I love to gossip.
I know I shouldn’t, so I try not to. Except, of course, when I’m talking to my husband. Spouses can tell each other anything, right? Restrictions against gossip don’t apply in marriage!
That was my theory, anyway, until I started to realize how frequently I was gossiping about people to my husband. I began to wonder, if it’s wrong to indulge in negative thoughts about others, how can it be OK to express them without restriction to one’s spouse?
By “gossip,” I don’t mean just casually talking about another person’s private life. I mean enjoying talking about others’ faults or failures, either for no good purpose (“idle gossip”) or to hurt reputations or relationships (“detraction”).
In my marriage, it was a lot of “you won’t believe what so-and-so did today” conversations. Or reflections on why a certain person is annoying, or treated me unfairly, or made an inexcusably sloppy mistake. You know, venting!
The results weren’t pretty.
First, expressing these thoughts to my husband to “get them off my chest” usually just reinforced them. Even if complaining about a real injustice, I often just wanted to indulge in sympathy, which only exaggerated and prolonged my sense of being a victim.
Second, it unfairly projected my own personal difficulty with someone onto my husband (especially serious when it’s someone with whom your spouse needs to have a healthy relationship, like a close colleague or family member. Do I really need to alert him to A. Sally’s annoying habit?).
Third, it injected into our marriage an atmosphere of judgment towards each other and those outside our family.
Thankfully my husband is not a gossip or a complainer. Most men aren’t, I think. Perhaps this is an area in which the difference between men and women benefit the wife. I am inspired by my husband’s ability to “take people for who they are.” He can limit his interactions with people without needing to analyze and discuss why he finds it necessary to do so.
I recently asked my husband for his advice about what sorts of conversations I should refrain from bringing into our marriage. He is a great listener and I love talking with him, so it seemed unimaginable to place any limits on our conversations.
I asked him: “When is it appropriate for me to speak negatively about someone to you?”
His advice made a lot of sense: “It all depends on your motivation.” If I’m seeking guidance or support from him, then such conversations are part of the healthy intimacy of marriage. If I’m alerting him to a real issue of concern that affects him or our family, then that’s just part of prudence. But if I just want to dwell on another person’s sins or failures, with no intention of resolving my issues with them and/or a desire to hurt them, then that conversation is wrong and unhealthy.
As I try to follow his advice, I notice two things:
– I have to squelch a surprisingly large number of thoughts from coming out of my mouth, and sometimes it’s a real challenge to think of healthy conversational topics. Yikes.
– The less I “vent” about people and try to show them mercy instead, the easier they become to deal with. Yay!
In the end, what I hope for isn’t simply to clean up my language, but rather to nourish in myself, my marriage and my family a heart of mercy. Mercy towards ourselves, who God has forgiven much. Mercy towards each other, who God asks us to forgive alongside Him.
(In the meantime I wonder…does reading People Magazine count as gossip? That’s neutral territory, right?)
What do you think? What is gossip? Is it possible for conversations between spouses about other people to be gossipy? What is the result of gossip in marriage?
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