Accountability, Challenges, Communication, Love

Slivers, Secrets, and Shame: Why Transparency in Marriage is an Absolute Must

Selena and I have had our secrets. We’ve hidden things from each other in our marriage, both purposefully and passively. We’ve masked poor financial choices, hidden sexual addiction, and “failed to mention” costly mistakes. It wasn’t until relatively recently that we discovered the power of transparency in our marriage.

It’s easy to spout off sound bytes like “those with nothing to hide, hide nothing” (which is true). However, if we don’t look at the roots of an issue, we begin listing toward behavior modification instead of heart transformation. Real life change is much more sustainable when it starts with your heart instead of your behavior; for that, we must ask why.

So why do we hide things from our spouse? By considering why we hide, I hope we can better understand a truer definition of love in marriage.

Fear and Slivers

When I was but a wee lad, my parents took my brother Eric and I to a beach in Westport, WA. Washington beaches get a fair bit of weather, so parks and their respective fixtures tend to be, well… weathered. We were having a picnic with sandwiches, watermelon, chips, etc. It was a nice day by Washingtonian standards – still cloudy, but dry, so it was a nice day.

I was around 6 years old, and I still remember it vividly. I was climbing on and around the picnic tables – doing what 6 year old boys do – when suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my mid thigh. I looked down to assess the damage and there it was: a sliver the size of a small fir tree had embedded itself into my flesh.

This thing was massive. I could feel it throbbing with each heartbeat, and I could see it plunge deep beyond the translucence of my outer skin layers. It looked to have no end, but I was delightfully surprised it wasn’t protruding out the other side of my leg. I marveled at the sliver’s size and my super-human tolerance for pain.

Then the horror hit me like a Forks bound logging truck…

If I tell dad, he’ll want to remove it!“, I realized. Gulp.

I couldn’t tell him. I wouldn’t. Not an option.

Instead, I hoped I would absorb the sliver into my leg and it would disappear without a trace. “I just need more time…”, I thought. I would’ve waited years.

So I hid.

At first I hid beneath the picnic table, but that was too obvious. I sought cover behind the wind shelters, but there was too much space between the slats. I took a dive into the dune grass to avoid detection, but soon discovered how sharp dune grass is…

The park where this all happened...

The park where this all happened…

The funny thing is that it was my hiding that alerted the authorities (a.k.a. mom & dad). They asked what was wrong, to which I promptly replied, “NOTHING“.

Six year olds make horrible liars.

They detected a trembling in my prepubescent voice which carried hints of pain and deceit. They were on to me.

Surgery” was underway within a matter of minutes. After about 5 hours (ok, 15 minutes… but it seemed longer) of flesh exploration via tweezers and a match-sterilized sewing needle I was one tree-sized sliver lighter. I had also lost 1 lb of water weight from copious tear shedding.

Five minutes post-op, I had all but forgotten the sliver incident. The sliver was gone, the pain was over, and I could get on with life and healing as all 6 year old boys should.

I hid because I was afraid… for better or worse, fear caused me to hide.

We Hide Because We Fear

This is the main reason we hide – fear. We’re afraid of the pain we will cause if we tell the whole truth. We avoid transparency because we’re afraid of how our spouses will react when they see our ugliness.

Initially I thought to include shame as separate reason we hide, but isn’t shame rooted in fear as well? We feel shame for fear of failing to meet a moral standard. We feel ashamed if we disappoint ourselves, our spouses, and our Savior.

Shame is the fear of losing love – the fear of being unloveable.

She wouldn’t love me if she knew what I’ve been watching.

He would stop trusting me if I showed him flirtatious conversations I’ve had on Facebook.

“My spouse would never forgive me for….”

The examples vary widely but the fear of exposure is consistent. So, ashamed and afraid we hide; we hide our whole selves from our spouses because we fear being unloveable. We figure that if we hide it long enough, our mistakes will dissipate and just go away – much like I hoped my sliver magically dissolve.

