Practicing complete honesty in marriage and having nothing to hide isn’t as scary as you think. Being transparent can transform your marriage.
The sound of scraping metal grabbed Michael’s attention, and he slammed on his brakes. He had brushed against the retaining wall next to their driveway.
Uh-oh, he thought. Sarah is going to be angry.
He got out of the car and examined the front fender. There’s so little damage, it really isn’t worth mentioning to her, he reasoned.
He wasn’t going to lie about what he’d done; he just wasn’t going to be forthcoming with her. When the truth eventually came out, he and Sarah had to deal not only with the fender damage but also with the broken trust in their relationship.
In marriage, we can be tempted to hide things from our spouse, fearing how they’ll react or what they’ll think. Or we may shrug off an issue we need to discuss, hoping to avoid conflict, or worse, judgment and criticism. We pretend everything is fine when it actually isn’t.
Dave and I use a handy acronym to describe what we’re really doing when we say, “Everything is fine.” FINE means faking, ignoring, neglecting and evading the truth. It means we’re not practicing total honesty in marriage.
Not being totally honest with your spouse may seem like the easiest or safest way to avoid conflict, criticism or an uncomfortable conversation. That may be true in the short term, but in the long run, it will prevent you from experiencing the oneness God desires for your marriage. You can’t sidestep transparency if you want a fulfilling and deeply satisfying marriage. Here are some tips for cultivating transparency in your relationship:
Commit to honesty in marriage
“Is anything wrong?” Dave asked me one day when he noticed my moodiness.
I shook my head and gave the same answer I’d given every other time I’d been frustrated with him: “Everything’s fine.”
But everything wasn’t fine. And to make matters worse, he always took me at my word. What I failed to understand was that my lack of forthrightness was making us both unhappy in our marriage.
This exhausting cycle continued until one day I was trying to hang a curtain rod, and it wasn’t cooperating. Dave noticed that I was frustrated. When he asked if something was wrong, I told him that everything was fine.
He took me at my word as usual and went for a jog. When he returned, I was so upset that I yelled at him for not figuring out what I needed from him. That’s when it hit me: I hadn’t been honest. I eventually mustered the courage to share what was really on my heart, and that’s when our marriage started to change for the better.
When you commit to being completely transparent with your spouse, you’re essentially saying, “I have nothing to hide from you.”
Being totally vulnerable with each other can be scary at first, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. And it can transform your marriage into the safest, sweetest and most intimate relationship you’ve ever known.
Speak words graciously
“Eew, you stink!”
“Don’t wear that! It’s embarrassing.”
“You don’t need that extra slice of pizza, do you?”
Some couples have mastered the art of honesty in marriage, but they have no concept of tenderness. Nagging, criticism and sarcasm are offered freely without a second thought about how they might be received. In a couple’s dogged pursuit of honesty, they might use words that tear each other down rather than build each other up.
Words can draw us closer to each other, or they can drive us further apart. Dave and I have learned to consider our words and use them to communicate our love and commitment instead of using them as weapons. We try to eliminate criticism, sarcasm, threats (like divorce), profanity and little white lies (like “I’m fine”) from our vocabulary.
We’ve also found that sometimes the wisest thing to say is nothing at all. Not every thought that enters our heads needs to be shared. Nothing good can come from expressing thoughts such as Wow! Your best friend is gorgeous or You were more attractive before you started going bald. Certainly, we should err on the side of sharing what’s on our hearts, but when our thoughts are critical or hurtful, we should remain silent and process them before speaking.
Ephesians 4:15 admonishes us to speak “the truth in love.” In other words, we should always be honest and loving. A few verses later, Paul explains what speaking the truth in love looks like in practical terms: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (verse 32). Being both honest and loving can be a difficult tightrope to walk, but we can choose to live in the tension it presents.
Truth and grace
One day while we were out shopping together, I placed a nose-hair trimmer in our cart. Then I put my arm around Dave and softly whispered, “Trust me. It’s time for this.”
He looked surprised to see the trimmer and laughed, probably thinking it was a joke. Then he discreetly reached up to feel his upper lip. He looked amazed as he discovered that he had the beginnings of a mustache emerging from his nostrils.
A loving spouse will tell us the truth wrapped in tenderness and grace, even when it may be difficult to hear. Tenderhearted transparency is an often-overlooked secret to lifelong love that requires the courage to confess our sins and shortcomings to each other without judgment, and the grace to offer and receive forgiveness. It also means refusing to keep score of one another’s faults.
As you practice tenderhearted transparency and honesty in your marriage — being vulnerable with each other, speaking the truth in love and giving one another grace, forgiveness and encouragement — you’ll be amazed at the difference this will make in your relationship.
© 2022 Ashley Willis and Dave Willis. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
DAVE AND ASHLEY WILLIS