Partner bashing: Are you venting about your partner too much?

Guest post by Jennifer
Partner bashing: Are you venting about your partner too much?
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Partner bashing (in my case, husband bashing, though it’s not limited to heterosexual couples by any means) is one of my biggest pet peeves. I notice it happens a lot in mom groups; women get together and complain loudly about their husbands. It happens whether completely intentional or not.

It is usually initiated by one mom who needs to vent or express frustration about something that her husband is or is not doing. Inevitably, another woman chimes in with “Well, MY husband…” and the conversation spirals out of control. Eventually, everyone is one-upping each other about how shitty their partners are.

I recognize the importance of venting. It is important for moms and parents to connect with one another, especially about the responsibility and pressures of raising children. Sometimes I even agree with these other moms:

Yes, I probably have changed more diapers than my husband;
Yes, I do find it annoying when my husband gives our daughter chocolate ice cream before bed; and
Yes, I carry most of the mental load in our household.

But very rarely do I hear moms talk publicly about how awesome their husbands are. Why is that?

Caveat: I’m more referring to menial and trivial husband bashing; there are also clear cries for help. If you feel unsafe, unsupported, harmed, or abused in your relationship, please please please seek help in any way you can. Mom groups can be great places to get the support you need.

I am a modern, feminist woman, and I strongly believe in co-parenting. But I chose my husband out of all the other potential mates on this planet, and I actually like him. A lot. I am choosing to raise a child with him. He’s a great companion. He’s a great dad to our daughter. I respect him.

The more I hear husband bashing, the more I try to recognize all the hard work that my husband is doing. I have to remind myself that he was not cultured or conditioned to do this work. It does him an incredible disservice to complain about his shortcomings when he’s not around. I know he would never complain about me to his buddies.

My husband and I talk at length about how we bring different things to the proverbial parenting table. I’m the breastfeeder, but he is our solid-food sous chef. He is usually the first responder for owies. He is the spider squisher. He is the car-seat installer, stroller pusher, and furniture assembler. He does the second-graveyard shift in the night, and still wakes up happy to be the breakfast bringer. He is also the tickler and the steward of joy.

I’m not trying to gloat about having the perfect husband. Lord knows we have our own challenges with dividing up parenting and household responsibilities. We also have different ideas about what it means to raise a happy/healthy child. I’m trying to end the cycle of useless complaining and preaching to the choir.

I almost always find that it’s better to talk to my husband than about him. I know that am always trying to be a “Good Mother.” I can imagine there is also a “Good Father myth,” with ideals that must be hard to live up to. This is a gendered feminist problem that I can’t imagine will resolve itself by complaining.

Here are my mantras for when I hear husband/partner bashing:

1. My husband is a good father
2. I am not married to anyone else’s husband
3. My husband contributes a lot to our household
4. Parenting is challenging. We all need recognition for our hard work
5. There are things I do that also frustrate my husband
6. Maybe this is a topic I should address personally with my husband

Do you find yourself venting about your partner? Do you think it’s a necessary evil that relieves stress or a sign of something that needs addressing in the relationship?

Comments on Partner bashing: Are you venting about your partner too much?

  1. Whenever I catch myself bashing my partner to someone else, I make a conscious effort to also add something about him that I really love or admire. It helps to establish for myself that the things I get annoyed about are tiny in comparison to the reasons I love him, and it means the impression that someone else gets of my partner isn’t wholly negative.

  2. Or you could just not read those conversations?
    I also identify as a feminist, but I think its vaguely insulting to presume that these women (as you have specified you find this in mom groups) are not also handling the matter in other ways or that they need to balance their anger/annoyance with praise. You also imply that discussing these issues online is not healthy, which isn’t true.

    • I don’t participate in those conversation because I don’t think they’re healthy. The versions I’ve seen are generally saturated in gender essentialism of the “men don’t see dirt” variety. It feels to me that the bashing – and the essentialism – are the price of admission to the Mom sorority, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve never really felt I belonged in the Mom sorority, at least not the way it exists in my community. Since I also didn’t experience “mom guilt” for wanting to work outside the home, most of the women I met just thought I was odd. The whole dynamic perpetuates toxic ideas about het marriage and gender and parenting.

