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A coworker who’s getting on your nerves, a flaky friend who bailed on you again, a nightmarish experience at a local restaurant – everyone’s got things to vent about. Chances are, your spouse is one of the first people you turn to when you need to gripe.

But…what happens when your spouse is the thing you want to complain about? In some situations, you might share your grievances with them directly (which can actually be productive when done right). Other times, you may find yourself venting to someone else, like a close friend or a family member.

It seems common enough. We see it in TV and movies all the time, someone sharing their marital frustration with a captive audience of friends or coworkers who are eager to dish out advice, validation, and even judgment. But in real life, this habit might not be as harmless to your relationship as it seems. Here are 5 things to consider before venting about your spouse.

1. Are you violating a boundary?

Maybe you have topics that you’ve explicitly agreed to not talk about with others, or maybe that agreement is more unspoken. Perhaps it’s something that violates their privacy or the privacy of your marriage. No matter what, if you’re at all unsure whether you should be sharing the details with people other than your spouse, it might be best to check in with him/her first or simply forgo the venting to a third party.

2. Are you being respectful?

Sometimes it’s not just what you’re saying, but how you say it that can be problematic. Think about it this way: would you say the same thing if your spouse was in the room? If the answer is no or you’re unsure, you may need to reconsider what you’re sharing, how you’re saying it, or even whether you should say it at all. Consider the difference between saying, “My spouse has a habit of leaving the cabinet doors open, and I get so annoyed!” And “My spouse never shuts cabinet doors, he/she is such a slob!” The former is directed at an action; you could realistically say this to them in a respectful way. The latter is an attack on who they are as a person; while you might say it to their face, it would probably not go over well.

3. Who are you venting to?

Is it someone who knows both of you and could be put in an awkward position, such as a family member or mutual friend? Is it someone who’s going to validate your feelings no matter what, or will they give you impartial, honest advice? Is the person generally supportive of your marriage? While there are other factors (like #1 and #2) to consider, the person you choose to vent to can contribute to whether the venting is truly harmless, creates a bigger problem, or even causes damage to your marriage.

4. How deep is the issue you’re venting about?

If it’s over surface level annoyances, it’s probably not the end of the world. But deep issues that are causing significant problems in your marriage are probably best kept between you and your spouse and out of the ears of just any third party. Of course, if you’re going through a rough patch, it’s understandable that you might share that with a close trusted friend, your pastor, or a counselor. Use discretion and try to stay centered on what’s best for your marriage.

5. How often do you find yourself wanting to vent?

Most people probably share minor complaints from time to time – that’s to be expected. However, if you are constantly feeling the need to get things off your chest to anyone that will listen, it may signal deeper issues or feelings that needs to be addressed. Perhaps there is a tough conversation you need to have with your spouse that you’ve been avoiding or underlying emotions you’ve not fully processed or acknowledged. Whatever the case, venting to others probably isn’t going to help you get to the root of the problem.

Venting about your spouse might not seem like the most damaging habit, and usually it’s not. But it’s one of those things that if done carelessly can end up negatively affecting your relationship. The key is to remain respectful of boundaries, your spouse, and ultimately, your marriage.

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