Accountability, Challenges

3 Ground Rules for Experiencing Real Honesty with Your Spouse

Recently I walked out to our deck and began flailing my arms uncontrollably. I’m positive I looked like an idiot. Why, you ask? Two words: spider web. As I stepped outside I felt that familiar, sticky feeling all over my arms and face. The more I moved, the more I felt it.

In about half a second I transformed from a calm, collected, adult man into full-on, no-dignity, nearly-falling-on-the-ground crazy person. 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) 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.

To be honest, I’m not really scared of spiders. They’re amazing creatures that play an important role; I get that. I just don’t want them on my body… and I don’t think that’s a lot to ask.

You probably 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, tender dermis.

What does this have to do with marriage?

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

  • Your communication just feels off; every conversation ends in an argument.
  • Your sex-life has diminished or become non-existent.
  • 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; one that can’t be identified without honest conversation.

Honestly Speaking

I’m amazed (truly, I’m not just saying that) at how many couples live dishonestly. They have hidden sin, unchecked resentment, and unresolved conflict. They spend years (or decades) with a low-level sense of falseness, then they wonder why they’re not experiencing joy and life in their marriage. I’m convinced that honesty is the first step toward life: honesty with God, honesty with yourself, and honesty with each other.

The opportunity to love is greatest when honesty abounds and nothing is hidden. True honesty 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:

Honesty Ground Rule #1: Never Lie

Selena and I have this rule where either of us can ask the other anything and we will never lie when answering. 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 so we don’t actually have to share it? I’m far from perfect on this, but it’s done wonders for her trust and my accountability. I find it relieving, actually.

Honesty 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 words 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.”

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, find help, 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. Just don’t keep it hidden. MarriageHelp.org is an incredible resource for couples who don’t know where to start.

Honesty Ground Rule #3: Remove Temptation

Be honest with yourself about what causes 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 (seriously), and get help.
  • If spending is a big problem for you, time to cut up the credit cards.
  • If you’re a habitual liar and your 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. If you’re honestly struggling with something and don’t trust your own self-control, it’s time to remove temptations from the equation and get outside help.

Other resources

We’ve written a ton on transparency, here are some articles you may 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

Back to the spider…

As I flailed about on our deck 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?

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  • C S

    Dishonesty (from my husband), especially regarding deliberately hidden sin & fabricated lies regarding it, has destroyed my marriage, and myself. I am at a loss & need all of the prayer I can get. Seven months ago I found out that my husband lied about so many things that would have been a deal breaker for me, and I am still beyond devastated. He still refuses to be fully transparent and honest regarding the truth of the countless things he lied about & I cannot move forward with our foundation built on deceit & betrayal. I’ve been in therapy since, have gone on antidepressants & antianxiety meds, & had a serious suicide attempt that failed when my teenage son entered the room. I had every intention of pulling that trigger & truly wish I would have. And now, because of that, I can no longer see my therapist due to Military OneSource restrictions. I can’t get past it. I love him so much, but am so hurt, disgusted, angry… literally anything & everything else I can possibly feel. I don’t know what to do. I have no one to talk to. No one cares. I don’t want to live like this anymore, it consumes me.
    This has destroyed me completely as a wife, mother, and person in general.

    • Hisogre

      Without even knowing any details, I can feel the pain you present. Nothing sucks more than when a spouse, someone who is supposed “become one” with us hurts us in unforgivable way(s). You have a son, and without you that son will suffer needlessly. That may not be what you wish to hear, but suicide affects a lot of people around you. Not to mention, he’s a teenager…Lord knows they have enough to deal with already.

      When we’re in our darkest moments, it is sometimes impossible to see any light at all, not even a sliver through a keyhole. I promise, there is light at the end of this. There always is, even if we cannot see it.

      I am afraid nothing I can say here will help much. I just beg you to think of your son and pray pray pray…and when you’re done with that, pray again. Read Psalms 55:22 as often as you can. I know it helped me…I memorized it at one point in my life, and I would say it in my head, and pray. Eventually, He saw me past my darkest time.

      “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved”

      God’s Speed. Laus Deo

    • JL

      CS, I can totally relate to the issues you are having with the military’s One Source. However, I do know that they will cover continued therapy for as long as it is required if you see your Primary Care Manager and get the proper referrals. Please don’t give up on this. With a little work and communication with the insurance company you can get the help you need and deserve.

      At the very least call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or TTY: 1-800-799-4889. Or your unit’s Work Life office. They can get you in touch with the right people.

      My heart and prayers go out to you, your amazing son, and you husband. I have hope that all of you find the path to overcome this tragedy. I can imagine looking at the situation as a whole is overwhelming now, but look at just one area and overcome it piece by small piece. When you get tired and feel like you can’t go on, rest. Take care of you…find a quiet place to just sit and be with God. Tell him your struggles and He will listen.

  • Just One Voice

    My wife & I have worked to build an honest marriage by resolving conflict quickly, but sincerely.

    We had a major argument the other day where my temper REALLY flared up. I felt disrespected and just lost it. Thankfully, the Spirit showed its fruit of self-control as I was able to just GET AWAY before causing physical harm to anyone or anything. Although that still didn’t stop me from yelling/screaming at the top of my lungs and making neighbors wonder what was happening.

    We definitely needed some extra recovery time–compared to lighter arguments–but eventually, we were able to sit down and talk through what went wrong.

    My grandfather had some ABC’s for couples. Letter A was “Avoid Avalanches of Accumulation.” Meaning, do not let problems (or things, stuff) accumulate. Or else they turn into avalanches capable of causing major destruction.