Back in the 1970s I acquired the original idea from a speaker whose name I have long since forgotten. He based his presentation on Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” That admonition came just four verses behind “…each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully…” Telling the truth is the rule; however, there are times when one actually demonstrates more concern for the other by not saying anything at all.
Lying is wrong. On the other hand, telling the truth isn’t always beneficial.
Before getting to the tough applications, note this smaller example. I am possessed of a nose of sterling character and abundant volume. Reminding me that my nose is large would be telling the truth, but I assure you that it would NOT build me up according to my need. As I recall, the speaker said something to the effect;'”It’s not speaking the truth in love to point out negative things a person cannot do anything about.”
As simple as that may seem, my experience with thousands of married couples proves that his point about this is major. Hurting someone who has no control over their uniqueness is never adequately defended by claiming that you “just told the truth.” That’s not living by truthfulness; it’s being mean.
Now, let’s get to the tougher subject. What about those times when you have done something that you know will cause great pain to your spouse (parent, brother, sister, friend, neighbor, whomever) if they were to find out? Should you tell them what you did? If you decide you should tell, is there a “best scenario” as to when and how?
In my experience, the answers to those questions lie within the answers to three crucial questions. I base these questions on Ephesians 4:29, the principle of telling what builds them up according to their needs.
First Question: Is there any other way the person can find out? As much as it will hurt if you tell your spouse about something that you’ve done, it will hurt much, much more if they find out some other way. Whether the issue is porn, adultery, alcohol, gambling, spending money, being where you said you weren’t, or anything else, when they discover you hid the truth, they will be devastated. That devastation will be exponentially larger if they find out what you did by hearing it from someone else.
If there is any way they can find out, please care about the person enough to be the one to tell. It may hurt you more to share it, but it will help them more to hear it from you.
Second Question: Have they ever asked? If there is a lie on the table, it has to be removed. We could cite many passages that condemn lying, but the one that hits hard is John 8:44, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Lying puts you in confederation with the devil. It’s wrong.
If you’ve lied, correct it by telling the truth. Even if it hurts. Don’t live the rest of your relationship based on a lie.
Third Question: Is there any part of you that you hold back from your spouse — physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually — because of your feelings of guilt, shame, fear, or the like? Knowing that they’ve done something that will greatly hurt their spouse often affects people in this way. They aren’t as physically loving — especially in the marriage bed — or as connected emotionally, spiritually, or mentally. Because guilt and shame are ultimately destructive, they not only destroy the person who feels them but often the ones they love.
As I said to one woman, “Doesn’t he know that you are distant and holding yourself back from him? Don’t you think he deserves to know why?” She replied that he deserved to know, but that if she told him he would divorce her. In her situation, the secret was an affair some ten years before. I agreed that he might divorce her, but then said, “Do you want to feel like this for the rest of your married life? You want him to feel this distance for a lifetime? Yes, there is danger that he will divorce you but our experience over the last decade is that we are able, by God’s grace, to save three out of four marriages in crisis. We will stand beside you. You won’t be abandoned. No matter what you’ve done, we will treat you with dignity and respect. We will help.”
Think about the other person, not just yourself, and do what is best for them. If you are holding back yourself in any way from your spouse, they need — and deserve — to know why. It may not sound as if telling would build them up according to their needs, but from many years working with thousands of couples, I assure you that it is the way to give them what they need. Knowing what the problem is nearly always carries less pain and fear than wondering what the problem is.
There is no time like the present. Use good sense, of course. Make it private. Make it at a time and place where they can ask questions, express hurt, and show pain. However, if you wait for the perfect opportunity, it will never come.
About the author: Joe Beam founded Marriage Helper, an organization that provides marriage help to hurting couples. For more information on getting help for your marriage, click here.
If your marriage is in trouble, contact us by clicking here. Our success rate over the last decade is three out of four marriages, even when lies, adultery, porn, anger or other things have deeply hurt the relationship. God blesses us to save marriages even when one or both partners don’t wish to save it. If they come, whatever the reason, our success rate is extremely high.