How can we be authentic with friends, but still honor our spouses, especially when we have marital struggles?
As soon as the words left my mouth, I knew I shouldn’t have said them. Some women responded by nodding sympathetically, and others smiled uncomfortably.
I had just complained about my husband in my small group, and predictably, another woman spoke up to empathize. Instead of feeling that I had gotten something off my chest, I just felt rotten. Thankfully, the group I belong to is a force of good in the world, and someone tactfully changed the tenor of the conversation to a more uplifting discussion about the differences between men and women.
Moments like that have made me reflect on what is good and helpful to share with other people about your marriage, and what is not helpful — or is just downright damaging.
On one hand, if you pretend that you have never had any problems with your spouse, you may paint an unrealistic picture of marriage that makes others discouraged.
On the other hand, if you only share the defeats and discomforts of marriage, you’ll be doing marriage in general — as well as your own marriage — a disservice.
Some vulnerability is important, but where to find that line can be challenging. I’m not a marriage expert. But, here are some ways I’ve discovered to help guide me toward what to share and how to share it.
First, what is it always helpful to share?
Looking at Philippians 4:8 is a good guide,
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
What good things does your spouse do regularly? What moments of sweetness have you seen? How does he love you and others well? In what ways have you helped each other grow over the time you have been married?
I have a friend who inspires me whenever she shares about her marriage. She speaks so lovingly about her husband that it elevates the whole tone of both the conversation and the room. Her praise and obvious admiration for him colors how I see him for the better, even though I don’t know him very well.
The reality of every marriage is that two broken people are struggling to learn to love and grow together. Focusing on the triumphs and beauty that you have seen in your spouse bears tremendous fruit.
Next, let’s talk about what you shouldn’t share …
Overall, venting, criticizing, and complaining about your spouse is never helpful. Think about it. What does sharing something negative about your spouse do? Does it solve the problem? It might make you feel better momentarily, as venting usually does, but it’s not a long-term solution.
Instead, the more you dwell on your struggles without doing anything to fix them, the more those take center stage and become all you can focus on. Additionally, it makes whoever is listening see your spouse in a negative light.
Is there a time and place for sharing how you and your spouse have worked (or are currently working) through each other’s shortcomings? I think so. It is helpful to know how other people have overcome struggles in their marriages, and it is reassuring to know you are not alone. But, it’s not an everyday sort of conversation, and shouldn’t be shared without your spouse’s consent.
How can we be authentic?
My friend who speaks so admiringly of her husband has also taught me how to fruitfully share about the challenges that arise in marriage.
When it becomes relevant in conversation, especially one-on-one, she gently shares how she and her husband have sorted out their differences of opinion, or how they’ve failed to communicate and then learned better communication skills. It is never a one-sided explanation suggesting that one spouse is entirely at fault, but an honest yet loving description of how two people have grown together in love despite their failings.
I realize there are serious problems that come up in marriage. I’m not advocating that you ignore problems or brush them under the rug while grinning and bearing it. Not only will that lead to resentment and more hurt, but it can damage a relationship substantially.
If there is a problem that you aren’t sure how to resolve, or don’t even know how to figure out what the problem is, it’s time to find a counselor—not a friend, or worse, a group of friends. The Catholic Charities in your area may be able to direct you to counseling services who have a sliding pay scale if money is tight.
Life is short. Jesus, help us to live our marriages well!