      Equitable household and parenting partnerships are possible. I know this because I have one. And yes, there are things he does that drive me bananas, and I address those with him. “Venting” never makes me feel better. It’s far more likely to reinforce the negative narrative and make me feel stuck, even if other people share and validate my frustration.

      • It’s great that addressing it with your partner will actually solve those situations, but you can’t know if these other women haven’t done that as well. And if they did, did it work for them? The need to vent might be because they did address the problem with their partner, and then the partner did nothing to correct the problem. I agree that would be a problem with the relationship as a whole, but it’s not exactly a rare occurrence in society. So while the venting is not ideal, it might not be the first solution they tried to address their annoyance.

        I hate to say it but having a functional, supporting relationship where both partners will honestly try to address the other’s problems/annoyances as they are communicated is not exactly the norm.

        • I’m not the only one who finds that venting increases the valence of negative emotions. And if the price of admission to sisterhood is venting about our partners, we will continue to think that a “functional, supporting relationship” is “not the norm” because we won’t hear any other points of view. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

          Saying the behavior is non-productive is not the same as judging people who engage it the behavior.

        • It may also be a functional way of making sure they have an emotional release before turning their partner so that they may have a reasonable discourse. I personally do this (in a group where no one knows my partner or myself In Real Life) so that I can be composed and have my thoughts organized when we sit down to talk. We have a fairly equitable marriage with both of us working outside the home and chores are fairly evenly divided. Bit even when that occurs, it doesn’t mean that you and your spouse weren’t raised with different ideas of what is considered “clean” or that as a woman I generally have to set a higher standard for a child’s appearance in public. (ie He can take our kid out in mismatched shoes and looking somewhat disheveled without threat of someone causing a public scene. )

    • I think it’s interesting that you assumed I was referring conversations in online mom groups! I actually wrote this post after a particularly frustrating gripe session that happened at my in-person mom meet up.

      I purposely stay away from negative online mom groups. The partner bashing, among things, is more frustrating there, mostly because opinions are not as censored.

      • Probably because I haven’t really seen this much in real life groups. I don’t get to go to many IN Real Life meet-ups since the ones in my area are aimed at stay-at-home moms and are planned when I am at work.

  3. I love this! Getting sucked into negativity is so easy because our society generally rewards negativity. If you share something that’s wrong in your life, or something that made you feel bad, people will comfort you, relate to you, support you for hours if needed. We’ve been taught to provide almost endless positive reinforcement when people express negative emotions.

    On the other hand, when someone shares something positive, we celebrate with them, but it usually lasts for a short time. Had an awesome day at work? “Oh, that’s great! I’m so glad you’re happy.” Then it’s on to a new topic. Want to talk about how your husband got up at 12, 2, and 4 am to take care of the sick baby so you could sleep? “Oh, you’re so lucky! My partner would never do that.”

    Making the conscious effort to keep your own thoughts positive in a negative circumstance is a beautiful thing. Thank you for encouraging others to do so!

  4. This is why I’ve tried to reframe my venting as “it’s so frustrating how society socializes men differently” rather than throwing the blame on my partner. I agree it’s something one should do sparingly, but when it’s needed that context can really change how you look at it.

    Also, I practice gratitude constantly. Whenever my partner takes care of a chore I otherwise would I acknowledge and thank him. Not in a big deal like “I didn’t expect this” sort of way because of course it’s his apartment too and these are every bit his responsibilities as well, but I want to consciously and vocally appreciate the chores he takes on both for his sake and my own.

  5. I occasionally will vent to my family about my husband because they love him and know that he is amazing, so it’s taken in context. I’m not super comfortable with the assumption that male partners are automatically inept parents who can’t be left alone with the baby. I recently was going to join a mom’s group that was meeting up IRL but realized that the online description talked about complaining about spouses and wanting to trade them in. I asked if my husband could come but was told this was a mom’s only group, which is fine, but not was I was looking for. It feels a little like betrayal to bitch about him behind his back when he is such an awesome parent and trying to be so involved. Still looking for a group that is a better fit.

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