By Rob Furlong
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a film that tells the story of Joel and Clementine, two lovers whose relationship breaks down when they are unable to resolve their differences. In an effort to rid herself completely of Joel, Clementine undergoes a radical procedure that literally wipes every thought and memory of Joel from her mind, leaving her as if she had never met him. This movie raises an interesting question – is happiness in relationships only achieved by completely expunging the negative and hurtful experiences of our lives from our minds, including the memory of those who have hurt us?
Perhaps the answer to that question can be found in two foundational principles that form the bedrock upon which a lifelong relationship is built: honesty and courage.
When God created Adam and Eve their relationship is characterized as them both being "naked and not ashamed." The idea of a person being ashamed was that they had fallen into public disgrace; they were humiliated, shattered and dismayed by whatever it was that had overtaken them.
Many couples have experienced this sense of being "ashamed" as they have lurched from argument to argument or simply allowed their relationship to cool into one of casual indifference. But when a couple can describe their marriage by the term "naked and not ashamed" it means that honesty is a core component of their relationship.
Marriage counsellor, Walter Trobisch defined this term as the couple standing "in front of each other stripped and undisguised, without pretention, without hiding anything, seeing your partner as he/she really is and showing myself to him/her as I really am and still not be ashamed." Couples usually begin their relationships in the heady rush of emotion where everything about the other person is exciting and fresh.
But inevitably we discover there are things about the other person that we don't like and if we are really honest, annoy us from time to time! We learn how to navigate our way through these times but then we learn that our partner has different ideas and opinions to ours, and in some cases, does not share the same dreams and plans that we have for the future. These latter issues are far more serious than petty annoyances and, if a couple is to have any chance of surviving them then there must be open and honest communication between them.
One of the first things I told Karen when I began dating her (I actually told her on our first date!) was that I was going to become a minister. I am eternally thankful that this did not scare her off from me, but I know there are many who question the wisdom of this type of frank disclosure so early in a relationship. But consider the alternative. What if I had continued to date Karen without mentioning my plans, we married and then a month down the track I told her that in six months we were leaving our home state so that I could begin training for a whole new career? Oh, and I had known about this for two years?! She would have been completely correct in saying that I had misled her – she had married me expecting one kind of life and now I was offering her the complete opposite. Telling Karen of my intentions for the future was one of the smartest things I ever did, because she knew from day one where I was headed and my honesty with her allowed her to freely choose to be with me or not. When this type of honesty is present in a relationship it grows levels of security and openness between a couple that can sustain them through the difficult times because at the very core of their love they have built deep trust in each other.
Honesty with another person is a fearful thing because it exposes who we really are and we can be left feeling extremely vulnerable. But what benefits we gain when we are honest in our communication with our husband or wife! Imagine all those valuable lessons and experiences we would lose if we simply erased them from our minds forever; we would be impoverished indeed!
Next time we will talk about courage – until then, may your marriage grow large in openness and honesty!