In my support group for Catholic mothers, the conversation very often turns toward our husbands and their shortcomings. This makes me a little uneasy. I don’t want to participate in un-Christian gripe sessions, but I do want to be a support for my sisters in Christ. Is there any difference between helpful sharing and advice seeking vs. mere gossip and negative speech?

We both say, emphatically: “Yes, there is a big difference!” One builds up our spouses and marriages, and the other denigrates both. And we bet you can sense when the conversation devolves into broaching subject matter it shouldn’t even go near. 

Caroline: It starts out innocently enough. One mom might share about a difficult marital situation, often in the context of asking for prayers. Of course this is good. But then everyone gets going with her stories, almost as if we are trying to “one up” the other in our woes. Instead of encouraging one another in our beautiful vocation as wives and mothers, we’re actually having what is best described as a marital pity party. Rather than feeling uplifted, we leave the meeting feeling downtrodden or, even worse, riled up with thoughts like, “Yeah, my husband does that too, the bum!”

This is certainly not what St. Paul is getting at in Ephesians when he urges wives to respect their husbands (5:33). When you’re tempted to enter into an unhealthy conversation, think of the Proverbs 31 woman, of whom it was said, “She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.” You can ask yourself, “Is this statement doing my husband good — or harm?”

Tom: Are we suggesting that you can never, ever share anything negative about your husband? Of course not. Marriage is hard work and no one has a perfect spouse. There may be times when you’re really struggling and you’d like the counsel of a wise and trusted marriage veteran. Or maybe you’d just like to talk and let someone listen. We believe those cases are best handled privately, one-on-one, with a close friend, family member or spiritual adviser.

If you are torn because you really want the prayers of your support group, you can state your intention in less explicit terms: “I’d like to pray that my husband and I can come to an agreement on our TV viewing choices.” Then leave it at that. A simple prayer request is so much more beneficial to the body of Christ than a complaint.

Caroline: So what should you do in your situation? Be the leaven for your group. Be bold! The next time the conversation takes a downward turn, speak up and say that you’re not comfortable with all the husband-bashing. Then interject a positive comment to turn the discussion around. We bet there are other women there who feel the same way and will be grateful to you.

Tom: And we know your spouse will be grateful, too.

Tom and Caroline McDonald are family-life coordinators

of the Archdiocese of

Mobile, Alabama.