We all use venting as a coping strategy when we’re feeling frustrated by the actions of another.
It’s not uncommon to vent when somebody has made you feel upset or hurt, we use this space to have our voices heard and to hopefully reduce some of the negative tension associated with the conflict.
Relationships are no different. When the honeymoon phase is all but a distant memory, sooner or later disagreements and conflict will arise.
It always seems to be the case that the person we are in a relationship with knows exactly what buttons to push to make us angry and lose our temper.
As we’re social beings, its normal to reach out for connection when we are feeling isolated by our partner to help soothe our sense of belonging.
When you are in conflict, similarly to directly criticising your partner, you can turn your complaints elsewhere, bringing others into the relationship.
Yes, we want that validation that our opinion or
perspective matters, when you are in that mindset you
begin to look for proof or evidence that what you say is right
and what your partner has said or done, is wrong.
While friendship and feeling connected is an important part of social belonging, venting about your relationship without caution can cause further damage and move you away from resolving your differences.
I must also stress that speaking to somebody outside of your relationship when you are concerned about relationship red flags such as controlling behaviour, gaslighting, emotional or physical abuse does not fall into the same category as venting about your relationship.
If you are concerned about your safety or wellbeing, it is important that you speak up or ask for help.
Early experiences & conflict
Maintaining a happy relationship can be really challenging.
It’s two people coming together, two people who think differently, feel differently and come with their own set of relational experiences and perceptions.
These differences can bring up negative feelings and cause conflict, particularly when you are unable to understand or agree with your partners values.
These values may have been ingrained within early childhood relationships, therefore more difficult to shift.
It’s impossible to agree and share the same perspective all of the time, even when you are the most laid back couple.
In a perfect world we would never argue with our spouse, never get annoyed at the thing we’ve asked them not to do, again *insert eye roll* but that’s an unrealistic expectation, and actually conflict is healthy for a relationship to grow and thrive.
When emotions are running high and you feel stonewalled by your loved one, it can feel tempting to seek outside support from friends or family.
It gives you the chance to have your voice heard and say everything that you wish you could have articulated in the heat of the moment, when you are calm, logical and have the thinking space to do so.
There is also a real comfort in being heard,
the feeling of being listened to and really valued
is important in our need to feel connected.
Why you turn to venting in your relationship
In times of stress, it triggers our primal response to fight, flight, or freeze. It’s unlikely that you are able to respond in a calm way where you are ready to problem solve and resolve the conflict.
So having the space where it feels safe and you are able to take your time, means your train of thought can easily flow and it feels easier or more comfortable to communicate from your perspective.
When you are not in fight or flight mode, this becomes so much easier to do as you are not letting your emotions completely influence the way that you communicate.
When you are not in the fight or flight response you can think more rationally and you probably have a more compelling and reasoned argument.
Your tone of voice is likely to be different, your body language changes as you are not in threat mode so you have less inclination to become defensive or angry.
If you are a non confrontational person, it can feel much easier to be able to express yourself to a third party where there is no emotional risk involved, meeting your need to avoid the discomfort of confrontation entirely.
There is also a real comfort in being heard, the feeling of being listened to and really valued is important in our need to feel connected.
When you hear the agreement of your peers, the camaraderie, the sense of belonging and really feeling heard and understood can be a really good feeling.
You may feel validated up to a point,
but what often happens in friendships are the “me too”
conversations, so even when you are venting,
it’s never really all about you anyway.
When venting goes wrong
It might seem easier to be able to share your problems with a friend or a family member and frankly, someone who is more likely to agree with you and understand your perspective.
But are they really able to separate themselves from their connection to you, your relationship, and the relationship they might also have with your partner?
Can you be sure that when you are venting that what you say will not firstly be taken out of context, and secondly is the person with whom you are venting really impartial?
Do they have your relationships best interest at heart, or are they wanting to take sides between keeping you happy or defending the actions of their loved one?
For instance, talking to a friend about something hurtful your partner has done might cause them to become judgemental, or have their own ideas about whether you should be in that relationship or not.
As much as people try to not let certain knowledge influence their behaviours, if the behaviour firmly goes against their moral compass, it can be challenging to put their own feelings or opinions aside and it might negatively impact your own relationship with that person.
Speaking to an untrained person with a personal relationship with you and no real understanding of the dynamics of healthy communication or the principles of what make a relationship work, can further escalate the issues within your relationship.
There is also the fact that it is really difficult for a family member to remain impartial about your relationship, they are already emotionally invested either in your wellbeing or the wellbeing of your partner.
If they don’t agree with your behaviours and they become quite judgemental, are you ready and willing to hear that? Will it then impact on your own relationship with this friend?
Having an argument with your spouse and then telling your friends about it, they are only going to hear your perspective, which is likely to be fragmented and biased.
Yes, we want that validation that our opinion or perspective matters, when you are in that mindset you begin to look for proof or evidence that what you say is right and what your partner has said or done, is wrong.
In relationships it’s not about the black and white of who is right and who is wrong, it’s all about the grey area.
You may feel validated up to a point, but what often happens in friendships are the “me too” conversations, so even when you are venting, it’s never really all about you anyway.
What can be really unhelpful is the friend who amplifies your probably biased point even more, then you both start criticising your partner together, pointing out why their thoughts or behaviours are outrageous.
This might relieve some frustration temporarily, but once that conversation is over, it’s you that has to return home and live in the consequence of conflict and hostility.
Repetitively thinking or talking about your partner in a negative way breeds contempt and gives the conflict life, keeping it present with your negative feelings at the forefront of your mind. Living in a toxic environment is detrimental to your mental health and your relationship, particularly when you spend a large proportion of your time and energy complaining about them.
What you can do instead of venting
So who would be the best person to vent to about your relationship?
Wait for it….
Yes, the very person who has got you frustrated and angry in the first place is the very same person that you should be talking it out with.
Turning towards your partner and stating what your emotional needs are is a really healthy way to change the dynamic of conflict and express your feelings in a healthy way.
This means being vulnerable and being honest about how your partners actions have impacted you.
If you are in a healthy relationship, this can feel somewhat unnerving as sometimes opening yourself to vulnerability can, but it should still feel safe to do.
If you are uncertain about how to have that conversation, then seeking support from a relationship therapist can help.
They can facilitate having a difficult conversation in a non judgemental environment, teaching you both lifelong skills to really listen and work on solving your difficulties together as a team, rather than working against each other.
I’m Lizandra Leigertwood and I’m a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice I work online and in St Albans, Hertfordshire.
I help individuals and couples to let go of unhelpful behaviours that prevent them from having happier and healthier relationships.
To get help with your relationship, get in touch and book your consultation.