The Hard Facts: The Ethics of Disclosure

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“Researchers say that women with close friends don’t burden their husbands with all of their emotional needs. [A] 2004 Harris survey found that 64 percent of women between ages twenty-five and fifty-five confess things to their friends that they wouldn’t tell their husbands.” (The Girls from Ames, Jeffrey Zaslow)

I haven’t been shy about my opinion that the roles of significant other and BFF should be kept separate.  I know that plenty of people say that your husband should be your best friend, but those people have obviously not tried gossiping with my husband about the royal wedding, or a backstabbing ex-friend, or my facebook discoveries regarding his old girlfriends. Let me tell you, it doesn’t work.

No one person—no matter how much you love him or her—can be everything. Different people fulfill different emotional needs. Research actually proves that women with strong friendships have closer marriages. (And the boys agree! Remember my husband’s take on this search and our relationship?)

That said, I do tell Matt pretty much everything. Well, to be fair, I tell everyone everything. I’m good at keeping other people’s secrets, but horrible at keeping my own. I like sharing too much. Hence, this blog.

But even the stuff I do keep private, I almost always tell my husband. So when I came across this research, it gave me pause. Are there things I tell my friends that I wouldn’t tell Matt?

I could think of only two categories in which these things might fall:

1) Things pertaining to the man himself. You can’t vent about your husband to your husband!

2) Things pertaining to girl parts. Just saying.

I’m trying to think of other topics that some women might tell friends and not husbands and everything I think of pertains to other men—affairs with them, dreams about them, pasts with them, etc.

People often define relationships—romances or friendships—by the level of self-disclosure involved. “I can tell him anything” or “She knows everything about me” are common ways of describing intimacy. But just because you can tell someone everything doesn’t always mean you should.

I’m not advocating keeping secrets and being shady. But sometimes the nice thing to do, for a friend or in a relationship, is to not tell. If you know something is going to upset your BFF, isn’t your BFFiest move to simply not go there?

Of course there’s a line here. Yes, it will upset your friend to find out her boyfriend is cheating, but she needs to know. Does she need to know that her boyfriend lost the wallet she gave him, but replaced it himself because he felt so awful about it? Not so sure.

What are the things you would tell your friends that you would never tell your significant other? And in what circumstances have you chosen NOT to share something with a BFF, for her own good?

16 Comments

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16 responses to “The Hard Facts: The Ethics of Disclosure

  1. hb

    Husbands don’t always need to know how much things cost. It’s not really their business if you splurged on a fabulous new purse, and it might only upset them if they knew. So really, you’re protecting them, right?

  2. I am not married, so can’t comment on what I share w/ girlfriends that I wouldn’t share w/ my husband, but one BIG topic that girlfriends tell me about is their frustration/annoyance w/ in-laws. Most of the time, it is not a good idea to tell your husband when his mom is driving you crazy – that is what your girlfriends are for!

  3. Kate

    Lisa – Amen. My mother in law can be a pill. And while my hubby agrees, no one likes to hear trash talk about Mom. (There is definitely a bit of marriage advice in there.)

    I never tell a BFF if someone made a snarky comment about her. I get that some people think this falls into the “your boyfriend is cheating on you need to know” category. But I find that these kinds of disclosures almost always result in unnecessary drama and hurt feelings and the rat always gets caught in the middle. And I can’t stand the look on her face when I tell her so-and-so said her wedding dress looked cheap, or some other arbitrary, jealousy-fueled comment.

    • Kate, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve never understood when people tell a friend something mean someone said about them. Things like “your wedding dress looks cheap” is not something that a person needs to hear. It’s not like she’s going to go out and get a new one, all it will do is hurt them.

      I think when girls are young they think it is “important” to share these backstabbbing remarks to prove that someone isn’t a good friend or something. Hopefully it’s something that people grow out, as all it causes are hurt feelings.

    • Suzannah

      I think we can all say frenemy

  4. Karen A.

    My husband is of the “take action and move on” philosophy. Sometime I just want to discuss, analyze, rehash, you know, chat! Which is where the girlfriends come in. No sense bothering the handsome one when I know I just want to dish and not be required to act on it.

  5. I’m the opposite. I have things I wouldn’t tell my friends but would tell my husband. Now, if I’ve talked something to death with him but still want some advice, I might go to a friend, but for the most part, we tell each other everything. That sounds corny or fake or something, but it’s not. We have an honestly policy that’s kind of at the heart of our relationship. To be fair, we were best friends before we got involved and told each other pretty much everything then too. We also have nearly identical interests. I think that helps. We already knew the dirty laundry before things got serious. He even gets to hear about my lady part issues. What a guy.

  6. I definitely reserve the talk about my husband/my in-laws/girl parts for my girlfriends. And sometimes my husband just doesn’t want to hear me hash through things, and my girlfriends will listen patiently. (What dress should I wear to so-and-so’s wedding? What color should I paint the living room? Etc.)

    I’m with you, Rachel – no one person can, or should, fulfill every need. Thank God for my husband AND my good friends.

  7. Suzannah

    my sweet husband will listen to anything I want to talk about….But not enjoy it, like I think my girlfriends do!!..i have tried to get in the habit of telling hubby things just one time, but I do tell him everything because to me it is just so interesting!….but I can have a bad habit of repeating and rehashing, I love to analysis and try an understand motivate and intention ( an impossible task, I know!)
    the topic I tend to hide, is when I have gossiped about a situation, feel ashamed of myself….

  8. Like Ali B. I am lucky that my partner will listen to anything I share, but he doesn’t necessarily always need to be a fixer. Like Katie, I agree that it’s such a gift to have a great partner and good friends to spread our chattiness over.

    As for not telling a bff: I was in a situation where a bff’s boyfriend of four years hit on me. I didn’t tell her, and when she went away to study abroad, he (we’ll call him x) cheated on her and left her for a girl (we’ll call her y) (later, x & y married!). My bff moved on quickly, and is happily married. No harm done.

    I have also been stuck in situations where I knew a friend was being cheated on, so I told her, only to have that blow up in my face because she’s still with the guy – and went on to marry him. I wish there was a simple solution for the do’s and don’ts of telling.

    • Kate

      I know I’m replying a little late, but I have mixed feelings about this one myself. Telling a friend her boyfriend is cheating has a 50/50 chance of backfiring. Luckily, I’ve never been in this situation. I’d like to think I’d risk a friendship in this case, but it’s a tough one.

      And I’d never tell her friend her boyfriend or husband hit on me. No way. It doesn’t make sense, but I think only the strongest friendship could weather this storm. I’d tell the man in question to watch himself and keep his distance–then leave it at that. So, props.

  9. Hermoine

    I may not tell my S.O. about my obsession with Harry potter (or at least I would let him on to it gradually)!

  10. Pingback: Just When You Think The Search Could Be Over… | MWF Seeking BFF

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