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Is badmouthing your partner ever OK?

Posted on Monday, August 22, 2011 in Honesty, Kat, Men, Relationships, Women

Sara had been filling me in on who’s who as we made the rounds at her co-worker’s barbecue when at some point I realized I’d lost her. Not physically, but her attention. And as far as I could tell, it wasn’t because a good-looking guy was close by; that I could understand.

“Earth to Sara.”



“I’m listening.”

“To what? Voices in your head again?”

“Very funny. No, that couple. Well, actually the wife. Hear her?”

“Barely. Is she saying something I should pay attention to?”

“It’s just horrible. Every word out of her mouth is a diss on her husband. And he’s standing right next to her. I hate that.”    

“Oh, come on, Sara; maybe that’s just the way they’re playful with each other. Some couples are like that. You shouldn’t assume it’s a diss.”

“Yeah, well, if you listen carefully, you’ll know that’s not playful. Just look at his body language.”

I did — it didn’t look great.

Suddenly, I started to feel uncomfortable, too. Like Sara, I hate when couples put each other down in front of other people. Sometimes it seems like playful teasing, but when you listen closely there’s often an edge to it. And as bad as I feel for the spouse being dissed, I also feel bad about myself — being in the presence of that kind of talk makes me feel awkward because I’m at a loss of how to respond, and no matter what I do, it seems wrong. Laugh along? Ignore it? Change the topic? Talk about my own former hubby put-down stories? Call her on it? Try to “fix” it? Model good relationship behavior by talking positively about my sweetie? Each has its pros and cons. But which is right?

If it’s a long-time friend, it seems that it would be easier to call her on it — separately, gently — but you risk losing the friendship. If it’s someone you barely know, like the woman Sara was overhearing at the party, it seems best to ignore her; if you called her on it, it might create a scene! But ignoring it is like giving it a stamp of approval when it really isn’t OK to talk like that.

Whenever I hear a spouse putting the other down, I feel the pain that each is feeling, not only the person who’s being dissed but also the disser — those who bully are often those in the most pain.

I don’t think couples should put each other down in public. I don’t know how often men do that, but I know women are guilty of it. get a bunch of gals together for a gals’ night and if one starts putting down her hubby, it can spread like a wildfire and quickly turn into a bitchfest.

When a couple teases each other — lovingly — about each other’s “shortcomings,” that’s different, although both have to be OK about it. That’s not always the case, and then it can turn into a pathology between them.

Of course, I’ll never experience thatwhat could Sean possibly say bad about me?!?!

  • Have you ever badmouthed your partner?
  • Has your partnet ever badmouthed you?
  • What do you do when you hear someone badmouthing his/her partner?

Photo © Angelika Bentin –


Bring on the comments

  1. brian says:

    And as a witness to this growing up consider the consequences on your children hearing you constantly putting down the other spouse and the impact of this on the child in forming an opinion if he or she would ever want to get married and find themselves trapped in a similar situation

  2. A dude says:

    yup it’s awful. I’ve done it and feel gross when I have- luckily I seem to recognize it and stop right away at least (wish I could just never do it naturally though!)

  3. T
    Twitter: tsquest

    Eesh. I hate that too. I’m friends with a couple and she’s the WORST about that. He’s so adoring and would do anything for her and she tears him a new one if he doesn’t do something just the way she’d like it. It’s really tough… even as long as I’ve known the both of them.

    Now she’s struggling through breast cancer and chemo and even more hateful. Then she cries about how much she wishes she wouldn’t treat him that way. Sad to say, old habits die hard.

  4. Kat Wilder says:

    Is it OK to #badmouth your #husband or #wife?

  5. Kat Wilder says:

    Brian — Verbal abuse is as damaging as physical abuse. In face, contempt is one of the marriage killers John Gottman of the Gottman Institute has identified.

    Dude — I probably have been guilty of it in a joking way. But, I’ve also been on the receiving end and, joking or not (and I play along … for a while), it gets to you.

    T — Old habits die hard. Indeed. Did you or any of your other friends ever call her on it?

  6. @katwilder asks, Is it OK to #badmouth your #husband or #wife? #relationships

  7. ChopperPapa
    Twitter: chopperpapa

    It’s never a good idea and I think it can be even worse when the couple divorces. They think by using put downs they are making it easier for people to choose sides.

  8. Is badmouthing your partner ever OK? ( I know you know the answer)

  9. Kat Wilder says:

    ChopperPapa — I agree. And, for all we know, the putdowns may have lead to the divorce in the first place!

    — Barbara — yeah, I know, I know 😉

  10. The Observer says:

    Like a lot of things…there’s a lot of projection in what gets said about the limitations of other people. I recall reading in a intro psych course that we get triggered when we recognize something in someone else that we don’t like about ourselves. That ring true for anyone else? Cheers. T.O.