Where to Draw the Line in What You Share

When we fall in love with someone, the relationship becomes a private world of its own. Secrets, traumas, and childhood experiences are shared freely with the intention of being known, accepted, and supported by the other.

Over time, our partners turn into a safe space for understanding and reflection for our problems, anxieties, and insecurities. But is there a risk of unintentionally putting the weight of healing on them too?

Let’s explore the benefits of late-night pillow talk versus therapy sessions, how to create healthy boundaries for sharing in a relationship, and how to establish a healthy dynamic for reciprocal and healthy love.

Why Do We Share in Relationships?

When a partner shares something, they usually want acknowledgment or to build a connection. It is a form of intimacy when one feels safe enough in the relationship to be honest about sharing their thoughts and feelings about something.

When two people are building a life, the bedrock for the relationship is often built on emotional vulnerability and radical honesty. The more we know about our partner, the more we know how to love and appreciate them. A 2019 study about attachment in young adults found sharing is a form of intimacy that is often used as a way to discover oneself in a relationship with others and to set the foundation for a thriving and lasting connection.

When a partner shares something, they usually want acknowledgment or to build a connection. It is a form of intimacy when one feels safe enough in the relationship to be honest about sharing their thoughts and feelings about something.

Outside of emotionally binding lovers together, other studies also reveal that healthy disclosure can lead to higher perceptions of closeness, strengthening the relationship. The walls come down as someone gains access to our sacred world, which contains our deepest feelings and innermost thoughts. Over time, the intimacy may grow into one that can handle individual and mutual problems together.

It’s good to have someone there for our full emotional expression. But there is a fine line between sharing childhood traumas to learn about our problems and burdening the dynamic with excessive caretaking or potential resentment.


Why Can’t Our Partner Be Our Therapist? 

Let’s examine what a romantic partner is and isn’t responsible for in a relationship. The hallmark qualities of a healthy relationship involve responsiveness, supporting, listening, caring understanding, communicating, loving, valuing, and showing up for each other.3

Emotional availability could also look like being sensitive to needs, navigating life’s ups and downs, and engaging in healthy conflict resolution to fortify intimate bonds. This kind of reciprocation creates a nourishing love with clear limits.

Healthy Support Comes in Many Forms

When we care for our partner, we have a vested interest in helping them through their trials and tribulations. Yet, that very desire can inadvertently shift the interdependent relationship into a codependent relationship which counters the growth benefits one can gain in therapy, and as a result, may have negative ramifications.

Our partners often know us better than others. They know about our family dynamics, past experiences, worries, goals, and dreams. We lean on them for support. And yet, they can’t be our therapist.

Trying to put our partners in this role can end up hurting us and have a lasting negative impact on the relationship. The indicators that a partner might need to go to therapy is that it feels burdensome and we’re not sure how to help, the pressure to help is triggering, or the relationship feels imbalanced, and we’re not able to get our needs met.

Because of those reasons, it’s important that our partner is just one of many that we lean on. A study about emotional resilience found that having access to a rich and functional social network with friends and family can enhance various benefits, including reduced stress and improved mood disorders.

Why Therapy May Be Helpful

To be effective when being a person of support, always ask the partner what they need most in the moment. Do they want advice, or do they want someone to listen without judgments and feedback? Sometimes a partner just wants space to rant and complain without needing solutions. If the partner starts offering unsolicited advice, the other partner might actually get upset or feel dissatisfied since they are looking more for emotional support rather than fixing an issue.

When the limit has been reached, this is where a mental health professional comes in. Therapy can dramatically improve one’s quality of life by providing a private space for the individual to talk through their problems and transform the meaning of their experiences for healthier coping strategies.

What makes it so effective is the therapeutic relationship is professional and inherently one-sided so the patient can receive the focused and objective care needed. A therapist has the training, education, and experience to co-create a treatment plan with clients for desired improvement and to provide new perspectives, tools, and practices for healthy and sustainable change.

A romantic partner may have the best intentions to help but could be listening with an agenda or subjective emotions, or just not have the knowledge, tools, skillset, or capacity to help at the level needed. On the other hand, a therapist is entirely focused on their client’s growth and healing.

Our Partners Cannot Be Everything

When someone is listening to their beloved endure an ongoing problem, they may want to offer solutions because they do not want to see the suffering partner in pain. However, by taking this problem-solving approach, the attuned partner may cross lines into murkier territory.

The attuned partner could have their own opinions and emotions which can impact their advice, or they may feel uncomfortable expressing their true emotions because it can feel like a betrayal. Or worse, the helping partner may feel emotionally neglected as the other partner’s problems take over the relationship.

Although the help may have been given as an act of love, when the support is too heavy-handed, it can also disempower the partner from examining their own thoughts and emotions to come to their own answers and grow—which is the goal of therapy.


