Divorcing Shame From Marriage

Many of us unknowingly bring a language of shame into our relationship. Find the grace and strength to make marriage a shame-free zone.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:2

My first big decision to divorce the shame of our marital struggles came just two short years ago. I was preparing to speak to 500 women gathered for a spiritual retreat. My newly penned book, Secure in Heart – Overcoming Insecurity in a Woman’s Life, was at the printer. In my address, “Will I be rescued?,” I was planning to share about Dave’s sexual addiction and my determination to be rescued.

The first night of the retreat, I was called up on stage to be introduced before I spoke the next day. Instead of being encouraged, my heart was struck in panic. Although I had been extremely vulnerable in the pages of the book, this seemed scarier.

As I scanned the crowd, I saw many who knew me but who didn’t know the depth of our struggles. What would they think of me now? Late that night, I called Dave for reassurance that we were both ready for this big step, and we prayed together on the phone.

The next morning, minutes before I was to speak, I fell on my knees in a lonely hallway and surrendered our story to God. By the time I walked onto the stage, my heart was at rest. And, after I opened my heart (and our battles) wide, the response was nothing short of amazing.

Numerous women found me throughout the weekend to confess hidden struggles – ranging from parental anguish to emotional affairs. But, something larger had happened. I had found the conviction to begin letting go of over 20 years of marital shame.

His Shame, Her Shame

“… I cannot lift my head, for I am full of shame and drowned in my affliction.” – Job 10:15

When Dave and I married 28 years ago, we had every reason to hope for a great future of loving each other and serving God together. What we didn’t understand was that we brought shame from our pasts into marriage.

Dave brought shame that traced all the way back to being exposed to a stash of pornography at a friend’s house at the age of 11. When he tearfully confessed to his parents years later, they listened but had no answers or suggestions. Their silence left Dave feeling even more shame, unsure how his parents (or God) felt about his struggles.

I brought shame tracing back to the tender age of six when I was sexually abused by a visiting relative while my mother was out. Its grip strengthened in my preteen years when my father began his downward spiral into alcoholism.

But it wasn’t just the large traumas that had left a mark of shame. Little traumas did too:

  • Dave’s unmet longing for verbal affirmation
  • My internal accusations born from my father’s verbal abuse
  • Both of our fathers’ struggle to ever say the words, “I love you.”

When Dave and I came together, we unknowingly had a language of shame that found its way into our communication in the most volatile of moments:

  • Why didn’t you?
  • You should have …
  • If only you were more …
  • How could you?

That shame had a way of amplifying my hurt and pushing my husband into isolation. This served to only increase my insecurity and fuel Dave’s fear that he could never truly meet my needs.

Divorcing Shame From Marriage

The Bible tells us that the power to move past shame comes through the cross. Hebrews 12:2 tells us to look to Jesus’ example of scorning the shame of our sin. The word scorn comes from the Greek kata and phroneo meaning “to think against or disesteem.” Other versions translate this word as “despise.”

What a tremendous gift I can offer to my husband when I despise the shame, reminding him that his battle with addiction does not define him. And what a gift Dave gives me when he tenderly reminds me that my insecurities don’t mark me either, but rather make what I have accomplished more inspirational.

By making our marriage a shame-free zone, we’ve both found the grace and strength to make difficult changes. We do this through:

  1. Talking about shame. One will share, “I’m feeling ashamed right now.” Or the other will ask, “Do you think there’s something bigger than this bothering you?”
  2. Avoiding the language of shame. We make a concerted effort to share our own needs and feelings, rather than pointing fingers at each other.
  3. Scorning the shame. As we come into the light with our battles, we put our trust in Jesus’ deadly blow to the shaming power of the accuser.

By routinely draining “pockets of shame,” Dave and I are learning that together we can be victorious, no matter what the struggle – as long as we engage the battle together.

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