Fear Causes Infection

Honesty without love is cold and love without honesty is shallow. Speak the truth with love.What’s wrong with leaving javelin-sized slivers buried in your leg? They get infected, and untreated infections only worsen. Also, infections typically won’t stay in one spot – they can spread into your entire body (a.k.a. sepsis), eventually overwhelming your immune system and killing you.

At 6 years old I would have never considered dying from a sliver.

Yet in marriage, we sometimes think about sin and shame like children. We trick ourselves into thinking the problem will resolve itself without being dealt with.

Fierce husbands and fierce wives, we must confess sin with excruciating transparency (James 5:16, 1 John 1:9). The life of your marriage depends on it. Dealing with shameful things is hard to be sure – it hurts.

Love doesn’t promise to take away pain, but love does promise to make pain worthwhile. There is always hope in love!

Love Extinguishes Fear

As always we must look to Jesus. We are called to love our spouses as Christ loves the Church (Eph 5). Christ loves sacrificially, selflessly, and completely as demonstrated in his life, death, and resurrection. He is and will always be our ultimate example of love in marriage and every other relationship between here and heaven.

This is an extremely important revelation – if you catch one thing in this entire post, CATCH THIS:

God fully knows you – there is nothing hidden from his sight. He sees you sin, he sees you hide, he watches you run. He deeply knows you. Yet even in our fallen, broken, and depraved ugliness – our grossness – he STILL loves us enough to save us by coming to earth and humbling himself to death on the cross.

To fully know and still fully love is the primary aim of marriage.You are fully known and STILL fully loved by God.

The true revelation of God’s love gives us the most profound security possible – we know we are fully loved, fully cared for, and fully acknowledged (good and bad). The Bible has a word for this: grace.

It is God’s full and most intimate knowledge of us that allows Him to love us more than what is temporally possible. God’s love is literally out of this world – it is not available on earth aside from Him.

Ok, so here’s where we bring this thing full-circle.

Loving Transparently

This revelation of God’s love has the exact opposite effect as fear. God’s love gives us confidence and boldness… true security. Love extends grace, love covers, love is patient, and love forgives (1 Cor 13). Love drives out fear:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:18)

Note my emphasis on perfect love. I don’t believe we will be able to give perfect love this side of heaven. But we are able, by God’s grace, to experience perfect love and allow it to overflow into our relationships – namely our marriage.

Perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18)One pivotal part of perfect love happens to be our topic here: transparency.

Can you see it? Love cannot be complete until it’s given the opportunity to love completely. Your spouse can only love all of you if you let them love you without secrets – without unexplored dark places. Conversely, you don’t have the opportunity to love fully until you know fully, and full love amidst full knowledge is the most Christ-like love we can possibly give.

Knowing each other intimately, nakedly, and without secrets gives us the absolute best opportunity to love and to be loved by another person in the purest possible form. But we will never get that opportunity if we’re hiding underneath picnic benches, afraid and ashamed. We must be transparent with each other – your life and your marriage depend on it.

The Two Roles of Transparent Love and Where to Start

In summary, transparency is irreplaceable in a healthy marriage. There are no shortcuts to honesty – just honesty. But getting there requires each of you to take on two active roles in the “sliver removal” process.

To fight fiercely for transparency in your marriage, you have two responsibilities:

  1. You must be transparent
    If you’re hiding something you probably know exactly what it is. Be brave, think of how and when to bring it up, and pray about what to say. Then ask God to flood your words and conversation with His brand of love. It may hurt momentarily, but healing will quickly begin.
  2. You must love relentlessly
    If your spouse is being transparent with you, sharing their shameful behavior – they’re trusting you with their heart. Ask God for grace to extend to them, and keep God’s love in mind.

Remember, we’re all imperfect, sin is sin, and Jesus is King – yet he still loves you and me beyond imagination; he even died to prove it.

Question: Do you have a transparent marriage? How did you “break the ice”?
If your marriage isn’t transparent yet, what is something you’re ashamed of that you need to share with your spouse? (rhetorical)


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Header image by the incredible Jeff Marsh.

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