Dear Dr. Hurd:
I’ve been living with my girlfriend for several years. There is not a fight or disagreement between us that she doesn’t tell her friends about. Nothing is private between us, and I’ve actually stopped confiding in her because I know everybody will know about it soon enough.
What’s worse, when we get together with these friends, I know they’re judging me, since I’m sure she tells them the ‘news’ from her point-of-view. This is really getting on my nerves—enough to threaten the relationship. How can I convince her that this is just not cool?
Dr. Hurd replies:
The first question to ask is, ‘Why does she do it?’
Most likely, she wants sympathy and attention. So you might want to look at how much of that she gets from you. If you can provide more of that, then maybe she’ll be less tempted to look for it outside the relationship.
I’m not saying she’s entitled to broadcast your conflicts. But you have to understand that people come to relationships with different expectations and ‘traditions.’
A lot of this might stem from her family. Maybe she watched her parents air out their conflicts with others, so she thinks it’s reasonable.
It’s never a good idea to discuss private couples’ matters with friends, especially mutual ones. Quite frankly, that’s what therapists are for. Therapists are not only bound by confidentiality, but they’re also not a part of your personal life.
People often ask me, ‘Why can’t I go to my friend who’s a therapist, just like I’d go to a friend who’s a veterinarian or accountant?’
When you see a therapist, it’s private and it stays that way. With your friends, you unload on them at the time of the conflict, and then later on you expect them to forget it.
Of course, they never do. It’s not enough to just complain about what your girlfriend is doing. You need to offer a constructive alternative.
Tell her you don’t mind if she goes to a therapist and talks about your skirmishes. Acknowledge that downloading onto her friends is an attempt to fulfill a need, and that you’re not against her fulfilling that need—except that it’s hurting you. Ask her to please work with you to find a better alternative.
I can’t help but mention that if you had fewer fights and disagreements, this issue might not exist. Try to reduce the conflict, or at least discover its causes.
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