How honest can you be with your spouse? Is your marriage vulnerable and safe enough to communicate honestly? Are you free from critique and condemnation, which releases you to talk transparently?
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It may serve you to begin thinking about these kinds of questions by focusing on how you relate to the Lord. For example, you are called to imitate Him in your relationship with others, especially with your spouse (Ephesians 5:1).
The starting place of how you think about relating to others is to reflect on how you interact with God, which will provide you with a template for how to interact with individuals.
I suspect you are open, honest, and transparent with the Lord. You freely talk to Him (prayer), and He willingly speaks to you (Bible). He knows you through and through, and although your relationship is not perfect because you’re not perfect, you are maturing in your relationship with Him.
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. – Ephesians 2:14
Because of the gospel, you have a relationship with the Lord that teaches you how to engage others, even if those relationships are complicated. God is the hostility remover, who enables you to enjoy peace with Him and with others.
If you are married, you have a remarkable opportunity to export your relationship with the Lord to your spouse. But you may say, “Rick, you’re crazy. That’s impossible! You don’t know my spouse.” And I agree with you.
- I’m probably a little crazy.
- It is impossible…at least impossible apart from the grace of God.
- And I do not know your spouse.
I do know what a Christian marriage could be like and how you should be striving to imitate the life of Christ in your marriage (1 Corinthians 11:1). Imitating Jesus and exporting His life and values to others are what all Christians should be doing in their relationships.
Think with me for a moment of what it could look like if you chose to imitate God in your marriage. You can do this by thinking about two of the ways you relate to the Lord. There are plenty of ways to emulate Him, but for this chapter, I want to focus on two.
- He does not condemn you. Therefore you should be striving to live in a non-condemning marriage.
- He wants to listen to you. Therefore you should be quick to listen to your spouse.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. – Romans 8:1
God never condemns, mocks, criticizes or puts you down when you share your heart with Him (Ephesians 4:29). He is always ready to listen and prepared to help. The Lord knows your frame and understands your weaknesses. He desires to uplift, encourage, and speak into your various situations with love (Psalm 103:12-14).
I’m sure you understand and appreciate this characteristic of the Lord but how does it work out in your marriage? Have you ever put something out there for your spouse to hear only to quickly retract it because your moment of transparency collided with unkindness or disinterest?
Condemnation Illustrated – Mable has longed to have an open and honest relationship with her husband, Biff. Through the years she ventured into the “transparent zone” with him only to be criticized or mocked.
Most of the time when she tried to be transparent she felt his criticism. It would sting, which motivated her to withdraw. Little by little, the distance between them became greater and greater.
Biff was clueless about these communication flaws in their relationship. From his perspective, everything was fine because they were not fighting. When they did fight, he typically rebuked her by letting her know where she was wrong.
If he messed up and could not wiggle out of his actions, he would do a quick fly over to smooth things out, which was his way of justifying his actions. Then he would be off to the next thing.
Mable found more community in her ladies Bible study on Tuesday mornings than with Biff. She felt unheard and misunderstood by Biff (1 Peter 3:7), as well as immature for bringing up her little annoyances about him.
Their marriage problems created “pockets of silence” in her heart to where she insulated herself from Biff’s insensitivity. He did not know this when I brought it up to him during a counseling session. It soon became apparent he did not see a lot of things about Mable’s secret life. She was lonely inside, which was a dangerous place for any woman longing for relationship.
Though she did not discern it initially, she began to drift from her relationship with Biff (and from the Lord). Facebook, texting, and her Bible study were her primary communication substitutes. She was aware of the growing bitterness in her heart, but she felt trapped in her marriage. Though she had resigned herself to “this is the way it will always be,” she did not like how things were.
She was not only vulnerable to the alluring temptations of Facebook, texting, and her Bible study, but she was unwittingly open to any caring male relationship. Mable and Biff had drifted from the goal of being open and honest with each other.
It was worse than that. They were heading in opposite directions. After the children are out of the house and Biff retires, it will be difficult for them to stay married. Unless Biff finds a hobby and Mable continues her Facebook fascination, being together will be one long silence until death gives Mable the freedom she desires.
Time to Reflect
As you think through the “condemnation aspects” of your marriage, these questions can apply to either gender.
- When your spouse shares her heart with you, is your posture inviting and desirous to learn more?
