Building Better Marriages

By Rob Furlong

Learning to live free of shame

Adam and Eve

U.S. Humorist, Garrison Keillor was once asked in an interview what the most important thing in the world was. Keillor responded,
"To lead an honest life. To be able to walk anywhere without fear, without self-consciousness, and without worry that your lies will be discovered."

It is a powerful observation because it explains why many marriages (and relationships) struggle.

They struggle because the people concerned live with the fear that they will be found out for who they really are and will no longer be loved.

Another word for this is shame.

What is shame?

Shame is the feeling of humiliation you experience when you have become the object of derision or contempt by others.

I remember this feeling well when as a self-conscious 14 year old I was mocked and humiliated by another boy in front of our whole class.

But far and away the most common form of shame we experience is the humiliation we feel when we have been disobedient or done what we always thought was unthinkable.

The roots of shame are found in the rebellion of Adam and Eve against God in the Garden of Eden and which is recorded in Genesis 3.

Instead of becoming "enlightened spiritually" they are plunged into spiritual darkness when they eat the fruit and attempt to hide their failure from each other by covering themselves with fig leaves before disappearing into the bushes in a futile attempt to conceal themselves from God.

Shame always drives us to hide ourselves in order to prevent people from seeing who we really are.

Because if people know what we are really like they may not like us and we are not equipped to handle that kind of rejection.

Author and counselor, Larry Crabb, spoke of the impact of his shame on his relationship with his wife:
Like every man, I am silent just like Adam was silent. Sometimes I stand dumbfounded in the face of my confusion. When my wife asks me to share even the smallest part of myself, I occasionally bristle. When she cries, I may become angry with her. Her tears frighten me, because I don't know what to do with them. When she tells me I have done something wrong, I defend myself to the bitter end. If she finds fault with me, I find ten things wrong with her. I use words, I speak, but I use words to destroy relationship – as the serpent did in the garden.
Yet if my wife were able to scratch beneath the surface of my anger, she would find that I am ashamed of what is inside of me. What if I share my most intimate thoughts, dreams, and doubts – and she rejects me? Recall my story. I am a man who feels like an imposter. I already assume that I have nothing to offer. It is better, I wrongly think, to hide behind my silence.

If a woman or a man never deals with their shame they will go through life as an emotional cripple, living with the constant fear of being found out and forever trying to project an image about themselves that is false.

There are two great gifts that I have experienced in marriage that builds a relationship of deep trust and intimacy.

The first is the gift I have given my wife, albeit imperfectly, of sharing my deepest hurts, insecurities, hopes, fears and dreams.

The second is the gift I have received from her – her unconditional, non-judgemental and accepting love of me.

With these two gifts, which we have reciprocated to each other, we have forged a lifetime of growing intimacy.

And there is still a greater gift – the grace and forgiveness of a loving Father God Who takes all our shame away through His Son, Jesus.

There is no need then, to hide from each other or from God!

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