What to Do When Your Spouse Talks Badly About You Behind Your Back

Organize your thoughts with these tips.
By John Daum
May 27, 2021

Let’s be clear about one thing: It’s inappropriate to talk negatively or disclose sensitive personal details about anyone behind their back. We have words for this sort of behavior: Gossip. Slander. Badmouthing. Talkin’ sh… mack. When your spouse does this to you, it feels extra hurtful and violating. 

When your spouse’s words find their way back to you, you have every right to feel hurt, angry, and betrayed. It’s completely understandable. Now, it’s time to make it relationally productive.

We expect our spouse to have our back, not talk behind it. 

Even if your spouse believes what they said to be true, or if it’s their personal opinion, this kind of behavior cannot be justified. (I will give two exceptions to the rule later, but for now, we’re still kinda stingin’ over this.) And, oh boy, if your spouse is saying things about you behind your back that are not true (exaggerations or misrepresentations), that feeling of betrayal is probably dialed to 10. Nope – 11.

If this happens on social media, it makes matters worse. Those words are out there for the whole world to see.

Now, let’s get to the nitty-gritty.

You’re sure your spouse was talking about you – and it wasn’t good. How do you talk to them about it? (Take a look at the links for Effective Communication at the bottom of this blog, too)

  1. Wait until you know you’re calm, cool, and collected. Real Talk: When we’re angry, we say and do stupid stuff. We make matters worse. We don’t solve anything. This is simple brain chemistry.1
  1. Pick a good time to talk privately. Leave enough time for a solid conversation, not a rushed one. Minimize distractions – kids, phones, televisions, etc. Don’t ambush your spouse. Tell them there is something you’d like to speak to them about, then set a time to talk.
  1. Organize what you want to say around your TED. These are your: Thoughts, Emotions, and Desires.
  1. See the conversation through to the end, but take a timeout if you sense things escalating.

How do you begin?

Clearly state what you heard they said. (If it’s a pattern, share several examples.) You can communicate without attacking. Remember that your spouse isn’t the enemy, although their behavior is out of line. Your mindset should be to fight to improve your marriage and relationship with your spouse. It’s not about fighting with your spouse. (Pro-Tip: Going in, make room in your heart and mind for the real possibility that this is a big misunderstanding. Take a look at the links at the bottom of this blog about constructive conflict for more.)

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, say 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. How can we do that?

So, you’ve got the convo rolling in a healthy, solution-oriented way. You’ve been transparent about your thoughts, emotions, and desires. (Keep those emotions in check even if you hear excuses, rationalizations, or blame-shifting.) You’ve given your spouse a safe context to explain, inform, own, and/or apologize. 

Work toward mutual understanding. Try to get into each other’s shoes and trade perspectives with an open mind.2

If this conversation is going well, move to Phase Two:

Time to set some boundaries and reach an agreement on what’s over the line over-sharing. Be sure to include social media.

✓ Apology accepted, or misunderstanding cleared up. 

✓ Boundaries agreed upon and in place. 

✓ Time to move on with a clear understanding and a clean slate. 

This is relationship growth! It might have stung a little or a lot. It may have been a hard conversation. In fact, some challenging issues may have surfaced. If handled well… totally worth it! Maybe this is enough for one day, and you agree to tackle any bigger issues that surfaced (as a team) in the next couple of days. [If this did NOT go well, take a look at the links at the bottom of this blog for some guidance.]

You could stop here, and it would be all good – mission accomplished by incredibly mature relationship work. You could grab some snacks, curl up on the couch together and see what’s on Netflix. It might be time to enjoy the fruits of your labor, or are you interested in some more profound exploration into your marriage?

Time for the two exceptions mentioned earlier… 

Number One:

If your spouse was talking about you to their mentor, doctor, counselor, therapist, or clergy, you might need to pump those brakes. (Most of those conversations are privileged, meaning I don’t know how you heard what was said about you unless your spouse straight-up told you what they told them.) Let’s put a pin in that and come back.

Number Two:

Everybody sometimes needs a trusted friend they can vent to.3 Ideally, this friend isn’t a gossip-monger, knows there are two sides to every story, fully supports your marriage, listens, and gives wise advice. Let’s put a pin here, too.

Gut Check Time. Are you up for this?

