Can Your Spouse Handle the Truth?
- Dr. David B. Hawkins The Marriage Recovery Center
- 2016 15 Mar
Are there things you’d like to say to your mate but just don’t know the best time and way to say them, or whether you should say them at all?
Most of us carry around a bag full of hurt feelings, stale secrets or hidden desires. Over time this bag becomes heavy. We think there is room for just one more wound, one more wish. But alas, the bad becomes too heavy. There really is no more room.
Not only does this bag become heavy for us, but it actually becomes a barrier between our mate and us. We naively believe the bag isn’t affecting anything, but our mate knows, at some level, that there is something between us. There is something—or some things—that disrupt the intimacy we once enjoyed.
In the middle of a recent Marriage Intensive, I watched as the couple began the Intensive sitting several feet away from each other. This is not an unusual sight—many couples come with hurt and wounds piled high between them. But this couple was a little different.
The fifty-something couple had been married many years. They had seen other therapists before me and had gained some relief from their emotional pain. Yet, in spite of the good work we were doing, the physical and emotional distance didn’t evaporate, as is often the case. I decided I must say something.
“Folks,” I said slowly and deliberately, “I can’t help but notice that even as we heal wounds and make good progress in your ability to speak truth into each other’s lives, enjoying each other’s company, you still seem miles apart emotionally.”
Both nodded their heads.
“I think she is still upset with me about something,” he said. “I don’t know what it is but she is still bothered.”
“I think he is still angry with me over something,” she countered.
“So, you’re both aware of the distance between you,” I said. “Are you reluctant to say what is bothering you?”
Again, both affirmed that there were things getting in the way of enjoying a true, healthy, emotional connection. Both confirmed that they were “tiptoeing around each other.” While they guarded their own and the other’s feelings, the emotional gap remained.
We discussed together the importance of trusting each other with saying the hard things. We reviewed the cost of keeping silence. We noted what needed to change so they could say what needed to be said to clear away pain and hurt so they could make real emotional contact. Here are some additional thoughts that came from our discussion:
First, you must create an environment where truth is told. We tell the truth when two or more people have established an expectation for truth to be told. This can be both explicit and implicit. We make it clear that we want to be told the truth, even when that truth may hurt. We set a pattern of saying the hard things.
Second, you must trust your mate to be able to handle the truth. We must believe that our mate will be able to handle hearing the truth. Unfortunately, we often tell ourselves our mate cannot handle truth, when in fact, they can. We tell ourselves we are protecting the other when in fact we are protecting ourselves. As a general rule, assume your mate is strong enough to process truth is said in a caring, compassionate way.
Third, you must prepare yourself to speak truth. Difficult truths are best said after careful prayer and consideration. We should rehearse what we want to say, how to say it and the best timing for such truths. We might even consider running our truths by a good friend to get their input into how to say what we want to say.
Fourth, you must speak truth in love. Conversations must always be bathed in love; all the more when these conversations involve saying the hard things. Scripture tells us, “These are the things you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace” (Zechariah 8:16). Telling the truth is not optional—we must do this to have healthy relationships.
Finally, you must say the hard things consistently going forward. Now you must put it all together: set the tone, create the expectation, and practice saying hard things amidst saying the soft and easy things. As you practice saying hard things you will become more proficient in time. Keep up the work of saying everything that should be said.
I would like to hear from you about the issue of saying the hard things in marriage. Please send responses to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website. You’ll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.
Publication date: March 15, 2016