Marriage: Q & A with Dr. Dave & Donalyn Currie—Honesty in Marriage
Is honesty really always the best policy in marriage? Sometimes I think I could avoid a lot of trouble by just telling my wife what she wants to hear. What do you think?
Donalyn: The one word answer is, “yes.” Honesty is absolutely the best policy in marriage. There are times when being honest creates some waves, but it’s better than the alternative. If I didn’t know for sure that I can trust Dave, I don’t think we’d have much of a relationship.
Dave: No, we wouldn’t. You see, at the core of any relationship is trust, and honesty is a critical part of building that trust. Where there is no deep sense of confidence in a person, there can be at best a shallow connection. Can you believe what they say? Are they going where they said they were? Are they telling only half of the story? Can you take them at their word?
Donalyn: Hard questions to ask. But it’s like there are 2 levels of honesty. There is the honesty of merely telling the truth and being open about life activities, circumstances and people. This is being truthful where have you been and what are you up to?
Dave: The second revolves around transparency and disclosure of your inner self. It’s about sharing of your feelings, failings, hurdles and victories. This is the honesty of authenticity – of revealing your heart.
Donalyn: This is likely the harder level of honesty.
Dave: To lie about your activities and to lie about your heart both have consequences. Things may be more peaceful on the surface if you don’t open up on these, but you’ll never experience the joy of knowing one another at the deepest levels if you don’t work through them.
Donalyn: Honesty is crucial because, without it there is the erosion of trust. If you tell even just one lie and your spouse finds out, the trust erodes. Things get pretty fragile when it’s violated. It opens the door for them to doubt your truthfulness in all other areas. It will be a wedge between you, and it could take months or even years for you to overcome that.
Dave: I need to know that when Donalyn speaks, I can believe whatever she says. If I am unsure about that for any reason, our relationship suffers. Make no mistake about it: when one spouse has to second-guess what the other is saying, it is a trouble season for the marriage. So it starts with being truthful and telling no lies. That is basic and so central to having great relationship.
Donalyn: I would say there is a real danger in just telling our spouse whatever we think they want to hear from us. It robs the relationship of authenticity. What your wife probably wants to hear is that you love, adore and cherish her. Those things can’t be faked. But can be worked on. Your job as a loving husband is to find ways to confirm that by your words, actions, and attitudes. When you do have to tell her something that you think may cause a lot of trouble between you, you should be guided by pure motives, wanting the best for her and your relationship.
Dave: That’s right. Being honest and being nice are not mutually exclusive. Appropriate disclosure requires being wise about when you choose to share certain information, and being sensitive in how you do it. Don’t use the adage, “the truth hurts” to justify hurting your wife or husband. AS that famous life principle says, we need to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:16). Your goal needs to be building a better relationship through mutual understanding and resolution of problems – through honesty and authenticity.
Donalyn: Your relationship with one another will never grow and improve if you are not free to share your feelings openly and safely. You need to have the security to be able to tell your spouse when you are being bothered by something, hurt by words, confused by attitudes or annoyed by habits. At the same time, there has to be room for grace. There are times when it’s best to let some of the little things slide.
Dave: Patience is a virtue. We need to cut each other some slack, allowing each other the freedom to make mistakes. So honesty doesn’t mean coming down hard on your spouse every time he or she does something that you don’t like. But if something is bothering you on an ongoing basis, choosing not to tell them about it is not smart. You will grow apart if you are not dealing with these irritations on a weekly basis. Share your frustrations and concerns – but always in a constructive way.
Donalyn: Unfortunately, there are also times when what needs to be shared does not fall into the category of a little frustration. I’m talking about worst-case scenarios like unfaithfulness or other major breaches of trust. If you are in a position where you need to ask your spouse to forgive you for some very poor choices that you’ve made, consider having a counselor or a close couple friend to help support your spouse as they receive the bad news.
Dave: And you know, I have had many people confess their affairs to me. My response is always the same: “What time today are we going to tell your spouse?” You may think that with all the pain it’s going to cause, it’s better to try to keep it a secret. But honesty is still the best policy, even in the worst-case scenario. It comes back to the question, “What kind of relationship do you want in the long run?” You can’t build one of lies. Yes, being honest will put you into some deep waters, and there’s going to need to be a long process of healing. But if you want the kind of relationship that’s worth having for a lifetime, ground level honesty must be part of the foundation that it’s built on on.
Donalyn: On the lighter side, there are also those questions that we all ask our spouse where there is no safe answer. For instance, if I ask Dave if he likes my new hairstyle and he really doesn’t, if he were to answer honestly with his opinion, my feelings would be hurt. In the case of opinions, I think it is okay to answer sensitively, rather than being brutally honest. For example, he could answer with something like, ”Darling, I think you look beautiful no matter what.” That’s the answer I would need from him.
Dave: Baloney! First thing you’d say is “so you don’t like it!” Men, there is no right answer on some of these. On these more touchy issues like “How do you like my hair cut?” or “Do I look fat in this?” well, good luck, men. Being honest here is not what they are looking for. The key point to remember on honesty in marriage in general is to work towards complete truthfulness and authenticity. That is the foundation of all the good marriages we know. Remember, you’ll never regret putting your marriage and family first.
Dr. Dave and Donalyn Currie have been working
with couples for over 25 years. They speak at conferences
and seminars all over North America. Ask them your
questions on marriage and family issues.