1. His fears. “Women aren’t typically reluctant to share fears,” says Audrey Sherman, PhD, developer of PsychSkills. But divulging that he’s scared of, say, thunder or big dogs, can make him appear weak. More importantly, the fears were shared with you in confidence; telling his secrets shows you’re not safe to confide in, says Sue Johnson, PhD, author of Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships. “This is a classic first step in loss of trust,” she adds. Before you share his fears, think about how this would make him feel, which can prevent causing real hurt, Dr. Johnson says.
2. Your sex life-unless it’s rave reviews. Swapping juicy stories is part of the fun of a girls’ dinner. Bringing up your husband’s size, appearance or functioning, though, is forbidden, saysElizabeth Lombardo, PhD, author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. “Women tend to be sensitive about their looks,” points out Dr. Lombardo, so imagine if your husband told his buddies that you wear Spanx every day or that you’d really aged the last few years. You’d feel insulted and betrayed, right? So if you share between-the-sheets details, keep it positive-and brief.
3. His annoying habits-to his family. Putting down your hubby, even for seemingly innocuous things like leaving shoes out, can create tension between you and those relatives. “Your husband’s flaws could be viewed as a negative reflection of them,” Dr. Lombardo explains. “Plus, they’re protective of him.” Feel the need to vent about tripping over his loafers again? Tell your friends. If it’s done in a jovial manner, it isn’t a violation of trust. Just don’t divulge more serious problems that you haven’t discussed with your spouse.
4. His less-than-ideal income or lack of success at work. Telling your friends that your husband was passed up for yet another promotion does more harm than good. “Our culture teaches us that men are supposed to be capable and in control all the time,” says Dr. Johnson. While we know that this is impossible, making it clear that your husband isn’t in control can be emasculating. The exception? When your hubby asks for help in finding a new job. In that case, spread the word to friends positively (“it’s not that he’s miserable at work; he’s just looking for new opportunities), and it can make a big difference.
5. His un-handiness. He can’t change his own oil, and he screws up any home renovation project. But your friends don’t need to know this. “Men equate masculinity with being able to fix things,” says Dr. Lombardo, because of traditional roles in which men provided food and shelter for their families. Even though this idea may seem old-fashioned, for many men, it’s hard to shake. Want to tell the funny story about your three-legged table? Clear it with him first, or better yet, let him tell it.
6. A major flaw you haven’t mentioned to him. Whether he has trouble connecting with your children or is so stubborn he never compromises, make your husband aware-not your friends. Learning that you talked about serious issues behind his back could irrevocably damage your relationship. According to Dr. Johnson, the compulsion to share partners’ faults is less about those characteristics and more about a distressed relationship. In other words, it might be time to see a therapist, who can teach you to communicate in effective, loving ways and help you reconnect, adds Dr. Johnson.
7. The not-so-nice things he says about you, your family and friends. “Sharing negative statements may make your friends not want to be around him,” says Dr. Sherman; it alters their feelings about him. And revealing problems you two might be having can make family “over-involved in trying to ‘fix’ matters for you,” she adds. If your husband constantly bashes a certain friend or relative, bring it up to him to correct it. If he makes occasional disparaging remarks, let it go. “Assume that your partner has positive motivations and focus on them,” says Dr. Lombardo. “When you do, you’ll both be happier.”
8. His political or religious beliefs. While you may feel comfortable having heated debates with your friends, unless your husband’s vocal about his thoughts, they shouldn’t come up. He may have professional or personal reasons to keep these things to himself. The important lesson here is communication: “Knowing this information about each other can eliminate the guesswork,” says Dr. Sherman. If you have to mention his religious or political beliefs, keep it simple. For example, if you’re invited to a christening your partner wouldn’t be comfortable attending, try saying, “‘My husband isn’t a Christian and might not want to come,'” without going into further detail, suggests Dr. Johnson.
9. His strained relationship with a family member. Men can be slow to address things that bother them, especially with relatives. “It’s a coping mechanism instilled in boys,” says Dr. Lombardo. As upset as you are that he won’t deal with it, mentioning it when he’s not around won’t bring about a resolution. “Because it’s his family or friends, he gets to choose if he discusses his relationship with them,” says Dr. Lombardo. You may not understand his process, but try to respect it. “Showing empathy is crucial for a safe, loving bond,” says Dr. Johnson.
10. Tough times from his past. Women seem to be hard-wired to share troubles and rehash the past, and “our culture allows that vulnerability,” says Dr. Johnson. But “men are less likely to want the past brought up,” says Dr. Lombardo. So it’s unfair to share challenges he’s faced without his permission. If you’re proud of something he’s overcome or think a friend could benefit from his story, encourage him to share it by emphasizing benefits that he finds important, rather than getting angry when he closes off, suggests Dr. Lombardo. For example, remind him of how helpful it would’ve been to have a trusted guide when he needed it most. He may be more likely to share once he’s aware that he could be helping someone he cares about.