Accountability, Commitment, Communication

3 Ground Rules for Building an Honest Marriage

Recently I walked out to our patio and started flailing my arms uncontrollably. I’m sure I looked like a fool. Why? Two words: spider web. As I stepped outside I felt that familiar, sticky feeling all over my arms and face. It’s just the worst.

In about 1.2 seconds I transitioned from a calm, collected, fully grown man into full-on, no-dignity, nearly-falling-on-the-ground panic monster. All of my childhood fears flooded back in a torrent of hysterical juking and jiving, kicking and chopping, all in hopes of finding (and squishing) one perpetrator: the spider.

I had flashbacks of Frodo in the caves leading to Mordor; except this time it was me entangled helplessly in Shelob’s web…and soon my epic quest would come to an abrupt and anti-climactic end.

You may know the feeling…You don’t know where the spider is, but you know without a doubt that it’s there somewhere. He could be in your hair, down the back of your shirt, or worse, crawling around on your skin… just waiting to sink his little spidery fangs into your unsuspecting dermis.

I never did find that spider, and for all I know he’s still lurking nearby. I guess it’s time to call the Orkin man.

Or maybe I’ll just stay inside… forever.

What does this have to do with marriage?

Problems in marriage present themselves like spiders sometimes. You feel their effects – their webs – but you can’t always pinpoint the cause. You feel like something’s wrong, but you don’t know the source of the problem. Some examples:

  • Your communication just feels off; every conversation ends in an argument.
  • Your sex-life has diminished or is nonexistent.
  • You feel like your trust is fading and you’re not sure how to rebuild it.
  • Maybe you feel indifferent toward each other; you don’t know why, but you just do.

Almost every married couple has faced or will face issues like these in their union. The thing is, they’re usually just symptoms of a greater problem.

Getting to the core

Where do these surface issues originate? What’s at the root?

To fully know and still fully love is the primary aim of marriage.

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More importantly, how do we face these issues and get through them in a biblical, constructive way? How do we keep from being overwhelmed, harmed, and eventually totally defeated by our marital struggles? How do we keep our covenant strong when we feel so weak?

While we can’t possibly diagnose every marital issue you or another reader may be experiencing, Selena and I have learned a few “honesty rules” that may help you find it’s root cause.

The opportunity to love is greatest when honesty abounds and nothing is hidden. Honesty (i.e. confessing sin to your spouse) can be difficult at first, but it’s uniquely liberating once established in your marriage.

I urge you to fight hard for an honest marriage. But building an honest marriage requires some ground rules.

Here are three.

Ground Rule #1: Never Lie

Selena and I have a rule: she can ask me anything and I’ll never lie. It sounds simple, but how many times do we downplay our sin so it doesn’t sound as bad as it really is? How often to we explain it away? I’m far from perfect on this, but it’s done wonders for her trust and my accountability. I find it relieving, actually.

The same goes for my close guy friends. AMA = Ask Me Anything. At any given moment I could get a text or a call from one of my guy friends and BOOM, honesty time.

Garbage in, garbage out. If you lie, everything breaks down. You must always be honest if you want to live in a marriage that is based on trust.

Ground Rule #2: Always Love

Neither of you will want to confess when you’ve made a mistake if you think you’re going to get beat up for it. Authentic accountability requires unrelenting love. Perhaps that’s why Jesus said the following in Luke 17:3-4:

Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

Integrity: the man who fights for his integrity also fights for his wife.

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We don’t repent just have it thrown in our faces; that’s humiliation. Confessing sin always requires humility, but never humiliation. This is Christ’s example throughout the New Testament. Jesus knows we’re sinners and he still loves us. As his ambassadors and followers, we’re called to extend the same grace he’s shown us.

Caveat: sin breaks things and causes pain. Forgiveness is often just the first step, but if there’s legitimate hurt because of sin, it’s vitally important that you get to the core issues, seek reconciliation, and start rebuilding trust. This may mean you go to counseling, seek pastoral care, or pursue reconciliation by some other means. The important thing is that you deal with the junk. Don’t keep it hidden.

Ground Rule #3: Remove Triggers

This one’s about being honest with yourself.

Learning to love is less about perfection and more about progress.I have a close friend who is a recovering alcoholic. He knows that if he parks in the lot at a liquor store, he’s already in trouble. He can’t go anywhere near the stuff without being drawn in. The same goes with any addiction or recurring sin.

  • Guys, if porn is a big issue for you and you always struggle when you’re alone at home, time to kill the internet connection.
  • If spending is a big problem for you, time to cut up the credit cards.
  • If you’re a habitual liar and you’re online accounts (Facebook, etc) are causing problems, time to give up the passwords and add some transparency (or, get rid of the accounts altogether).

All of the above may seem extreme, but addictions are no joke and sin’s even more serious. If you’re honestly struggling with something and don’t trust your own self-control, it’s probably time to remove triggers from the equation entirely.

