by Leslie De Morais
Characteristic #1: Honesty
“Honesty is such a lonely word…everyone is so untrue…honesty is hardly ever heard…and mostly what I need from you.” Billy Joel’s lyrics ring true. We all desire honesty in our relationships and especially in our marriage. As with all the other items on the Strong Marriage Check List, we must first ask ourselves, “Do I have the characteristic I’m seeking in my spouse?”
During an eight-week marriage course my husband and I took a few years back, the question of honesty arose. Using a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being a perfect score), we were asked to rate each other on a list of desirable qualities for our marriage and then discuss our ratings with our spouse. As I thought about my husband, he scored well on all the honesty related queries. I assumed we’d breeze through that portion of the survey. I was wrong. First, I shared all the high marks I gave him, smiling and innocent as to what was to befall me. Then, as he took in a deep breath and revealed my shoddy scores, “Five in truthfulness, four in openness, and five in candor,” I gasped aloud. “What!” Was there time to revise the scores I had given him? How could this be? What was he thinking? If I had been a Russian gymnast, I’d have been given a one-way ticket on the next train to Siberia with scores like that!
We tend to think of honesty as simply telling the truth, which it certainly is. However, it is more than that. It’s not holding back any of the truth. It’s not sugarcoating or telling half-truths. No omissions or filtering. Honesty risks angering or even hurting your spouse’s feelings so they can know you fully and completely. Sometimes it risks losing someone’s admiration or good opinion of you.
“How have I been dishonest with you?” I demanded to know. “You don’t share your dreams with me,” he replied. Whoa. He was right. I had made a conscious yet semi-unconscious decision to stop sharing certain thoughts, dreams and aspirations with him some time ago. I wasn’t even sure when, but I had done it. Why? Well, my husband is one of those realists, you know the kind, tell him a goal and he’ll be sure to show you how and why it won’t work. Share a starry-eyed dream with him and he’ll shoot it full of holes. Moreover, he thinks he’s doing you a favor by explaining why you shouldn’t waste your time, money and effort on something that won’t work. I had good reasons not be open about my fragile, vulnerable and precious little dreams…I didn’t want them killed!
So, with great care and uncanny detail, I reminded him of past massacres. He agreed and admitted he had not known how to listen to my dreams without resisting the urge to adjust them so they made sense in his mind. Okay. Now we were starting to get somewhere. As we continued to unravel the honesty dilemma, we came to several very important conclusions about how we approach life in different ways; neither way was better, nor worse, just different. As a compromise, we adopted the French phrase, “Vive la différence!”
Just as I thought we could move on to the next item on the survey, he asked, “So, are you going to start sharing your dreams with me?” I was hoping he wouldn’t ask. I was hoping I could share just a little bit more and it might be enough. He wanted it all. That would leave me feeling uncomfortably vulnerable at the chance of reliving past disappointments where dreams, goals and aspirations were slashed and slaughtered, much like the protagonist’s friends in a teen horror flick.
“But what if you do it again? What if you step on my dreams and discourage me?” I asked.
“It’s possible. I’m not perfect. I may not be able to change overnight. But if you don’t take the first step by opening up I’ll never have the chance to change,” he refuted. I couldn’t argue that rationale. “And besides,” he continued, “as Christians, we do what’s right because it’s right, not because someone else reacts perfectly.” Match, set and game. He was right. I could not continue to shield myself. If honesty was truly important to me, I had to risk openness because the reward of true closeness and unity was too great. It would most likely require some patience and undoubtedly some forgiveness on my part, but if he was willing to change his evil ways then I was too.
Share Your Life Openly
Some Bible study helped me to gain more conviction about what I was learning. Honesty, to be fully effective, goes hand in hand with love. Consider this scripture:
Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. – 1 Thessalonians 2:8b (NIV)
In the beginning of the chapter, the Apostle Paul addresses the fact that even though Silas, Timothy and he had “suffered and been treated outrageously” in Philippi (the previous town on their missionary journey), they did not fail to share the gospel with the Thessalonians. They did it out of love; love for God, love for Christ and love for those who needed to hear the message. Their hope that the Thessalonians would soon become their brothers in Christ outweighed their fear of being hurt once more.
I couldn’t claim to have suffered or been treated outrageously when my husband applied his realist’s viewpoints to my dreams. There were even instances when he raised valid points about feasibility and finances. His perspective challenged me to do more than dream.
Speak the Truth in Love
For some, being completely honest is not an easy task because they are more concerned with their spouse’s feelings than with genuine openness. Others, are all too willing to tell it like it is, but lack the sensitivity required when discussing difficult topics. Biblical honesty will call us to new heights in our marriages. Honesty can inspire deep change and meaningful growth, not only in ourselves but also in others. However, there’s a way to do it.
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. – Ephesians 4:15 (NIV)
The word instead refers to the prior verse, which talks about the immaturity and instability that comes from unbiblical teachings and unspiritual influences. Only through speaking the truth in love will we ever obtain the unity taught in the rest of the passage.
My husband Alcides and I have decided to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth…in love. It’s a decision I need to make repeatedly because I’m tempted to protect my feelings. We also made the decision to listen in love.
Honesty. Can you check this off on your list?
Decide to be open. Decide to speak the truth in love.
I’m convinced, it’s one of the best ways to stay in love.
As with any check list, this one may show your strengths and weaknesses, what’s already present and what’s missing from your relationship. A check list reveals where you’re at and where you need to go. The good news is you can celebrate what’s going well and make a plan to fortify what’s lacking in your marriage. With reliance on God and some attention to the matter, you’ll soon be checking all the boxes!