How to Tell If You Are Using Your Partner As Your Therapist

If you’re still unsure on whether you’re relying on your partner vs. using them as a therapist, here are a few signs to help you tell the difference.

The Relationship is Codependent

Codependency is defined as a “relationship when each person involved is mentally, emotionally, physically, and/or spiritually reliant on the other.” When one partner gives too much of their time, energy, and focus to one person, it can lead to a severe power imbalance.

You may become overly reliant on regulating your emotions with just your partner and only take their advice, which can unintentionally overburden the relationship. The partner may also begin to feel uncertain about expressing their opinions which can lead to unexpressed emotions and frustration.

The Dynamic Feels One-Sided

Healthy relationships require give-and-take. Simply put, in this situation, one person is receiving more than the other. The giving partner may be initially thrilled to provide so much support, but it can be easy for them to forget their own emotional needs and priorities.

As the partner in need escalates their dependency, the giving partner may start to feel more like a caregiver instead of being equals in a reciprocal relationship. Over time, the pressure can make them feel unseen.

The Issues You Need Help With Are Deep and Systemic

It’s one thing to share your emotions with someone and another to ask them to unpack your entire life’s story to help you heal. Talking to your partner about your frustrating coworker or an ongoing problem with your family member is different than having your partner intentionally guide you in your healing and making them responsible for your processing. The responsibility is too great for your partner to handle, no matter how wonderful they are.

The Overwhelming Emotions Lead to Avoidance

When you are suffering, your partner will want to do anything they can to ensure you’re feeling better. But if you’re using your partner as your therapist, it can start to impact how you two demonstrate affection and share happiness together. This level of caregiving can lead to overwhelming emotions where one or both of you may start to withdraw or avoid each other because of its intensity.

The Dangers of Oversharing Onto a Partner

When we start experiencing distressing emotions such as resentment, disappointment, and annoyance while being a person of support, it is a sign that helping is becoming too much. Instead, practice responding to the partner with more compassion than empathy. Empathy is when we feel the emotions of our partner and even join them in their suffering; whereas compassion enables us to take a step away from our partner’s emotions and reflect on what we can do to help.

The maintenance of strong boundaries in a relationship is essential. When we dump our problems to our partner, she says we can give them more access to our emotional world, thoughts, time, and physical space, which can come at the expense of our autonomy, individuality, and sense of identity.

The Partner Takes On Too Much Responsibility

Relying on our partners for our emotional processing could also place immense pressure on our partner to fix things which can tumble into resentment. It will not be as effective as going to a therapist and could end up making struggles worse. A partner isn’t trained in mental health counseling and even if they were, they can’t be impartial. There’s a reason why ethically and legally, therapists can’t treat family members or people they know.

Healthy sharing can still take place, but with limits so the asking partner doesn’t become emotionally dependent by the quality of care and the helping partner protects their mental health. Venting to a partner is often not helpful because it fills the relationship with negative emotions. If we are going to talk about deep emotional experiences with our romantic partner, then make it constructive. Figure out why something is so triggering, what they can do to manage the stressor, or find a healthy distraction that we can both engage in to relieve tension.

If a spouse can listen while providing empathy and kindness, it will likely strengthen the relationship … it’s OK to empathize with our partner if they are struggling with a difficult coworker. However, if that experience is causing flashbacks of trauma, then it’s time for professional support.

Creating a Healthy Balance

If there’s been a struggle learning what to keep or what to share with a partner, learn limits. The process involves getting clear on what is essential to share, which includes boundaries, needs, expectations, and relevant history that one feels comfortable sharing.

For everything else, offer intentional support without jumping into problem-solving mode. One approach is to empower them to manage their problems and ask them questions that place ownership on them. This could look like listening to them and asking what they want to do about the problem or asking how it’s best to support them as they explore their options.


Identify Boundaries and Share Appropriately

It’s not a failure or a negative statement about us if we are feeling unable to help our partner in the way they need. Boundaries allow for healthy intimacy in relationships. Not every secret, desire, or experience needs to be shared.

Use metacommunication, or “appetizer” before the “main meal”… before entering a charged topic will help manage emotional expectations. For example: ‘I’d like to talk about my workday today, and just a heads up, it was absolutely awful. Is it OK if I share more?’ Then let the partner respond and be honest about if now is a good time or perhaps you two can negotiate another time in the future when they’re ready to be fully present and listen.

If the helping feels codependent, have a conversation about looking outside of the partnership for support. Tell them you love them and that you think a professional would be better suited to actually help. Offering to help them find someone or even attending the first session can also help them feel more supported.

We may want our partners to be everything, but they’re only meant to be a marvelous part of our world, not all of it. To ensure your relationship remains a healthy part of your life, integrating a strong support system and a trusted therapist is the key to a good mental health strategy.