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A Better Way of Handling Relationship Problems

“Don’t air your dirty laundry in public.”

When I was married to my first husband, a group of friends and I would sit down to lunch every Saturday and complain about our partners.

“He doesn’t do enough around the house,” my one friend might say, or I might pipe up with, “He just never talks to me. It’s like I’m married to a brick wall.”

Every week, we’d sympathize with each other. “You’re too good for him” or “I can’t believe you put up with all of that.” Rarely we might ask, “Have you talked to him about it?” Our weekly lunches focused on complaining about our partners, not on brainstorming solutions. I had no idea how unhealthy this was. Everyone I knew did this, even women I believed to have mostly happy and healthy relationships. But now I’m married to my second husband, a man who doesn’t air our “dirty laundry.”

Most people have heard the phrase, “don’t air your dirty laundry.” To do so means to talk about private issues among 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 and/or them.

The first time my now husband shared he had a problem with me, I felt completely unseated. What? You’re annoyed with me? Whaaaa? I’m not perfect?!? I didn’t even have a frame of reference for how to respond!

It took me some time to get over how little I liked hearing I’d done something wrong or had to address something, but you know what? I’d much rather my husband come to me than go complain to his friends about me. I should be the one that knows that something I’m doing is upsetting my partner, not anyone else.

Both my husband and I today value our relationship enough to talk about issues WITHIN our relationship and keep other people out of it.

Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Air Your Dirty Laundry:

1. It betrays your partner’s trust.

We all do dumb things within our intimate relationships that we’d rather other people not know. Think about how you’d feel if your partner told all of his/her friends something stupid you said when you were mad. If you value and respect your partner, you aren’t going to want to embarrass them, and you’d want the same for yourself.

2. 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. There’s no way for that friend to see both sides unless both you and your partner are present. Your friend is most likely going to take your side, which doesn’t help you figure out your part and how to REALLY handle the issue with your partner.

3. Complaining to other people about your partner may mean you don’t talk to 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 as 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.

4. You may tell 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?” I would then run to my partner’s defense: “He’s actually a good guy because _________!” But because I hadn’t been sharing any of those things with them before, it just seemed like a reaction, instead of a reality.

5. 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!” your friend might say to you.

You might then 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 your partner actually does when she isn’t getting to the dishes.

Further, when you share your relationship issues with a friend, you don’t know who they are going to tell, and that can mean that your business (between you and your partner) becomes the business of other people.

How to Not Air Your Dirty Laundry*

  1. 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.

  2. When an issue arises, work on ways to calm down: take a walk, work-out, journal, or practice meditating or deep-breathing.

  3. Open up constructive dialogue with your partner about the issue.

  4. If the issue seems bigger or isn’t getting resolved, seek out a couples therapist.

The only two opinions that truly matter within your partnership are yours and your partner’s. While some issues might require the help of a third party (like if you were to seek out a couples therapist), the best thing to do is keep your “dirty laundry” where only the two of you can see it.

*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. This may be mental abuse, which is frequently minimized or overlooked. It’s important to seek outside help, as in seeing an individual and/or couples therapist. If you uncertain, or if you are a victim of other types of abuse, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline or call them at 1–800–799–7233.

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