In so much of life lives we live in an era of extremes. Relationships are not immune to this phenomenon, and as a result it is harder than ever to maintain healthy boundaries around our marriage. On the one extreme, we live in a Facebook world where people’s lives are an open book – often displaying seeming perfection. On the other extreme we shy away from sharing with trusted confidants, even a little bit of our struggles, challenges, and disappointments -denying ourselves helpful feedback and support. Finding the balance between oversharing and not sharing enough, is about knowing when to ask for guidance and when to maintain privacy for those things that should be worked out exclusively between partners and/or a mental health care professional.
In his most recent book Eight Dates; Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, John Gottman (who I wrote about in previous posts) asks us to consider our motivation when we turn to others to talk about our marriage. Gottman’s concern is turning to others when things aren’t going well in our relationship. He is referring to the general state of our marriage, and not to the one item you have chosen to talk about. Gottman writes “There is one step that cascades toward all betrayals. It often happens when things aren’t going well in the relationship. That step is making negative comparisons of our partner with other real or imagined alternative relationship partners. When something is bothering us about our partner, rather than talking this over to get our needs met within the relationship, we fantasize about how we might receive what is missing from our current relationship with a fantasy partner.” If conversing with a friend is intended to help improve our marriage, then that conversation should lead to feeling closer to our partner, or to having a follow up conversation with our partner after gaining clarity from a friend. The conversations that begin and end with feeling that you could have done better and that others have it better, are the ones we want to avoid.
What I love about Eight Dates, is Gottman’s encouragement to talk with our partner about these 8 topics, knowing that many of us would prefer to hear a good lecture about them! He wants us to break into the vulnerability of having the conversation with our spouse. As I read through the book, I thought about how differently I felt about some of the topics when I was dating, after a few years of marriage, and now after almost a decade and a half of marriage. I wonder if my spouse feels the same…but then again that is what Gottman wants…for us to talk about it and find out!