"It certainly sounds like there might be a more serious problem here than either of you has admitted. I think we should look a little closer."

I spent the rest of the session exploring their relationship and "the problem." What I discovered surprised me.

Gene was a full-fledged gambling addict. He not only liked to play blackjack, as he originally admitted, but was also at the race track on many Saturdays. Reluctantly, he admitted that he had spent numerous paychecks on gambling and that it had played a role in the demise of his first marriage.

Gene’s gradual admission took courage on his part. What was more surprising, however, was Shirley’s posture toward him. As soon as he began to admit a greater problem, her concern for his gambling seemed to lessen. She said he had not spent his paycheck on gambling in the past month. She went out of her way to avoid being overly critical of his behavior and defended his ability to control himself. She was clearly enabling his addiction. She allowed the elephants to parade through her home, pretending they were still off in the distance.

As you listen to Shirley and Gene, perhaps you can see elements of their relationship in your marriage. You may be able to see how you have traits, like Shirley, of codependency — which is any attempt to ignore, and thereby reinforce, another’s weaknesses. This, of course, only makes matters worse. Gene needs immediate help, but will not likely volunteer to get it because of denial. Shirley, because of her own denial and codependency, fears forcing the issue. They will undoubtedly have serious problems in the days ahead.

Christ taught much about peace with others, but also taught about breaking out of denial. He said that it was important to "speak the truth in love," (Eph. 4: 15) and that "the truth shall set you free." (John 8:32) His message challenges us to be honest instead of mincing words. We must occasionally look our mates in the eye and say we are unhappy with the way things are. We do not approve of their excessive drinking, spending, work, drug use, deception, and yes, even avoidance of conflict. We cannot sit with the silence any longer. It’s time to talk. Take a moment with your mate and answer these questions:

• What are the topics we avoid?

• Why do you think we avoid them?

• What can we do to make it safer to talk about the tough issues?

• Is there any action we must take to end certain problems in our lives?

Now, quit whistling and make a commitment together that you will practice speaking the truth in love. Even if it hurts. It’s better than finding stinky elephants lounging in your living room.

This article is second in a series on nine mistakes most couples make. Read part 1: A Critical Mistake Most Couples Make.

This article was adapted from Nine Critical Mistakes Most Couples Make (Harvest House Publishers, 2005).

Dr. Hawkins is the director of The Marriage Recovery Center, where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You, Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. His newest books are titled  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt.  Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.

Read more about The Marriage Recover Center on Dr. David Hawkin's website at www.YourRelationshipDoctor.com.