My husband and I have been married only three months – and I’ll be lucky to see four since apparently I hurt him really badly last weekend without meaning to. See, we were at a wedding and even though he’s not a dancer he knew I used to love to go dancing before I met him. So he gave it a shot and went out on the dance floor. It was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen and I couldn’t help it – I laughed my head off. I asked him to PLEASE never do that again! He was really, really hurt and has been completely withdrawn the last few days. When we got married we promised to be totally honest with each other – so wasn’t I right to tell him the truth? I would absolutely die if he ever did that again in public!
-Dying of Embarrassment
Dear Dying of Embarrassment,
OK, sister, I’m the one who is dying a little inside reading your question!
What. Were. You. Thinking???!!
You need to try and put yourself in your husband’s apparently challenged dancing shoes. And then you need to go tell him how very, very sorry you were for being so incredibly hurtful and ask his forgiveness. And then you need to go ask a girlfriend to watch you for bouts of incredible cruelty in the name of honesty and whack you upside the head whenever she sees you do something like that again, so you wake up and get a clue about what is appropriate in marriage and what isn’t!
How would you feel if you worked hard on something emotionally difficult – like losing ten pounds to fit into a special dress – and when he saw you in the dress, he took one look, laughed his head off, and asked you to NEVER wear that dress again? Oh, and he did this in front of your friends at a dinner party.
I’m sure you see my point.
It is so easy in marriage to take our spouse for granted, and to take intimacy for license. We subconsciously think since we’re married we don’t have to be polite to each other. It is easy to assume that—but it’s poisonous to the relationship. In research I have done with really happy couples, I have noticed something quite different: a high degree of kindness.
These couples would certainly be transparent and share the “real deal”…. they would joke around… they would share things that needed to be said… but that is also when they were the most careful to not do it in a way that their mate would perceive as hurtful.
I hear the term “brutal honesty” thrown around a lot when I interview people – people say “you have to be able to be brutally honest in marriage”. But you know what? I have never heard those words from the highly happy husbands and wives. They’re respectful of each other in public and in private. They are very aware that those times when you need to be “honest” are the times you need to be most careful not to hurt the feelings of the person who means the most to you. Kindness, for them, is a way of life.
The sad truth is, the spouses I talked to who had a “tell it like it is,” or “take it or leave it” attitude about how they come across were those most likely to feel insecure in their marriage and emotionally “unsafe” at home.
And, not surprisingly…. so did their spouses.
So what should you have done? Bite your tongue, pinch yourself until you cry or whatever it took to keep from laughing. Even better, tell your husband (and yourself!) how much you appreciate that he loves you so much that he was willing to go way outside his comfort zone for you.
You also have some work to do to be trustworthy with his feelings again. You will have to prove that you care about not hurting him. Don’t get impatient with him if it takes weeks or months for him to open up to you again. And find ways to affirm him in all the things he is good at, to take away the sting of his awareness of this major, humiliating failure. In the end, as long as he sees that you “get” why this was so hurtful – and that you’re trying your best to never do that again – you’ll get through this and your marriage will be stronger for it in the end.
Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages and her newest, The Good News About Marriage. A Harvard-trained social researcher and speaker, her ﬁndings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Shaunti speaks regularly at churches, conferences, and corporate events. Learn more about speaking inquiries here.