I’ve had a couple of questions on my mind, and I wonder if they have crossed yours, too. Regardless of what your spouse said and to whom they said it, whether it was true, false, or somewhere in between, I’m wondering about some stuff, and you should be, too. Let’s go there.

  • Has your spouse tried to talk to you about this stuff before? How’d it play out?
  • How is your communication, in general, and about tough topics?
  • If what your spouse said about you behind your back is accurate, are you gonna own it even though your spouse didn’t handle it correctly?

See, now we’re going from Relationship Checkers to Relationship Chess.

Wanna go for the dub and do some significant relationship work?

Try this out on your spouse and see what happens:

Can I ask you something, and you understand that you can be completely honest with me? I’m not going to react. I’m just gonna listen.” (And you have to now, ‘cuz you just said it.) Is there a reason you feel like you can’t talk to me about this kinda stuff?” Then. Just. Listen.

Look, if your spouse talked about you behind your back, you should call your spouse on it because it is not helpful for your relationship. But. [Dramatic Pause.] But, in reality, marriage isn’t like checkers or chess. It’s not about who wins and who loses. Being wronged can position you to do something more meaningful than being right. Sometimes, there’s a deeper win for your marriage that’s waiting to happen. Just sayin’.


Effective Communication:

4 Things Every Couple Should Know About Communication In Marriage

5 Tools for Healthy Communication in Marriage

Communication Killers 

How To Improve Bad Communication In Marriage 

What Great Listeners Actually Do

Reasons Why Your Spouse Won’t Listen To You 

Constructive Marital Conflict:

10 Rules To “Fight Nice” With Your Spouse 

How Much Should Healthy Couples Fight?

Uh-Oh! This Didn’t Go Well:

What To Do When You Feel Disrespected In Marriage 

What To Do When Your Spouse Lacks Empathy 

5 Tips For Understanding Your Strong-Willed Spouse 

Working Through Resentment With Your Spouse 

What To Do When Your Spouse Is Toxic 


1Gable, P.A., et al. (2015). Anger Perceptually and Conceptually Narrows Cognitive Scope. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0039226 

2McDonald, J.E., et al. (2018). Effects of Religiosity, Forgiveness, and Spousal Empathy on Marital Adjustment. https://doi.org/10.1080/01494929.2017.1403992 
3Eldemire, A. (2019, May 30). Why friendships are vital to the health of your relationship. Psychology Today. Source

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  1. bianca bessick
    bianca bessick says:

    I think a husband partner that’s speak bad about his wife or partner needs help. If you love your wife or partner how can you speak bad about them. If you can’t tell the person in your life how you feel leave them why do you hurt them in that disrespectful way.

    • Laura Newman
      Laura Newman says:

      For years my husband badmouths me to family and friend whenever we have an argument. I thought he had changed but recently found out he did it again

      • Stella
        Stella says:

        I recently found out my husband was sharing very intimate details about me to his guy friend. It was bad, really bad. His friend, I now realize, is a pervert and had no problem crossing the line. Mine and my husband’s intimate relations became a weekly and daily topic for his friend. Before I knew he was a disgusting pervert he made a very sickening comment to me, in front of my husband. I should have realized then something was off about that.
        I don’t think I will ever be able to trust my husband again. My heart is broken. I thought he was my best friend, my mistake.

  2. Dee Dee LaRue
    Dee Dee LaRue says:

    This article is stupid! My husband bad-mouth’s me to his family, coworkers & friends…. Anyone who will listen. 😡 I’ve discussed this many times with him but he continues to do it. He is full of flaws but I don’t capitalize on his shortcomings bc I love him. Now I’m leaving for good!!! It’s disrespectful, demeaning, hurtful and full of continuous low-blow’s all the time. Like he’s Mr. Perfect! Who made him God??!!! 😡

  3. Jose Gonzalez
    Jose Gonzalez says:

    Is it ok for my girlfriend to have a cell phone conversation with her therapist and talk about me while I’m in the same house? I feel so lost and hurt like isn’t therapy suppose to be private? Like why did I have to hear all of that

  4. John
    John says:

    My wife leaves every six months for four months to a state I can’t stand, my health can’t take the long trips anymore, I was mugged and she never came home she asked if I was okay, I was hospitalized for 14 days, she never came back until her four months was complete. She gossips about me and I have to hear it from the other people. Married for four years. PS on our first year anniversary we went on a horse camping trip with several people. As the night was closing I look across the camp and see her kissing her ex boyfriend.

