We’ve all heard it said that you shouldn’t talk bad about people behind their back. We all know it’s wrong, yet as a culture, we do plenty of it. It’s a damaging habit in so many ways and really doesn’t benefit anyone involved – the victim, the gossiper, or the receiver.
And perhaps one of the worst forms of this behavior is when someone talks negatively about their spouse to other people.
A couple of years ago I was working out at a gym near a personal trainer and her client. Since I don’t wear headphones when I work out, I happened to overhear their conversation. Though I don’t remember the specifics, I do remember that this personal trainer was completely bashing her husband. And not just one or two statements. This went on for probably ten minutes. I found this to be very unprofessional. I felt bad for the client since she was spending so much money for a training session, only to have her trainer tear down her husband when she should have been focusing on the workout and her technique.
The more I heard of the conversation, the angrier I became. I felt really bad for this woman’s husband. He had zero defense for the things she was saying about him, and as a result, this client’s impression of his character was inevitably quite skewed. Even if the things the trainer was saying were true, it was completely inappropriate for her to be telling her client.
Here’s a simple test to discern whether or not you are saying something inappropriate about your spouse:
If your spouse were standing there observing the conversation, would you be full of shame, embarrassment, or guilt over what you said? When you apply this test, it doesn’t really matter who is receiving your word vomit, whether it be a close friend or a stranger. It shows us we can no longer justify our behavior by writing it off as confiding, venting, or as a “prayer request.”
Now I’m not saying there won’t be times when you legitimately need to share your struggles, but just ask yourself if you are sharing these things with the right heart. Are you pouring your heart out to someone who knows your spouse’s character and can see things from a more objective view? Or are you simply spouse bashing? Can this person offer encouragement because they care not only about you, but about your spouse as well?
Scripture tells us we are to help carry one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), but scripture also tells us we should “not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Eph. 4:29)
I think it’s safe to say that tearing down our spouse would be considered unwholesome talk. We should instead be using our words to build others up. And even though it’s not explicitly stated in this verse, I believe this concept of building others up should be applied just as much, if not more, when the person you’re talking about isn’t around.
I don’t know about you, but when I hear from other people that my husband was giving me praise behind my back, I feel so loved, significant, and secure in my marriage. It does nothing but strengthen our relationship. And even if he wasn’t “tattled” on, speaking positively about me benefits him too because it helps prevent him from focusing on the negative.
However, there’s an inverse relationship at work here too. Just as much as it bolsters a marriage when a spouse speaks well of their significant other, talking negatively about them does nothing but promote discontentment, self-pity, and insecurity.
Words are powerful, and they can be used for good or for evil. I think we often fail to realize just how much influence our words have in our lives. And honestly, it’s just as important to build your spouse up when they’re in your presence as well.
So what’s the plan of action here? It’s simple. Make it your goal to begin intentionally talking up, not down, about your spouse. Focus on the positive, work through the negative with them, and realize you are in it for the long haul. I’m not trying to oversimplify marriage relationships, but I do think this is one simple way to promote a healthy marriage and prevent the seeds of bitterness from taking root.