| Family Connections |

“My Husband and I Disagree on What Is ‘Private Information'”

Move the discussion away from right and wrong, and focus on your feelings


Shortly after I got married, I realized that what’s considered “private information” is totally different for my husband than for me.

My husband and his friends are all comfortable complaining about their wives to each other. Every time my husband comes home and repeats a conversation to me, I wonder what his friends are telling their wives about me. He also sends his family videos or pictures in which I’m not looking my best (to put it mildly), or relays a “funny” anecdote to his family that makes me look bad.

All this feels like a violation of trust. In my world, anything that paints your spouse in a bad light (that is, if it makes the spouse feel uncomfortable) is not okay. My husband is a lot more chilled in this area, and when I make comments or ask him to stop, he says I’m being uptight. What can I do?

We all have different definitions of, preferences for, and concerns about, privacy. To enter into a debate with one’s spouse about whether it is right or wrong to keep family anecdotes and photos private is to head down the wrong path. The right and wrong aspects of the issue can be accessed through rabbinic guidance where one can find rulings on what is permitted to relay to others and what isn’t. The Torah itself shows great sensitivity to people, as is reflected in the laws of refraining from embarrassing others, refraining from speaking or listening to lashon hara, refraining from hurting other peoples’ feelings with words, and so on. So if it’s a ruling that you are seeking, then perhaps your husband would be willing to sit down with your rav to discuss the issue.


Focus on Feelings

However, few marital issues can be solved by determining who is right and who is wrong. The “loser” in a battle may change a behavior but resent the spouse who forced the issue. Moreover, the deeper issue between spouses is frequently not the behavior itself, but rather the lack of caring that’s conveyed by the refusal to adjust to the wishes of the partner. Your husband’s dismissive response to your request for more privacy naturally makes you feel unheard, unimportant, and uncared for. Here are some ways that you might address the problem.

Move the discussion away from right and wrong, and focus on your feelings. For example, when you say, “I feel uncomfortable and embarrassed when others see me in a sweatshirt and a slinky skirt,” you are describing your emotional vulnerability. This tends to elicit feelings of compassion in others and makes them want to help you. On the other hand, when you’re telling someone that his behavior makes you feel betrayed and violated, it’s as if you’re saying, “You are betraying and violating me.” This tends to elicit defensive anger, as the person now feels accused of being a bad human being. Instead of wanting to help you, the person wants to shut you down.

For the same reason, avoid naming your husband’s behavior. Wife: “When you talk about me, I feel uncomfortable and embarrassed.”  Keep it all about you for best results.

If, after hearing about your pain, your husband asks you to get over it, try to offer an example to him that shows how difficult it is to get over feelings. Wife: “If I asked you to just get over the way you feel about XYZ, would you be able to do that?” Pick an example of something that you know he would have trouble changing his feelings about (such as going on long shopping trips with you!).


Acting for the Other's Sake

Another option is to move away from the topic of feelings toward the topic of behavior. Remind him that you’ve shown your caring for him in the past by being careful to do something he wanted only because he requested it and not because you agreed or wanted to do it. Explain that he can do the same for you by refraining from talking about and displaying your private information, simply because you’re asking him to do this.

Keep in mind that the behavior you are asking him to change may seem simple to you, whereas it might be a true hurdle for him; he may feel that this sort of sharing is part of his essence. Approach the subject with respect, since changing in this area may be even more difficult for him than it would be for you to get over your privacy issues.

You can also invite your husband to explore the issue with you in counseling. If he won’t, or if counseling doesn’t help, your next step is to find ways to make peace with the issue on your own or with professional help. Every marriage has its pekeleh of problems, and some “putting up” with things is a necessary skill. However, it’s the skill to use last, after trying your best to resolve the issues.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 799)

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