  5. Emmie Stacy
    Emmie Stacy says:

    My husband talks behind my back to my own mom and it really angers me. He has a serious tattle tale problem. I guess he thinks that by talking to her that she will “have a talk” with me. I’m 44 years old! Even worse she’s my own mom but yet she me makes excuses for him. She says “he has cancer and brain tumors”. Yea for the last 2 years, but I’ve been with this guy 10 years and he’s always bad mouthed me behind my back. We’ve been married for 2 because I wanted to be married instead of just living together. She said the same the article said, “everyone needs someone to vent to”. What about what the Bible says about gossip? Huh? How would she feel if I went and talked about her? Just saying. I told her once that he’s ruining my reputation. She said “no he’s not”. I’m like whatever mom. If it wasn’t you he’s talking to it would be someone else. Oh and she CLAIMS to of defended me but I didn’t see anything like that in the text messages. She claims it was “in person” when she gave him a ride to the Dr. Interesting.

  6. James
    James says:

    My wife started her innocent visit to Toronto every weekend, she says her friend needs her, she takes on a job there forcing me to relocate there from Kingston to keep our marriage going. I rented an apartment there as well as paying rent for the apartment in Kingston for 3 months. Once I brought the rest of the furniture to her, she became very toxic. She was angry, I didn’t understand the change in her. She has “friends” that are involved in the motorcycle club, she got caulky and threatened my life with the motorcycle club, I wasn’t happy about it, I can still have her charged for uttering death threats. 3 months later she wanted a new SUV, I helped her get it, hoping her attitude towards me will get better, I paid the rent and all bills including insurance for the vehicles, I didn’t have much left for medication, clothes and lunches. Her daughter came to Toronto to visit, she automatically jumped on me for not buying groceries and being very verbally abusive towards me, I didn’t understand why. This toxic relationship grew worse overtime, I learned this “friend” was a married man, he told everything the wife said, I learned she told her daughter that I refused to buy groceries, where am I going to get money for groceries??? Nice dumb guy who I am trying to get a healthy relationship with an adult stepdaughter, I let her stay with us due to her not paying rent and getting her ailing 80 year old grandfather to give her the money, she shows her new tattoos on Facebook (obviously she was 6 months behind rent before she vacated the premises. Time she wakes up out of bed and goes back to bed, she’s higher than a kite, causing problems. I had the weekend to myself, which was nice, until her daughter comes home, yelling and swearing banging my doors, losing sleep as I work midnights, yes I thought everything through, wife needs to go, I can’t go on living in hell that the narcissist wife created for me.

  7. Joel
    Joel says:

    Yeah my partner did this a lot, when I tried to address it she said talking shit (demeaning/abusive language) about me was how she coped with stress (her own coping strategy) and I had no right to ‘control’ how she spoke about me behind my back to others.. Turned on me that I was controlling as I had issue with overhearing it occasionally.

    We did counseling, but it still comes up from time to time, this idea that “no one has the right to know how others talk about them behind their back”, we are now in trial separation. I can’t abide that position, sure I don’t have the right to know everything she says and does, but if she is talking about me in a demeaning way, I kind of do have a right to know, or at least have a right to have the issues addressed with me first, so I have an opportunity to address the root cause (if it does have to do with me).

    This brings me to my one complaint with this article and it is in the exceptions section. There is a big difference between confiding in a close friend about difficulties in the relationship to seek help or advice (or even just vent), and talking about your partner in an abusive/demeaning way.

    • M
      M says:

      I’m sorry to hear that, Joel…and I agree with you! The only minor disagreement I have is that friends are not always a place to confide in either (it depends).

      I say that because sometimes friends can have a one-sided view or an inability to remain neutral.
      And “venting” can easily turn into the demeaning way your wife spoke about you. People are frustrated and then it turns into that type of situation.
      Again, so sorry you are dealing with that. It hurts.

      As to her saying that you are trying to control what she tells others about you…in my opinion, you have a right to know!
      You are her husband. When people do this, they are attempting to create a narrative where they are the victim and no one hears your side of things.
      To me, it would only be controlling if (for example) you abused her or cheated on her and you didn’t want her sharing that with others (in that case, she would have every right to do that).

      But it sounds like she is being cruel in the way she talks about you, and then trying to gaslight you by saying you are “controlling”.

