Finding out your spouse has talked badly about you behind your back feels like a betrayal on so many levels. It can feel like they’re confiding in someone besides you. Like they’re not being real with you. Not to mention, you might feel disrespected. Before you let the emotions flood your soul, let’s think through how you can move past this and be better for it.
I’m not going to tell you to suppress your feelings and only look at the “real” issue, because what your spouse did impacts you. And hopefully, you’ll both move past it to better understand how each of you wants to be treated.
So what can you do when you find out your spouse is talking badly about you behind your back?
- Gather yourself. Whether you found out through social media or through the grapevine, there’s a good chance you’re pretty emotional. Before letting your emotions take over, gather yourself. Don’t immediately attack or fly off the handle.
- Get the facts. Knowing what was said can help you avoid misinterpretations. I’ve tried to highlight my own flaws when sharing things before, but all the other person heard was that there was something wrong with my wife. What my wife heard from a third source blindsided me. It happens.
- Try giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt. Do you believe your spouse’s goal was to demean, ridicule, or humiliate you? Likely not. There’s a chance they’re focusing on themselves when sharing grievances, not how it affects you or the marriage. More on this later.
- Remember, the goal is to stay on the same team. After all, you are married.
Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty. Your spouse was talking badly about you, and it’s clear. How do you talk to them about it?
Organize what you want to say around your T.E.D., your Thoughts, Emotions, and Desires.
- Clearly share what you heard they said. If it’s a pattern, share several examples. You can communicate without attacking. You attack your enemies, but you share your heart with someone you’re in a relationship with. Start the conversation with, “It bothers me when I hear that you tell your friends I’m ______________.”
- Share what you think when you hear they’ve said negative things about you. For instance, “When I hear you’ve said bad things about me, it makes me think you are _____________ (unhappy, untrustworthy, two-faced).”
- Share what you think they’re saying about you. “To me, it sounds like you think I’m __________?”
- Share your emotions. If you felt betrayed, disrespected, or humiliated, voice it. Try, “When I heard some of the things you said, I felt __________________.”
- Share your desire to deal with the issues or grievances together. “I wish we could work out our issues together. What does it take for us to do that?”
Giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean you ignore your feelings.
Your spouse may not mean to disrespect you, but they may have. Several times in my marriage, I’ve heard, “I know you didn’t intend to make me feel that way, but you did make me feel that way.” (Normally, I’m the one hearing that statement.) Lovingly helping your spouse understand that intentions don’t justify hurtful actions can be crucial to moving forward.
Knowing they don’t intend to hurt or ridicule is essential. It can mean the difference between attacking your spouse like they’re the enemy and helping your spouse understand how you feel.
Does this always lead to sunflowers and roses? No. It’s not unusual for people to naturally become defensive and not immediately own up to doing something hurtful. This may be an ongoing conversation that comes up consistently for some time. Talking to some trusted married friends or even a good marriage counselor might help.
Consider these things in the process:
- Ask why they feel the need to share their grievances with others. Is it the culture or friends they’re with? Do they feel uncomfortable telling you? Did they try and felt dismissed?
- Do they gossip about you, or are they simply trying to get a better perspective? There are times when talking to a trusted friend provides perspective. Even then, it’s vital that you both agree that those friends are for your marriage, focused on helping you lean into (and not away) from each other.
Talking behind your spouse’s back can be painful and divisive. Managing your emotions so you can be heard while understanding your spouse sets the stage for growth. Creating an environment where you can both be transparent, secure, and heard may be the trick to reducing the need to air grievances with someone outside the marriage. That way, you can talk to each other about your friends instead of talking to others about your marriage.