Other resources

We’ve written a ton on transparency, here are some articles I hope you find helpful:

  1. 4 Surprising Facets of Transparency in Marriage
  2. Slivers, Secrets, and Shame: Why Transparency in Marriage is an Absolute Must
  3. The “Phone Drop Test” Every Couple Should Consider
  4. 6 Ways to Affair-Proof Your Marriage
  5. Fight Sexual Addiction Like a Man
  6. Is Your Facebook Life a Wedge in Your Marriage?
  7. Flat Tire Integrity


The spider. As I flailed about on our patio wildly, I would’ve given anything to find that stupid spider. Webs by themselves aren’t scary, but when they’re attached to a (presumably huge) insect, that’s another story.

Learn to detect the “webs” in your marriage by creating a culture of honesty between you and your spouse. Once you do, you can work through real-life issues in real-time instead of waiting until they eventually poison your marriage.

The result? A thriving, transparent, intimate, and honest marriage that, with God’s grace, will last an entire lifetime.

Questions (please comment below):
What’s one way you and your spouse worked to build an honest marriage?
How has true, unrelenting honesty changed your marriage?

All photos except the header image by Jeff Marsh.

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  • Victoria Mangano

    Thank you, I truly needed this. My husband and I are struggling and needed this. He’s not much of a reader but I will sit and read this with him. Not just for him, but for me too.

  • Jen King

    “We don’t repent just have it thrown in our faces; that’s humiliation.” Not that it’s news, but that one little statement really struck a chord today. A very good thing to remember, especially when the confession can be hard or a source of hurt for the person hearing it. I’ll be telling my husband today that I am making a commitment to remember this and do my best to fulfill it. Thank you for your transparency with your followers!

  • Dominic

    …. Arachnids, spiders are arachnids, not insects :P that aside, well written article, especially the bit about recieving your spouses (or children in some cases) confessions with love.

    I remember I could never approach my parents when I was a child with any problem because they would explode at me and then try to take control of everything instead of trying to help me figure things out. Receiving people’s weaknesses with love is vitally important if any kind of intimacy is going to be a thing.

  • Markus

    Webs may not be scary, but they are disgusting and can be a challenge to get free from — both spider webs and marriage symptom webs. :-/

  • Terry Barlow

    Thank you so much for this article. I had been keeping a financial secret regarding my ex wife from my wife that was burning a hole in me. Tonight I told her. It pained me to do so since I’m not the most upfront and honest guy in the world. I’m not saying I’m a big fat liar or anything…big and fat yes, but I’m an honest person. Although I do prefer fluff and omission to both save face and to spare feelings. Anyway after much deliberation I told my wife something that I knew would fracture our marriage…our friendship.
    It hurt her. It hurt me to know that I was the cause of her pain. I am not proud but I love my wife enough to choose honesty and I’m happy I decided to trust God with our marriage even in an area of discomfort. I think that’s probably where he’s most comfortable. Hmm…God brings comfort in our discomfort. Wow! That’s a word that will preach right there.
    Anywho…I have some sores to mend.
    Spider webs…

  • Jesse Tatro

    What if I’m doing everything I can, but my wife is a compulsive liar. Drinks too much, gets downright hateful and says truly evil things to me? Has been physically and emotionally abusive, refuses to get help, and has no drive to make our marriage better and get closer to Christ, never admits her wrongdoing, is prideful, vengeful, unforgiving, and doesn’t sincerely apologize for anything and is so self absorbed she blames me and anyone and everyone else for her actions. Is that biblical grounds for divorce?

    • Billy

      I believe in Matthew Jesus says the only ground for divorce is sexual immorality. I could be wrong. Read the gospel. It always helps. I wish you luck…. and blessings.

      • Jesse Tatro

        I know, I have read it cover to cover (it was my one and only goal last year). That’s the only reason for divorce I could find as well. Don’t get me wrong I want my marriage to work, but I’m tired of living in misery.

        • gfkdzdds

          Is she a Christian? What are your faults? What would she say are your faults?

          • Jesse Tatro

            Christian is a term that is not always used correctly. Does she believe Jesus Christ died for our salvation and the only way to the Father is through the son? Yes. Has she been saved? Yes. Does she try to honor Jesus in all she says and does? I don’t see it. Is she continually seeking a relationship with Jesus? No. She would say my faults are I don’t communicate and I am controlling.

    • Dominic

      Unfortunately there is no grounds for divorce once you are married. Jesus makes this very clear when he says, “however divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her” and says a few sentences later “therefore what God has joined, let no one separate”

      As for your wife, my question to you would be, what have you done to try to love your wife lately? How have you tried supporting her? Have you been speaking her love languages frequently?

      The long and the short of it is, you can’t changer her behaviour, only your own. Beating that in mind, what are you doing to make sure you play your part?

      I would recommend reading 2 books that may help you a great deal, and have turned many situations that were just like yours, completely around.

      The first is Gary Chapman’s “The 5 Love Languages” and the second, is the ever popular book “Men are from Mars, and Women are from Venus”

      These books are comprehensive guide on how to effectively love your spouse in a way that can transform your marriage.

      In no way do I believe that what you are suffering through is your fault, but I do think you might be able to turn the situation around by modifying your behaviour, rather than trying to modify hers.

      All the best!