What should I do when my spouse frequently makes inaccurate or embarrassing statements about me in the company of family or friends? I don't think it's intentional, but these comments often cast me in a bad light or seriously misrepresent my character. This has been going on for several years now. At first, out of respect for my spouse, I would wait until we were alone to set the record straight. More recently this has become such a regular occurrence that I'm beginning to feel the need to defend my reputation in public. What would you recommend?
Though your problem is specifically marital in nature, it brings to mind Jesus' words on Christian relationships in the broader sense – in particular, His instructions for dealing with an "offending" brother. You probably know the passage well: "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church …" (Matthew 18:15-17a).
Obviously, this section of Scripture is only partially relevant to your situation. You certainly don't need to face off with your spouse in front of the whole congregation on Sunday morning! Then again, these verses do describe a gentle progression from private confrontation to a more open form of public accountability that may be just what the doctor ordered in a case like yours. Let's see how it might look in actual practice.
You've already tried the first step: you've expressed your concerns in a private conversation with your spouse on several different occasions. Unfortunately, the message doesn't seem to be getting through. In spite of your efforts, your spouse continues to treat you with disrespect in the presence of others – a very serious matter in light of Peter's exhortation to husbands to "honor their wives" lest their "prayers be hindered" (1 Peter 3:7).
This suggests that it's time to move on to the next stage – that of bringing along one or two witnesses as back-up. You could accomplish this by asking a couple of friends or family members who were on hand the last time your spouse publicly misrepresented you to be part of the process. You may also want to seek out the assistance of a pastor, a mentor, or a professional Christian marriage counselor. A skilled therapist can help you get to the bottom of the issue and uncover what's behind your spouse's troublesome behavior.
This last point deserves to be emphasized, since there's always a reason for every type of human behavior. If you can't understand or don't address the underlying causes, any attempt to "fix" the outward problem is likely to be superficial and ineffective. Find out what it is that's driving your spouse to treat you this way. Could he or she be promoting inaccuracies about you out of insecurity – in other words, as a means of building personal self-esteem at your expense? Is it a question of narcissism, a desire to control or perhaps a passive-aggressive response? Would you characterize this behavior as a form of abuse? Or is it rather something that can be chalked up to plain old ignorance or insensitivity? It's always possible that your spouse isn't even aware that you've been hurt by his or her comments. That's a detail that would be well worth knowing.
When it comes to "defending your reputation," we'd suggest that it would be wise to exercise restraint. While it's not a good idea to try to "set the record straight" with a heated response, a brief and kind correction along the lines of, "I think that is a bit of an exaggeration" may serve to keep the situation in check. Keep in mind that if the assertions your spouse is making about you are plainly inconsistent with your character, friends and family will know it. They may even look for an opportunity to say so when your spouse has left the room. On the other hand, if they do have concerns, they can always check the facts by coming to you directly.
In the meantime, you may want to think about experimenting with a pre-emptive strategy. Remember: he who tells his story first gets believed the most. When you sense that your spouse is about to sully your good name with a muddied version of the truth, try jumping in with your own version of the story before he or she gets the chance to inflict any damage. It's a good way to head the problem off at the pass.
Focus on the Family's Counseling department can provide you with referrals to Christian therapists in your area who can help you work your way through this difficulty in your marriage. Call us. Our staff counselors would also be more than happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone.
Communication and Conflict