Dear Vicki: I’m writing about a problem I’m having with my husband, Scott. He’s an elementary teacher and a truly loving husband and father. As an attorney, I often work long hours and he is always there to take care of our children, and me. He’s perfect in so many ways, but he does have one trait that concerns me and I’m hoping you can help me understand why he does what he does. When we’re with friends, Scott tends to share aspects of our life at home that I would rather not have shared. It’s nothing incredibly personal, just little things that I feel other people don’t need to know. I’ve mentioned this to him before and he says he’ll change, but he hasn’t. I realize I’m becoming increasingly disturbed by this, so what can I do? Signed, Private in Pennsylvania
Dear Private in Pennsylvania: This is an interesting issue. On the surface, if Scott is sharing minor details with others, it shouldn’t matter. And it probably wouldn’t matter to many of the element personalities. But it’s no surprise that it matters to you. As an attorney, you are most likely a primary Metal personality, and Metal people really value their privacy. They also tend to compartmentalize aspects of their life – clearly delineating what is public and what is private – to keep them separate. Most of the other elemental personalities don’t see a need to compartmentalize nearly as much, and I think that’s at the root of the issue with your husband.
You say you want to understand Scott, so let’s start there. As an elementary teacher who is devoted to his family, it’s a good bet he is a primary Earth personality. For Earth people, life is all about connecting with others, and it turns out that sharing parts of themselves are easy ways to facilitate this connecting. They are also much less discriminating than some of the other elemental personalities, so are likely to share information in greater detail than others might find comfortable. For the Earth personality, a connection is a connection, no matter how it’s created or where it’s found. When your husband shares information or events from his life, it’s a mechanism for weaving a bridge between himself and others. And this can be such an automatic occurrence, he probably doesn’t ponder the issue of appropriateness before he speaks. So, what can you do?
The good news is that the same “Earthiness” that compels Scott to desire connecting with others will help him shift the pattern of too much sharing. That’s because the only thing that matters more to Earth personalities than connecting is maintaining family peace and harmony. The bad news is that while there are ways to help him honor your request for more privacy, he will probably never be as private as you might like – Earth people can’t help it; they are wired to share.
To help shift Scott’s pattern of excessive (to you) sharing, begin by acknowledging that the two of you have different boundaries regarding what should be shared with friends. You might also acknowledge that it isn’t wrong to share with friends, you’re just asking if he is willing to move a bit more toward your comfort level. He will agree to try because Earth people deeply value pleasing others, especially at home. However, as history has shown, this hasn’t worked well and I think that’s because he probably doesn’t really understand where you want to draw the boundary. You will need to address this next.
Agree on a code word or phrase that you can easily drop into a conversation in front of others when Scott begins to share more information than you would like. Many couples use a phrase like, “Why, that’s something Aunt Mary would say.” It doesn’t let on that there’s a problem, but it is distinctive enough (especially if there is no “Aunt Mary” in the family), that it catches the attention of the person doing the sharing and alerts them to the need to dial back on the information content. Then, when you and Scott are alone, please explain to him in a kind way why you were uncomfortable with what he shared. This will help him modify his own behavior going forward.
Once Scott has a better understanding of your boundaries, it shouldn’t be long before he automatically starts shifting what he says more toward your comfort level. But in truth, he will probably always err slightly on the side of sharing more rather than less. And you need to make peace with that because his primary Earth personality is a key part of the success of your marriage. You and Scott relate on the Nurturing Cycle in the Five Elements model with his Earth energy feeding your Metal energy. If you suppress his Earth expression too much, you may find that your relationship begins to feel strained. So help him understand your need for more privacy, but then please embrace him for what he is: a loving Earth personality that makes a wonderful father and husband. Blessings to you and your family!