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Tool #2 to Rebuild Trust in Marriage: Tell the Truth

By Samuel Rainey

First posted on

Note from Dennis: This post is part of a six-part series by my son, Samuel, on rebuilding trust in marriage. Samuel is a professional counselor and, with his wife Stephanie, is part of the speaker team for FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. This series offers great help from a man who has helped many couples in their marriage. 

by Samuel Rainey

"Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment." ~ Proverbs 12:19

I love what author Flannery O'Conner quips about telling the truth. She says, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.” 

It’s my experience that there is a direct correlation with the amount of time it takes to tell the truth and the severity of betrayal in a relationship. In the case of Rashad and Susanna (the couple I introduced at the beginning of this series), when he confronted her with her overspending, it was not uncommon for her to withhold the full truth or outright lie about her behavior.

I have worked with hundreds of couples who have experienced a wide range of betrayal. Usually the most difficult to repair are acts of sexual immorality by a spouse. And it’s almost always the same: Spouse finds evidence of betrayal, confronts their partner, and some part of the truth is told, and a large part of the truth is withheld. Then, over the following days, weeks, and sometimes months, the full truth seeps out of the offender like a slow leak on a car tire.

This slow leak of truth always delays and impedes the healing process.

The idea of telling the truth doesn’t sound so hard. Pretty simple, right? Just tell the truth. But take a moment here and pause. Is there something in your life that you’re withholding or hiding from your spouse, or from someone else that you love? Is there a secret you are keeping that would hurt another person? If there is, ask God what you need to do with it as you read the next several paragraphs.

Telling the truth regarding a personal failure or mistake, is way more difficult. I typically don’t want to share things that will paint me in a bad light. I want people to like me, and if I make a mistake, they may not.

Public relations firms are fantastic about being able to take bad news and put a compelling spin on it. I think that each of us has our own internal PR firm that is run by our ego. I like to refer to mine as my personal CEO—Chief Ego Officer.

Most of us want to look good to the external world so we feel good about ourselves. When we do something problematic, our personal PR firm is put to work. I call it the “Wizard of Oz” temptation. You may recall that Dorothy and her friends were frightened of the all-powerful Oz until her dog pulled back a curtain and revealed the wizard was a normal old man. In the same way, we want to hide our frail, limited, and fearful self behind the curtain. We create distractions or illusions for the external world that keeps them from seeing how vulnerable we feel. This is true for everyone, even those that appear to have no flaws!

Years ago I had a bad habit of coming home late from work. I would walk in the door and immediately run over to the kids to start playing with them so Stephanie wouldn’t be mad at me. Then I would start peppering her with details about my day—how stressful it was, the friend who stopped me in the parking lot to tell me about the divorce he was going through, etc. Yes, all of these things were true, but I said all this to distract (spin!) the truth that I didn’t manage my time well. My personal PR firm was in high gear at getting ahead of the story. I did not want the story to be that I was late.

Don’t run a PR campaign about your actions. Tell the truth about what you did. Allow the other person the freedom to have their feelings about your actions. Don’t dismiss, distract, or attempt to cover up why you did what you did. 

Telling the truth builds courage in you. The truth is sometimes very scary and vulnerable. We need courage in order to say or do something difficult.

The definition of courage is doing something in the face of fear or danger. Telling the truth will grow your courage muscle. The benefit of this for you and the other person is a sense of safety together. Not safe like nothing bad will happen, but safe because you both know you’ll be honest, regardless of the danger or fear.

Telling the truth ...

Builds in you: Courage

Helps others trust in your: Safety

Samuel Rainey, son of Barbara and Dennis Rainey, is a marriage and family therapist. He and his wife Stephanie have four kids.

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