Imagine that you and your spouse are deep in supportive conversation about a fear that’s recently been causing you to worry and stress. He hears you, he reassures you and lovingly holds your hand. The conversation comes to a natural close and then, not 2 minutes later, your husband cracks a joke about the exact thing you’ve just shared you fear. Anyone else? No? Just me?
My husband is a kind, insightful, wise and loving man. He’s also very funny. He also loves to tell a good joke – so much so that, sometimes, he has a hard time remembering to consider whether or not the moment is well suited to joking. I say this not to mock him or to complain about his flaws. I’m saying it to relate to you, and let you know you’re not alone. Yes, he told an untimely joke. Yes, I started crying immediately and pitifully whimpered, “Don’t do that!”, but to his great credit, he apologized immediately and spent the next 20 minutes listening to me further, reassuring me and honoring my feelings while intermittently apologizing for missing the mark.
Two extremes exist when it comes to wives discussing their mates. One woman complains, rolls eyes and perpetuates the culture’s thoughtless narrative that stamps husbands as generally moronic. The other woman hurts, cries and sometimes is just irritated by her man, but keeps her mouth completely shut. Always. She has difficulties she doesn’t know how to address in her marriage, but her problems aren’t crises and she doesn’t want to seem disrespectful. She certainly doesn’t want her friends to think her husband is a bad guy, and so, she stays silent.
We are all responsible for the words that come from our lips, and words have the potential for incredible power. In light of these facts, we are right to guard our husband’s reputations, and to carefully consider how we share. What we say and how we say it both count, but it’s a false dichotomy to believe we have to protect his heart at the neglect of our own.
Honesty and honor are not at odds with one another. We can raise up both in our conversations. We can have hurt feelings and humility. We can say things that are difficult to hear and difficult to share without wounding or shaming. We can love our husbands while sharing rigorous truth.
First – and possibly most importantly – understand that motives matter. Why are you sharing? There are good reasons to delve into sensitive subjects, and being clear about yours is of vital importance. I’m an external processor; I often need to write or talk things out to make any sense of them at all. When I get jammed up in my head, I sometimes need a trusted friend to help receive what I’m carrying and help me sort it out. I may share things that I’d otherwise hold close to get the support and help I need. A wise and objective ear can radically alter an emotional trajectory I need help escaping.
Sometimes, I simply need a second opinion. There are areas in marriage that bump up against my baggage, and sometimes, I can’t figure out if my perspective is sound. A wise friend can be an asset in this evaluation as well. When motives are about process and progress, they should be given room for consideration. There are other deserving purposes as well. What matters most is knowing what yours are. You are the only one who can discern that, and you may need to dig when motives aren’t clear. The process of discovery is well worth it, however, as a sensitive truth shared for the wrong reasons is an invitation for unnecessary hurt and complication for all involved.
Secondly, context counts. With whom are you sharing and how are you broaching the topic. Be wise about whom you choose to receive the tender pieces of your story, and doubly so with those that include your spouse (or anyone else for that matter). With a friend who can be trusted to not only keep your confidences private, but also point your heart and thoughts down a godly path, however, you can feel free to tell the truth.
Other times, we might just need someone to encourage us or pray with us. My default, when others are involved, is to ask for prayer in more vague terms with nonspecifics. God isn’t hampered by a lack of knowledge, but sometimes my friends can pray more powerful prayers when they’re enabled to speak specifically over my heart, my husband and our marriage. Sometimes, I crave encouragement that speaks directly to the details. When the reason is real, there is no wrong is simply telling the truth.
Lastly, remember that everything you might say about your spouse should be something you would be willing to say to your spouse. If I have feelings and thoughts about our marriage that I’m not willing to share with my marriage-partner, this signals a deeper need and opportunity for the work of repair. Don’t misunderstand: sometimes, my friends get the first jumbled, edgy, uncut, untamed version. This is basically why God created girlfriends. I never, however, want to share things about my marriage with my friends that I don’t intend to and plan on sharing with my husband when it’s in a clearer state. Friendships can be tremendous buoys and supports to our marriages, but the primary relationship must always be in the center of the truths we share.
Every marriage has imperfections. Every husband (and every wife!) can be aggravating or unaware. We miss the mark, we get it wrong. This is because we are human. We can, however, help ourselves build stronger relationships by talking about our marriages with honor and truth as our primary values. Truth is strong enough to stand while we choose our words carefully, and respect conveys more than just the words we use to speak it. Lean into both and you will find a straight path ahead.