Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: How Different Are the Private and Public Versions of Your Relationship?

Almost everyone has felt the shock of hearing that a couple that seemed “so great together” was breaking up.

It can also be just as shocking to observe the public interaction of a couple only to wonder, “Why are these people together?”

Having worked many years with couples, I’ve come to understand that no one but the partners involved really know the differences in the private or public versions of their relationship.

While some differences in the private and public versions of a couple’s relationship are inevitable and even desirable, differences that cause or hide pain, rejection and disdain are destructive.

  • “In public you’re so agreeable to everyone – at home, you argue with anything I say.”
  • “If you say you’re happily married, why are there no picture of me on your Facebook page? 
  • “Why don’t you reach for my hand in public – if you love me?

How different are the private and public versions of your relationship?

In this fast paced world of expectations, social media, instant communication and blurred public and private lives, it’s worth accessing whether the differences in the public and private versions of your relationship are desirable or destructive.

Desirable Differences

The Private Version

  • Basic to the special status that partners share with each other, some differences between their private and public lives are inevitable and desirable.
  • The way partners, worry, confide, argue, joke and sexually relate belongs to them. Such aspects of their relationship usually remain private and support their bond.
  • This private version of their relating doesn’t preclude the close ties and disclosures that partners are likely to have with family and friends; but it sets them apart in a way that is constructive and desirable.

Are you trusted confidantes? 

Can you hold on to your relationship ties despite outside family demands?

Do your friends know how important your relationship is to you?

The Public Version

We all have a public version of our private self that is adjusted to fit the role, demands and expectations of our public lives.  While your public “image” might be at times very different from your role as a spouse or partner, it shouldn’t disqualify it. In the best of situations, the partners’ public selves enhance and are appreciated in the private relationship.

  • “You’re really a tough guy in those business deals – it’s a good thing I’m on your side.”
  • “Do those people know how funny you really are?”

 Destructive Differences

 “ Best in Show”

One of the most painful things that men and women report is feeling that their marriage or relationship is a charade.

“He’s all smiles and arm around me in public, but we haven’t been together in months. He acts like I’m invisible.”

  • Sometimes despite the pain, one or both participate in this charade, hoping it will just change.
  • Sometimes one is really in pain and the other is secretly keeping the status quo of the relationship for selfish reasons.
  • Sometimes both think the kids don’t know – kids always know.
  • Usually both feel the tension, but are equally hesitant to speak, fearing an explosion. The quiet internal explosions level an impact.

A few words written or spoken may open the door.

“ We can’t keep pretending we’re ok. It’s destructive to both of us. Let’s talk or seek some help.”

 “ I can’t keep pretending we’re ok. I’m going to speak to someone – join me.”

 “Crowd Pleaser”

Whether it’s a partner flirting with everything breathing, or a partner who’s joined the crowd in wife/ husband bashing – a partner who becomes an offensive stranger on a regular basis compromises the private trust and bond in the relationship. If it leads to quiet resentment and dreaded time together – it’s emotionally costly. Sometimes the partner is quite different at home and in a sober and private time it may be worth considering,

 “Is there a way that we can both have a good time with that crowd without either of us feeling belittled or ignored?”

 “All In The Family”

It’s not uncommon for a partner to feel discarded when their partner’s involvement with family becomes a turn off switch to support, affection and public connection.

“ I really hate being with your family. It’s like I don’t matter.”

 “Why do you have to put a rift between me and my family?”

When partners realize that the issue is not them, they can hold on to their private bond. I’ve often reminded partners that they have more leverage than they think when they verbally or nonverbally invite the family to accept their partner by their show of positive connection to him/her. Most families will follow your lead even while complaining.

“Don’t Ask- Don’t Tell”

  • Sometimes a partner is acting wonderfully positive, affectionate and intimate in their private life while having an affair in their public life.
  • Sometimes the other knows they are being betrayed and has all the evidence, but the pain of the reality stops them in their tracks.
  • This situation assaults both the private and public versions of the relationship because it compromises the authentic view of self and other. It discards the role of partners.
  • To recover authenticity, most do best to address the rupture – sometimes a couple can seek help to rebuild a private and public relationship together. Sometimes they’re surprised that it’s possible.

 Probably one of the best joys in a relationship is to go public with the love you share.

photo attribution morguefile.com by Seemann