It’s pretty much a given that you’re going to talk to your friends about some aspects of your relationship. How much detail you go into may vary, but the core fact is true: If you’re in a romantic relationship, you’re probably going to talk about it.
And you shouldn’t feel bad if you do this often! “Romantic relationships can be challenging to navigate, and sharing experiences, feelings, struggles, and difficulties with friends can provide important emotional and even practical support,” says Manhattan-based licensed clinical psychologist Joseph Cilona, Psy.D. Friends can provide a sounding board for your thoughts and feelings, as well as a different perspective, he says, making this a habit that can actually be good for your relationship.
But the problem is, your S.O. might not be as open to sharing personal details about your relationship and love life with people who aren’t directly involved in it—no matter how good your intentions. So, what’s OK and what’s not when it comes to talking about your relationship?
If your partner tells you something in confidence, and you share it with your friends, it’s understandable that it could cause some issues for your relationship down the road if you’re found out. There are also potential problems with trying to resolve a fight you had, via your friends. While it’s a completely understandable habit, licensed marriage and family therapist David Klow, owner of Skylight Counseling Center in Chicago says you really should be figuring out how to resolve an argument between you and your S.O. with them. If you keep having conversations with your friends that you should be having with your partner, then you could be setting the relationship up for failure, he says.
And then there’s the whole boundaries thing. “Problems typically occur when boundaries are crossed or ambiguous, and when there is a lack of clarity about what is OK to discuss with friends and what is not,” Cilona says.
That raises an important point: Do you have to actually ask your S.O. if they feel comfortable with you talking about your relationship with your friends? You should, says Cilona. He recommends having a “clear and specific” talk about how comfortable each of you are with sharing certain kinds of information, especially more sensitive topics like sex and family issues. You can say something like, “I know we both go to our friends for help and advice when we have issues, but is there anything you don’t feel OK with me discussing?”
Klow agrees. “One of the main areas on which couples disagree is how to handle interactions with other people,” he says. “Setting some ground rules about how you share relationship information with your friends can help.”
Here’s why that matters, per licensed clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., author of Should I Stay or Should I Go?: Your partner likely interacts with your friends on some level and doesn’t want to be seen in a negative light by them (and really, you want your friends to see your partner in a good light, too). It’s up to you to protect your other half from chatting about any vulnerabilities or insecurities they may have, as well as paint a well-rounded picture of them. “An intimate relationship should be a private space in some ways, and there should be a confidence that you can share certain details in a safe way,” she says.
That said, it’s understandable that you’d want to vent to your friends if you have a big fight, and you don’t need to stop doing that. (Cilona says that’s “quite normal behavior.”)
Of course, it can be super-awkward if your S.O. tells you something or you have an argument, and you follow it with, “Is it OK to tell my friends?” So, after that initial chat, follow your gut. “If you have good instincts, you will know what is OK and what is not,” Durvasula says. “But when in doubt, ask.”