Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. – James 5:16 (Msg)
I was about six years old, my younger sister was five, and we were playing the game all children know without being taught – The Lava Game. We jumped and chased each other from Couch Island to Coffee Table Raft to Chair Island and back again, escaping the carpet of lava by our bravery and incredible leaping. Over and over we jumped and chased until… I slipped. I made it to the Coffee Table Raft, but slipped and it cracked in half. I fell, sinking into the lava, shocked that the table gave way. I was doomed.
I quickly scrambled to put the table back together. Impossible. I propped up a thin cereal box under the table, holding the two halves together, and covered the massive crack with strategically placed magazines. Would mom ever find out? A few hours later, everything was still in place, and from the kitchen my mom called to me to clean up the living room. “Get that box out from under the coffee table.” Um… “Ok?”… I didn’t do it. She asked a few more times, each time I pretended I was from another planet and simply did not understand her request. I could stall no longer. She stood over me as I reached under the table to take the box. The table fell, magazines everywhere, and she gasped. I tried to look surprised. I’ll bet I just looked guilty. I don’t exactly remember what happened next, but I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant.
When you’re not six years old anymore, it’s easy to see how ridiculous that plan was. Did I think I could keep that box under the table forever? Did I think nobody would ever want to pick up any of the magazines and discover the giant crack? Six-year-olds aren’t exactly known for thinking into the future, even five minutes into the future. I knew I would be in trouble and all I could do was scramble to try to save myself. I avoided consequences for approximately 3.5 hours.
As adults, we can sometimes manage to avoid consequences for a little bit longer than that. We might be able to hide what we’ve done for a time, keep a secret, cover our tracks, try to move on. However, what we cannot hide from is our God-given conscience. The weight of guilt, the covering up, the little white lies can be exhausting. And, in the case of our marriages, we may think we are only hurting ourselves. But, secrets have other consequences.
Secrets and Consequences
When we make a mistake and try to cover it up ourselves or keep it a secret, we begin to diminish the possibilities for intimacy. We can never truly experience the blessing of knowing and being known when we keep little parts of ourselves from our spouses. Secrets divide, they cause us not to trust each other, and without trust our relationships suffer. According to this study, “Self-concealment from one’s partner [is] associated with lower relationship satisfaction and commitment.”
Secrets have an illusive power. I’ve withheld information from my husband before and the longer I take to tell him, the more I convince myself he doesn’t need to know. “Why does he need to know exactly how much money I just spent on that haircut? We’re a team, he should trust me, I shouldn’t have to tell him I spent double the amount that was in our budget, should I?” And yet, it’s in those little justifications I separate myself from him and decide I am better on my own.
Have you ever kept a secret from your spouse? Have you ever mustered up the courage to confess? Most often, if someone says they have a confession to make, the next thing they say can be pretty hard to hear. Because, before there is a confession, there is a secret. There is something hidden, something that separates, something in the way of intimacy. An additional study shows a direct link between keeping secrets, or “self concealment,” and feelings of exclusion and loneliness. How awful to feel excluded and lonely in your own marriage. What a difficult thing that would be to recover from! Have you experienced the liberating sensation of being freed from the secret you kept?
My friend Holly told me recently that she’d been on the receiving end of a confession from her husband, Tony. She said she could tell he’d had something on his mind all day, something eating away at him. As they got ready for bed that night he said the fateful words, “Holly, I have a confession.” Ready for the worst, she braced herself. “I bought steaks out of a guy’s trunk today.”
“You mean, like the guy that was outside of our house last week trying to sell you steaks? The guy we said ‘No’ to?”
“Yeah, well I saw him again,” Tony shrugged. “This time I caved in and bought them.”
Relieved and thankful, Holly laughed. “No big deal,” she said. “It was just thirty dollars worth of meat.”
Regular confession is necessary because we make mistakes regularly. Sometimes our mistakes and sins are right out in the open. Sometimes they aren’t. Regardless of how insignificant Holly thought his secret was, Tony was already dealing with the guilt of keeping something from his wife. He could have gotten away with this one. I love that he confessed! I love that he didn’t hold on to it, convincing himself it was none of her business. I love that she laughed. I love that, as they make confession a common practice, they will continue to experience healing and wholeness, and intimacy and love.
There will be other times when a confession won’t be so easy. If you’re keeping a secret you know you should confess, here are a few things that might help.
Making the Best of Your Confession
1. Consider Timing
A drive-by confession – as your husband is heading out the door for work, as your wife is getting the house ready for dinner guests – is selfish. Make sure you have time to talk, time for your spouse to absorb, time to ask and answer any questions.
2. Full Disclosure
Avoid confessing only the things you might get caught for and leaving out the aspects your spouse is not likely to find out about on their own. Trust comes from honesty, and deciding how much truth your spouse deserves to know is just as dishonest as the secret you’re keeping in the first place.
3. Ask for forgiveness
Depending on the nature of your confession, your spouse may want some time to process their own feelings. Ask for forgiveness humbly, not only for whatever you confess, but also for keeping secrets at all. Know that, as you ask, you hold your spouse under no obligation to extend mercy. You can also read this post for more on apologizing.
4. No excuses
Don’t thwart your own confession by making excuses for your actions. The worst thing you can do is say, “I’m sorry, but ________________”. Just, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what I did. Will you forgive me?” If your spouse has questions, of course offer an explanation. Just make sure that your explanation is not also your attempt to be let off the hook. In order for trust to grow, you need to own your mistakes and not lay blame or guilt on your spouse to make yourself feel better.
In the end, while this can be a painful process, trust and know that it will result in higher levels of trust for both of you. It is my hope that you are reading this blog because you want to stay married, and it’s tough to stay married when you are keeping secrets from each other.
On Monday, I’ll share some thoughts on what to do when you are on the receiving end of the confession. In the mean time, try this with your spouse today: “Honey, I don’t want to have secrets between us. I feel like I should tell you ____________________.”
Confessing to one another is sure to help you #staymarried.