How Venting Can Hurt Your Marriage

Even in marriage, there’s a fine line between confiding and venting – and it’s a distinction that’s important to make. Our words have power and we need to use them wisely.

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“I can fix that,” Ted states.

This four-word phrase – stolen from the film, Holes – is a staple at our house. Much like Texas Pete’s hot sauce and duct tape, Ted keeps it handy. It’s a mantra he’s made his own.

And who benefits from it the most? Well, aside from his very fortunate employer, that would be me.

No matter what the problem is – be it a glitch on my laptop or an infestation of mice – Ted’s 95% likely to right whatever’s wrong. In our 10+ years of marriage, I’ve found it doesn’t take much for me to launch him into action.

But, as Yoda might say, wield wisely this power I must.

You see, sometimes my confession of a problem isn’t cut and dry. Sometimes I’m not merely looking for a quick fix. Instead, there’s a sinful edge to my cry for help.

Marriage and the Emotional Vent

How so? Well, I too often fall prey to the emotional vent.

Okay, so maybe “fall prey” attributes too much innocence on my part. The truth is, I often jump, feet first, into ranting my emotions — good, bad, and sometimes ugly — about a situation or individual to Ted.

Why?

One, I know he’ll listen and love me regardless of what words escape my mouth. Two, I can almost guarantee he’ll forget 75% of what I’ve said by breakfast the next day.

Except, to put it in a Dr. Seuss sort of way, when he doesn’t.

Those times my bitter words do stick with him, are the times I’m reminded just how much influence I have. My words — especially when they are laced with strong emotion — awake Ted’s fix-it man instincts.

While sometimes they provoke biblical correction from him to me, there are instances this has translated into defending me online, confronting a family member or friend, or intervening in a work situation. As any good husband, Ted doesn’t like to see me upset or treated poorly.

The Difference Between Confiding and Venting

I’ve come to realize, though, that I’m never too old to heed the children’s bible song that says, “Be careful little mouth what you say,” especially when it comes to my marriage.

While I don’t advocate spouses keeping things from one another, my own experience has taught me that there are times when it might be wise for me to wait an hour or two until I’ve calmed down. That small amount of time can make a big difference in how I present my problem to Ted — especially when it involves a beef with a loved one.

Even in marriage, there’s a fine line between confiding and venting. And it’s a distinction that’s important to make. I love what Suzanne Gosselin writes:

The term “venting” sounds deceptively therapeutic. The truth is, venting involves voicing frustrations that are often damaging to a person or a cause. By giving ourselves permission to “vent,” we allow words to pour out unchecked, taking little time to consider whether they’re gossip, slander or just good, old-fashioned complaint.
I can think of times when I have listened to a friend “vent” only to walk away with a diminished view of a person or ministry. The enemy seems to use such unrestrained moments to stall and discredit God’s work, and even mire a believer in sin. Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”

Questions to Ask Before You Vent

I’m learning — but certainly, haven’t mastered (just ask Ted) — the art of asking myself these questions before registering an emotionally-charged complaint to my fix-it man. Maybe these questions will prove helpful to you too.

  • What reasoning drives me to vent to Ted?
  • Am I telling him to simply keep him “in the loop,” or do I hope he’ll get as fired up about the situation as I am?
  • Is my goal to see him join me in my irritation?
  • If I choose to vent to Ted while I’m still upset, is it going to benefit him? Will it benefit our relationship?
  • Will it help in the way he views others involved?

Many times, it might be better for me to take some time to calm down before discussing a situation with him. Sometimes I need to hold off talking to him until I’m able to more aptly choose my words.

The Words You Speak to Your Spouse Matter

Words matter. Emily Dickinson wrote, “I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word.” And in Matthew 12:34-37, Jesus stated:

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

When it comes to the emotional vent, I’ve determined to retire my jumping shoes. It may not always come easy to hold my tongue until I calm down, but with the help of the Holy Spirit and my Mr. Fix-It Man, I’m confident that, yeah, “I can fix that.”

How Venting Can Hurt Your Marriage

A version of this article first appeared at Start Marriage Right. You can read that here.

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Ashleigh Slater is the author of the books, Braving Sorrow Together: The Transformative Power of Faith and Community When Life is Hard and Team Us: The Unifying Power of Grace, Commitment, and Cooperation in Marriage. She loves to combine the power of a good story with practical application to encourage and inspire readers.

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