidence. All because a little thing got blown up when it was shared.
How NOT to Air Your Dirty Laundry*
- Have a discussion with your partner about how much you would like other people to know about your relationship and come to an agreement about that.
- When an issue arises, work on ways to calm down: take a walk, work-out, journal, or practice meditation or deep-breathing.
- Open up constructive dialogue with your partner about the issue.
- If the issue seems bigger or isn’t getting resolved, seek out a couples therapist.
*When you feel like you have to constantly walk on eggshells around your partner, to watch everything you say to avoid arguments because you dread them, your relationship may be abusive and unhealthy. You may be unaware that you are the victim of mental abuse, as this type of abuse is frequently minimized or overlooked. In these instances, it would be important to seek outside help, as in seeing an individual and/or couples therapist.