Let’s face it, sharing our concerns with our spouse can sometimes feel like walking into a landmine! On the one hand, there must be complete truthfulness in order for conflicts to be resolved. But we also know that the truth often hurts! The practice of speaking the truth in love, so as to not wound or offend the other party, is an art and something that takes years of practice.
So how do we share concerns with our spouse in a way that we are being both completely transparent and loving? In other words, how do we speak the truth in love? While there is no “cookie cutter” recipe, there are basic principles we can learn to apply that will allow us to have fruitful relationships.
If you don’t reveal the problems, they will reveal themselves.
Some of you may be thinking, “I don’t have a problem with being truthful. I don’t lie; I’m honest.” But many times, because we fear confrontation, or because we don’t want to cause trouble, or because we’re afraid that if our real feelings were revealed, the relationship might suffer, we fail to speak the truth. I have counseled with wives who were ready to divorce their husbands. When I’ve asked if they’ve ever talked honestly with him about the problems, they say, “Oh, no, I couldn’t do that! He’d explode!” So, they’d rather divorce him than speak truthfully to him about their problems!
For healing and correction to take place, there must be truthful communication. You can’t deal with a problem you’re not aware of because you deny it; the problem hasn’t been revealed to you; or you simply ignore it. To plaster over our feelings or thoughts and put on a happy face when there is a problem does not foster healthy relationships. In reality, that kind of behavior is more destructive than speaking the truth in love.
I’m not suggesting that a couple be ruthlessly honest in sharing everything. Some things don’t need to be shared. I can’t provide a formula on what not to share (that’s another discussion in itself!). But I will say this: The motive in speaking the truth must not be selfish– to gain the upper hand, to further one’s own happiness, or “just to get it off my chest.” The motive must be to grow in closeness with your mate. The motive should be to help the other person grow towards maturity. In other words, the motive is selfless love, to seek the highest good of your mate because you care deeply for him or her. With that motive, a couple must learn to lay aside falsehood and speak truth so that conflicts can be resolved.
Sticks and stones may break my bones….
We all know the rest of that saying, but it could not be further from the truth. Careless words hurt and can cause deep wounds. Proverbs 12:18 states, “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” In other words, your tongue can be a sword to wound and kill, or it can be a scalpel to deal carefully with the problem and bring healing.
When speaking the truth, words whose purpose is to wound, not heal, must be put away. Destructive speech that tears down the other person will not resolve conflicts or create closeness with your spouse. There is a proper place for criticism or confrontation, but it should be with the goal of helping, not hurting. A good rule of thumb is, if it’s painful for you to criticize, you’re probably safe in doing it. But if you take the slightest pleasure in it, hold your tongue.
We are not just to hold our tongue, however. We are to replace destructive words with constructive words that build up the other person at his/her point of need; and not because he/she deserves it, but because our love is gracious, and thus we are to be gracious in our speech.
Speaking the truth in love requires good timing.
Applying these principles of truthful communication in our relationships also requires us to be sensitive to the timing of sharing. I think of times when my wife and I were first married. We were given the counsel by the pastor who married us to “not let the sun go down upon your anger.” Unfortunately for us, I grabbed ahold of this idea and decided that my wife and I would never go to bed angry. As you can imagine, this was disastrous, and more importantly, I misunderstood the principle.
Much to her credit, my wife responded to this by saying: “you can do whatever you want; but, I’m going to bed!” I was so angry. Some of my longest and hardest runs (I’m a “runner”) were on those nights. I would run so hard and long – usually in one direction – away from home. Do you know what the problem is with running in one direction? You still have to come back! God used these times to really begin working on me. God showed me the real meaning of this scripture – it was MY anger that I needed to give to Him, not OUR anger!
God is certainly willing to show us what we need to do, change, or remind us of those times when we need to be quiet and listen – especially to Him. Sometimes, these quiet times are the most informative in teaching us how to speak the truth in love.
If you find yourself in a relationship where you cannot share your concerns with your spouse either because you fear their reaction, or fear what it will do to the relationship, I invite you to reach out to us. I would love to have a conversation with you about your struggles, your fears and how I can help you have better communication with your spouse in a way that invites connection.
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