Freedom to be Honest With Each Other
Rule #8: I love you enough to actively question and search for what you need. We often cover our deepest problems with a smoke screen of superficial complaints or issues. We can argue all day and make NO progress if we are not really dealing with the honest issues.
Ephesians 4:15 says we are to “speak the truth in love” as we share with each other. There is no better way to define our conversations with our spouse than speaking honestly in a loving way. We don’t always share this way. Why? One of the reasons is that we don’t understand what truth means and we don’t understand what love means. We will start with love.
There are Two Kinds of Love
The first kind of love is the unconditional love. This is defined as a love that is always given, shown, and granted without any limits or conditions required by the other person. If you remember the first of our Ten Rules to a Good Fight, you will remember that the first rule makes both partners restate their unconditional love for each other even as they start the argument. The requirement of unconditional love is that it can not be withdrawn if the discussion does not turn out the way we want it to! We promise to continue to love no matter what the result of our disagreement.
The second kind of love is conditional love. Define this love as approval, acceptance, validation or positive reinforcement of the person or action. It is the teaching love that sets the terms and conditions for positive approval for the other. In simple terms we call the unconditional love Mother’s Love and the conditional love Father’s Love. In reality, both mothers and fathers have mixtures of each one of these two kinds of love. It takes both kinds of love to be in a healthy relationship. It takes both kinds of love to bring children up to maturity. It sounds funny to say it out loud but a parent will say to a teenager, “I love you and will always love you, but if you come later than your curfew, I will ground you for a month.” That statement has both kinds of love inside it.
Speaking the Truth in Love
We can be honest and say, “I am very unhappy when you say those things” and still be speaking in love. To the person who is being corrected those words don’t sound loving because they are confronting a problem, but without exercising the freedom to be honest with each other, there is no learning. The teaching love requires that we make our feelings known and clearly understood. The problem is that this kind of conditional love is risky! Some of us do not share what is really bothering us until we are so upset and angry that we “blow up”. Blowing up is not loving by any definition. We tend to keep the most painful or most urgent needs bottled up because we are afraid there is no way to express them without conflict and damage to the relationship.
So, how do we cope when there are things we need to say but don’t feel safe in saying them? We bring up a subject that is less risky!
Making a Smoke Screen to Cover our Fears
I cannot tell you how many times I have had people come into my pastor’s office with a specific problem. They will say, “We are having financial problems.” I always accept what they tell me as being honest, but I also ask, “What else is going on in your marriage? Tell me what is happening in all of the aspects of your married lives.” Almost without fail, the problem they came in to talk about is only a smoke screen for larger, more personal problems that they were not intending to discuss during our visit. Why did they share those very risky issues? Because I gave them permission by asking more questions. If I can bring up the truth by asking questions, those marriage partners can do it also if they break down the fears that cause us to cover up our problems and tensions.