  8. M
    M says:

    I think that while it’s natural to want to vent, it is not constructive for people to complain about their spouses to others.

    I’m “old school” that way. Don’t share personal details of your marriage with others (exceptions are if there is abuse or infidelity, and you may need help).
    Otherwise…save it for therapy or a trained professional counselor that is an unbiased third party. Friends and coworkers are not qualified to give this type of advice.

    It came to my attention that my husband was confiding in others behind my back, and saying things that weren’t so kind, nor was it helpful to our marriage in any way.
    I was hurt by this. I would prefer if he would share his feelings with me. Not with female “friends”/coworkers or other people who give bad advice, or have a one-sided view.

    To keep a marriage firmly on its foundation, we have to keep our spouse in the loop. Otherwise, what’s the point of being married?
    It is disrespect to complain about your spouse (while ignoring your own faults) and share things with everybody else, but the spouse is made to feel like an outsider.

    My husband told one of his friends that he is “unhappily married” and works a lot to avoid me, apparently. This hurt because I don’t nag him, I’m not unkind, so WTF is his problem? And instead of having a talk with me personally, you tell your coworkers?
    I think it says more about the spouse that does this than the one they are badmouthing. It says that they don’t know how to communicate and that they are somewhat of a coward.
    That might sound harsh, but we are adults. If there is a problem, be direct and tell the person, rather than complain to everybody else.
    That isn’t constructive. I asked him if he thinks these people can help him with OUR marriage? And how? Because I don’t see how they can. A marriage involves two people…not the whole world. And part of being married means that we should work things out together, or seek therapy.

    Not tell others hurtful things about our spouse or keep our spouse unaware of how we really feel. Another way I learned my husband was doing this was when two of his friends started being extremely rude to me and I couldn’t understand why.
    It turns out that he’d been complaining about me to them, and making me out to be this terrible person, so these two women would team up against me.

    • Cory
      Cory says:

      I am ashamed and regrettably admit I am guilty of this. After many months of reflection upon my previous actions of “gossip”, I have come to realize that I had a lot of insecurities within myself. Yes, it was wrong of me to seek outside advice from others. I now realize that admitting my own flaws within myself when it came to intimate conversation within the relationship was a frightening thing to do. There were a number of things that ran through my mind when I thought of communicating to my partner in that manner. I will refer to her as “My Love”. I was truly in love with her, but it was hard to possibly face answers that may have hurt me. I was prepared to have such a conversation, but I wasn’t sure if she was prepared to be completely honest with me.
      I truly believe that any couple that really loves one another can get through any difficult situation with strong, intimate conversation. When I say intimate, I mean putting yourself out there in a vulnerable way in which your partner may very well not want to ever talk to you again. However, I feel that is how you truly begin to heal and start from the foundation up in a relationship in which there were a lot of lies and dishonesty. It’s easy to gossip. It’s not as easy to “keep it in the relationship”. My personal opinion…when someone asks or questions a man/woman’s relationship strength, the answer should ALWAYS result in walking away from that conversation with the potential “s**t starter” thinking said man/woman’s relationship is the strongest relationship on the face of this earth.
      All marital problems stay in the marriage. I feel that will lead to 20, 30, 40+ years of successful marriage.
      That’s just my opinion.
      Sadly…”The Wife” is no longer here to see this change or how sorry I am. Stay strong couples.
      Don’t forget to smile everyday 🙂

  9. Theresa
    Theresa says:

    I don’t need any relationship with him, he didn’t open himself to me or apologize to me from his past. We had our sons texting back n forth without me knowing what are they saying to him about me? I had not against him anything, I wondered why or how did he get the messages coming from? He said that he knew someone to me last night.

  10. Bill
    Bill says:

    My wife makes me out to be the bad guy blaming me for everything. When confronted, she states, “Well, its the truth!” My wife is toxic when it comes to personal relationships. I’m not sure how to survive in a divorce.

  11. Melody Deleon
    Melody Deleon says:

    I don’t feel this article was helpful. Not ever marriage is the same. Not every man is the same. Narcissism is real, and it’s typically the narcissist that speaks ill of their spouse. I’m the one unheard, he’s the abuser. A narcissist doesn’t care if their doings nor do they want or care about hearing them. Communication can’t exist with a narcissist unless you’re praising them. After everything I’ve read, it’s clear that I have no choice but to leave.