The Chofetz Chaim now turns his focus in a different direction —to whom am I forbidden to relate loshon hora? He answers, “ There is no difference regarding this prohibition, whether the listener is one’s relative or someone distant, or even one’s own wife — unless it is something of which he must inform her for a constructive purpose.”
The Chofetz Chaim focuses on a very typical situation. A husband comes home and his wife asks, “ How was your day?” or, “ What’s new in shul (synagogue)?” The Chofetz Chaim cautions us strongly against using such questions as a forum for telling one’s wife of any arguments or other unpleasant encounters which he had during the course of the day. Not only is this loshon hora, but it does further damage, since the wife, out of loyalty to her husband, is likely to harbor animosity towards the person whom the husband feels has wronged him. This may lead to her finding the opportunity to castigate the man or his family members, so that a situation which could have been resolved will instead become a full-scale feud between families.
The Chofetz Chaim adds a bit of marital advice. He says that if a husband habitually complains to his wife about the slights and indignities which he perceives have been heaped upon him, then he actually lowers himself in her eyes. She begins to believe that others do not respect him, and that perhaps he is not really worthy of respect. The Chofetz Chaim quotes Avos D’Rabbi Nassan (7:3) which explains the words of the Mishnah, “ Do not speak excessively with a woman,” as making exactly this point; excessive complaining to his wife lowers a man’s esteem in her eyes.
The Chofetz Chaim points out that there are clearly cases of toeles (constructive purpose) where spouses are allowed to, and ought to, share information. This applies to business partnerships, as well. Certainly one partner can warn the other about problems with a potential vendor or customer. However, one must be careful to release only that negative information which is absolutely essential.
If it is possible to solve the problem without saying anything negative, then that is the strategy required. For example, your wife says, “ Mrs. Klein invited us to dinner next week.” But you have reason to believe that the kashrus level in the Klein’s house does not meet your standards. To avoid speaking loshon hora you should think of some benign reason for declining the invitation. If your wife finds your excuse unreasonable and is upset, then you may tell her your real reason.
In truth, there are many ways to protect a spouse, business associate or oneself from harmful people or situations without resorting to loshon hora. Although it might take a little effort or ingenuity, our Sages assure us that the dividends will surely be well worth our while.