- Are you quick to give an answer or are you ready to listen, while asking clarifying questions so you can understand (James 1:19)?
- How often do you ask your spouse about her “secret thoughts?” Do you seek to explore them with her?
- Do you see your spouse as an inexhaustible discovery to be enjoyed or as an exhausting human being?
- Do your spouse’s weaknesses get on your nerves? How are you discipling your spouse through those imperfections?
Ready to Listen
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. – Philippians 2:3
This second aspect of imitating Jesus in your marriage focuses on Christ’s lack of self-interest. One of the statements I like about the gospel is that if it anchors you, there is nothing to fear, nothing to defend, nothing to lose, and nothing to hide.
Jesus is like that. He is so secure in His relationship with you that He can take your angry responses and other ways you express your disappointments to Him. You are allowed to let Him know what you’re thinking.
Jesus is about you. He dramatically proved this by going to the cross in your place. Though you should never be angry with God, it is possible, and if that were the case, your anger would never disorient Him. He would listen to you and love you in response (Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:8). That is the kind of love husbands and wives should imitate and enjoy.
Insecurity Illustrated – Biff is immature and insecure. If Mable says anything that relates to him, their marriage, and the need for change, Biff takes it personally and usually sulks in response to her remarks.
Mable does not believe she can be completely honest with him because of his insecurities. This issue causes her to take a guarded posture around Biff. Rather than speaking openly and honestly about what is going on with them, it is more like talking to a child, where every word has to be measured and weighed before she can share it.
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. – John 16:2
She is pulling double duty: Not only does she have to care for her soul, but she has to care for her husband’s too. She has to grow him up before he can contribute to her sanctification. She tries not to be self-righteous about it, but it is hard. Biff is a weak, immature, and insecure husband.
He does not process things through a Scriptural lens. He discerns stuff through his past personal experiences and hurts. His dad was a mean and condemning man, who had a significant shaping influence on Biff’s life.
Whenever anyone says anything negative to Biff, he becomes defensive, argumentative, and feels the need to justify himself or worse, retaliates. These reactions make Biff a tedious man, which weighs heavy on Mable’s soul. She grows weary being around him because of his deep insecurity.
There is ongoing and seemingly unresolvable inequitable-ness in their relationship. It is similar to a college student married to an eighth grader. Biff is so different from Christ. He esteems himself more than he esteems his wife, which disables him from being Christ to her.
Time to Reflect
- Are you mature enough to listen to your spouse without feeling threatened? If not, how do you need to change?
- Will you filter what she is saying through the lens of Scripture rather than your personal experience?
- Will you embrace and engage your spouse’s words from a position of God’s strength rather than through your weaknesses?
- Will you disciple your spouse when she shares hurts or are you more concerned with how you are affected by her words?
- Which is more important: to be more right than your spouse or to serve your spouse?
Call to Action
As you think about this chapter and how it applies to your spouse, whether it’s your husband or wife who needs to change, here are two tips to factor into how you think about the two question sets I’ve presented to you.
Tip #1 – Look For Presence, Not Perfection: When a couple becomes married, they will not have perfected how they communicate with each other. After twenty years of marriage, they will not have perfect communication.
I appeal to you to not get hung up on or expect perfection in the way your spouse talks to you. As you think about your marriage, give less consideration to the ideal of a virtue, and more time cultivating the presence of it.
For example, I am not asking if you have perfected the gift of encouragement, but are you able to encourage at all? Do you have an encouragement gene? If you are more about condemning and critiquing, the place to begin is to ask the Lord to teach you how to encourage.
Tip #2 – Determine Direction Of Your Marriage: Are you both pointed in the right direction? Are you seeking daily to remove the outer layer of fig leaves in your lives so you can grow closer together (Genesis 3:7)? If you are not heading in the right direction, I appeal to you to change your course. You must repent.
If you are not able to work through the questions presented in this chapter, you need help. Do not be embarrassed to find that help. If you cannot secure it in your church, reach out to us. We can serve you. You can ask your questions on our free public forum. If you are a supporting member, you can do here. If you prefer to meet with one of our counselors, please check out this page.
You do not have to go through your marriage problems alone. They may not change, but you can surround yourself with a loving, caring, and competent community.
Also published on Medium.