Gossip is bad, okay? Except for when it’s not.
Saying nice things about people when they aren’t there is a sneaky, underhanded trick that can be really effective, especially in business situations. Some people may be suspicious if you talk them up when they aren’t around, but if you do it often enough about enough people, they will eventually write you off as some sort of goody-goody. Then they’ll quit coming to you when they want to talk smack about other people.
That’s not the bad type of gossip that is good, though. Here I am talking about the real, low-down, dirty, judgmental type. *pats sofa cushion* Sit over here where nobody can hear us and I’ll tell you what I mean.
I use bad gossip to build a better marriage, and you can do it, too.
Look, everyone in a long-term relationship of any kind has some rough patches. There is always going to be something annoying about any person on earth. It’s only human. Whether a relationship lasts or not depends on three things:
This is true for neighbors, siblings, coworkers, anybody. Of course it’s a bigger deal with your romantic partner, because they know where you sleep and they can probably also access your bank account.
Depending on who you’re dealing with, it can sometimes be effective to be direct and simply say, “Please quit doing that.” Some annoying habits, like pen tapping, are done obliviously. The person has no idea they are doing the annoying thing, and may even appreciate having it brought to their attention.
Other annoying habits come from a deep sense of personal entitlement. Not only does this person feel totally justified in whatever obnoxious thing, they may even see it as a legitimate part of their very personality. Like if they stop annoying you and others with it, whatever it is, it will make them into a different person!
This is where you have to make a choice. Are you willing to tolerate whatever this is? Forever and always?
Or do you think you are devious enough to gradually get them to change?
This is possible but it usually takes a minimum of three years and a strategic plan.
Long-term couples are sweet, but they do tend to have one glaring issue, which is that they have become accustomed to one another’s foibles in ways that nobody else ever would. High school sweethearts who stay together are, in some ways, sixteen forever.
Nobody really talks about the benefits of breakups, or serial monogamy in general, but what happens is that it resets the clock. People eventually learn that whatever annoyed their ex will also annoy other people, and if they want to be part of a romantic relationship then they have to give up and quit doing it.
I used to love a boy who played the radio all night while he slept. Cute single habit. Not cute married habit.
Picture the guy with three dogs, all of whom slept on the bed, including the one who couldn’t jump up anymore and had to be lifted. For a non-dog person it could be disconcerting to have twelve paws shoving her off the edge of the mattress. All night. Every night.
These are example stories, and this is how you use them if your honey does something even remotely similar:
“OH MY GOSH, can you believe what this guy does?? He plays the radio ALL NIGHT LONG!”
The strategy here is to start with a gossipy story about someone else who has an annoying trait that you happen to know would be extremely annoying *to your partner*. Preferably one that is even more annoying to them than it is to you.
Why does this work?
The power of story is compelling. It’s human nature to want to know more. It’s relatable and believable. The natural response to a story like this is for each person in the room to start sharing similar stories. That’s the first trick. You’ve set up a storytelling scenario that builds your case.
Next, you’ve used your emotional intelligence to show that you understand your partner. You get what they’re about. You’ve paid attention to their likes and dislikes! You can also use a gossipy story like this to paint your partner in a flattering light. Anyone would agree that your partner would never act in such a grotesque way.
You’re going for a relationship-wide ratio of at least ten positive statements, compliments, cheerleading, affection etc for every potentially critical or negative statement. By their count, not yours! Most people hover around 1:1 and long-term couples are so sloppy that they often have 3 negatives for every single positive.
This is another reason that dirty gossip can help you bond and have a more harmonious relationship, because you’re able to share emotional closeness without, you know, being all lovey-dovey or suspiciously sweet and positive.
Now that you’ve shared your gossipy anecdote, let the attack begin! You both talk out all the ways that couple is messing things up. You let fly on the inconsiderate, obnoxious one in the story and all the reasons that person is so clueless, selfish, or other favorite bad trait.
This is how you both set your norms. You are teaching each other your likes and dislikes. You have a neutral opportunity, at some hapless victim’s expense, of explaining your values. This is not just in the context of the relationship between the two of you, but possibly more, like community norms, appropriate workplace behavior, or sibling relationships.
The absolute best way to get this type of material is from advice columns, which are incredible. Next best is to share stories from distant acquaintances, such as Lady from the Plane or Guy from Networking Event. Randoms.
This is in fact the anthropological significance of gossip!
This is how human culture progresses, when we all collectively start to do things like Not Have Fleas or Wash Our Hands Before We Eat or Not Beat Our Kids.
If you haven’t done it already, the two of you can compare notes on your various exes, or the flirtations that didn’t pan out. Why is the person you’re with better than that sad sack? Apparently a lot of people mess up this opportunity and only mention their ex when their current partner isn’t measuring up. Oh yeah? Well why aren’t you two together then? Possibly better to stick to those random examples from the community, from advice columns, or even from movies or novels.
Oh darling, I know you would never do that!
Ideally your love relationship is a partnership. You like each other. You enjoy talking to each other and you enjoy spending time together. Why not do that at someone else’s expense? Gossip to the rescue! Gossip for marital harmony, and if you don’t agree, you certainly have my permission to have at me. As long as it’s together.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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