Spousal Privilege is a rule of law: What husbands and wives say to each other within the privacy of their marriage cannot be brought out in court unless they both consent.
The privilege exists because marriages are stronger if couples can feel safe to talk openly with each other, knowing their private conversations will remain private.
Unfortunately, couples sometimes miss the point. They talk to friends and relatives about their marital problems and, in the process, undermine their marriage.
It's natural to seek out friends and family for support and advice when problems arise. If it's a marital issue, however, there are three reasons why turning to your friends or family will probably turn bad:
•You're likely to get bad advice. Laura Schlessinger, Ph.D., explains that when spouses go to friends and family with marital problems, they're typically not after objective advice.
Instead, “they either want folks to side with them, … or they want the attention that complaining and public suffering brings.”
Friends and relatives tend to be poor advisers on marital issues. They've only heard your side of the story and, being your friends, they want to side with you. They want to keep you as a friend, so they'll want to tell you what you want to hear … not what you need to hear. Finally, friends and family are unlikely to confront you about your behavior or suggest that you're part of the problem.
•You're inviting unnecessary resentment from your spouse. Your spouse will probably find out what you've been talking about, who you've been talking with and that you've only told your side and probably told it in a way that makes him or her look worse. Most people feel humiliated if their “problem” has become a source of entertainment and the center of other people's gossip.
Schlessinger warns that if your spouse believed the issue would be kept private and you tell others, “the trust is gone, making the problem even worse.” No matter what you claim, your spouse undoubtedly thought what you're discussing was private.
•Telling others about marital problems tends to strengthen your bond with those people and weaken bonds that keep your marriage strong. The more you feel comforted by your friends the more time you'll want to spend with them. Schlessinger explains that this increased “amount of time with your buddies, friends, or mommy is another form of rejection of your spouse.” In effect, it's emotionally moving away from your home and your marriage.
Talking privately with a friend of the opposite sex is the worst idea.
Schlessinger notes that seeking this “friendly compassion” is “the beginning of an emotional affair,” which can easily turn into adultery. Assuring yourself “it will never happen to me” may be the first sign of problems.
If you are troubled by some aspect of your marriage, talk to your spouse, without accusations or putdowns. If talking to someone else becomes necessary, pick a person who's truly objective and will be a friend of your marriage, even more than a friend of yours. This may be a counselor or clergy.
If it is a trusted friend or a family member, it should only be one person, never a group. It should also be someone who's willing to ask tough questions and focus on you and your relationship as much as they focus on your spouse.
Your marriage is a private affair. The law recognizes the importance of this privacy. The more you respect this privacy, the more you show respect for your spouse and show a desire to have a healthy marriage.