The word confess sounds intimidating, but it’s really not. In fact, all my relationships – including my marriage – depend on it. And so do yours.
Too often the idea of sharing our dirty laundry with others makes us feel nervous, unsafe, and too vulnerable. So we put on a good face and keep the bad stuff hidden from sight.
Fear will make you hide
Whenever my husband confronted me on something my immediate response was to come up for air. I got defensive, rolled my eyes, got emotionally charged, or argued my case. In a nutshell, I was really just trying to save face.
After repeating this a thousand times, I realized my response was an attempt to cover my shame. That painful feeling of embarrassment combined with the exposure of my wrong or foolish behavior made me want to run and hide. The voice of shame says, “I don’t deserve, I haven’t earned, I’m not good enough, they’re out to get me” and encourages us to perform, to succeed, to be perfect so we can earn love and security. I feared that any wrongdoing would somehow expose that I was a failure, and failures were unworthy of love. Confrontation felt like I was being exposed, like the rug was being pulled back to reveal all the junk I’d been sweeping under it for so long. My response was a way to deflect attention away from myself. To turn a blind eye to the hurt and pain I had caused. Instead of facing my behavior, I ran from it in all sorts of ways.
Shame will make you blind
Given enough time, you can actually create your own personal blindness. I didn’t want to believe I could act that way toward my spouse, so I either excused it or turned a blind eye to it. Often I would look at my behavior and think, it’s not really that bad. I only reacted that way because I was hurt. Eventually I convinced myself to the point where I couldn’t actually see my behavior anymore.
Being honest about our mess-ups feels like going we’re against the grain of all things natural. But it’s necessary.
In reality, my lack of confession was hindering my marriage and inhibiting change. After years of banging my head against the marital wall, I finally got it. Without confession, there can be no change. For how can you change behavior you never admit is there in the first place? If I never recognize how I am hurting my spouse (or others), there can be no confession, no real repentance. And nothing will ever change.
Confessing will make you free
“Shame caused me to hide. And that is a problem. Because the more we hide, the harder it is to be known. And we have to be known to connect.” Donald Miller
The problem with shame is that it keeps us separated from those we love. Real intimacy and connection requires vulnerability and transparency. And shame despises both. Shame tells us we need to be perfect to receive love. That we need to impress and achieve. That there is something wrong with us and we must cover it up in order to be accepted. Shame encourages us to hide our hearts and deny any behavior that could ruin our image or expose us for who we “really are.”
In order to have healthy relationships, You have to be vulnerable. Big surprise, I know. But if you want your marriage to grow, you must be honest with God, yourself, and others. About the bad stuff. About the stuff deep down that you would rather keep tucked away. The stuff that would embarrass you to admit.
Shame cannot survive an intimate relationship. It is either undone or it abandons the relationship to stay safe.
“If I spend the rest of our marriage believing she won’t love me unless I [perform], our marriage will be a disaster. God is going to reveal me as a flawed human being as fast as He can…because it will force me to grapple with real intimacy.” Donald Miller
God uses marriage to expose our shame and perfectionism. We cannot continue to perform and experience real intimacy and love within marriage. We must allow our hearts to be exposed so that we can experience love without strings attached.
1 John 4:18 (ESV) “There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out all fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”
Freedom comes from being known and loved. When we fear being rejected and exposed, we hide and perform. But true love frees us from that fear. This is how God is with us. He sees all the bad and still loves us anyway. “We don’t think of our flaws as the glue that binds us to the people we love, but they are. Grace only sticks to our imperfections. Those who can’t accept their imperfections can’t accept grace either.” Your flaws are actually the avenue through which you receive grace and experience unconditional love. Only when you confess your mess-ups to God and others can you experience grace, forgiveness, and love (1 John 1:9).
Ironically, confession is the tool that undermines shame. When I reveal my heart and confess my sin to my spouse, to my surprise there is no condemnation or judgment. No blaming, no harping, no criticism, no extra rubbing it in for good measure. Only willingness to forgive and move on…just like that!
So how do you practice the exercise of confession in your marriage? Here are a few takeaways to consider:
Understand the why behind the what. What are the root issues behind your behavior? Fear? Shame? Anger? Resentment? Deal with your heart first.
Be honest the first time. When your spouse confronts you or tells you how your behavior hurt, fess up. Don’t try to save face. “Yeah, you are right. I completely stopped listening to you when you were in mid-sentence. I am sorry.”
Acknowledge your part, even if you feel you were only 10% in the wrong. Don’t keep score or compare yourself to your spouse. Own your own stuff.
True intimacy and love comes from being fully known. Transparency creates an opportunity for compassion, grace, and forgiveness.
Want more ways to stay fit in your marriage? Check out some of my posts below!
Want to read more on shame? Check out my post on The Masquerade: why you must remove your mask.
Quotes used in this post are from Donald Miller’s book, Scary Close: dropping the act and finding true intimacy.