One of the things I love most about my husband is that he’s always in my corner. No matter what happens, even when I fail, he still loves me and thinks I’m awesome. He has seen my ugliest sides but still thinks I’m great and wants to be married to me. I am SO grateful for that kind of support.
However, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take advantage of that support from time to time. When I am frustrated with another person I can count on Ike to have my back, but sometimes I walk a fine line between sincere venting and mean-hearted bashing. It’s easy to indulge the bias of a sympathetic audience.
Now don’t get me wrong–Ike would cry foul if I blatantly degraded another person or resorted to name calling. But there’s a lot of room to sin before crossing the line into obvious meanness. That line? I can dance around it.
I don’t know about you, but the safety and confidentiality of marriage is a tricky dynamic for me to navigate, because the intimacy and support of marriage can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, Ike is my teammate for life and my number one confidant. Not only is he supportive, but I can confide in him without fear of others finding out. He’s the one who lifts me up when I need it, and he affirms my ideas, my writing, and my ministry. He is also my chief brain-storming partner; some of my very best writing has grown out of challenging conversations with him.
On the other hand, it’s easy to feed on one another. When we both agree on a political issue, a point of theology, a cultural event, or a decision in our church, our perception can become rather one-sided. It’s easy to pat one another on the back in our rightness: “If only everyone could see things as clearly as we do!” Sometimes it feels like we’re solving the problems of the world from the comfort of our living room.
For me, the combination of like-mindedness and confidentiality can be a recipe for disaster. No one is there to defend themselves or offer a counter-point, and no one is going to hear my careless words. So it’s easy to let loose. It’s easy to paint in broad brush strokes, and it’s easy to gossip. Gossip, defined as “idle talk…especially about the personal or private affairs of others” describes too many of my conversations with Ike.
What’s deceptive about gossip in marriage is that it doesn’t seem to hurt anyone. Since your spouse won’t tell another soul, the sin seems confined. In reality, gossip in marriage can have two consequences:
1. Rather than sharpen, it dulls. Proverbs 27:17 tells us, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” As I wrote in another post, this verse describes sharpening through friction. Though both tools are made of iron, they are textured differently and in a manner that sharpens. That said, spouses who only stroke one another’s egos, rather than push back in thoughtful conversation, are unlikely to grow. That is not to say that couples should indulge in conflict, but simply be wary of encouraging one another’s myopia.
2. Your marriage can become destructive. Couples who are mutually and dogmatically blind can act as a terrible force. Most of us have encountered couples like this. These are the couples who partner with one another in dividing a church. These are the couples who threaten to sue you over a minor HOA infraction. These are also the couples who discourage reconciliation when one or the other conflicts with a co-worker, family member, or neighbor. Rather than encourage civility and restoration, their marriage is a crucible of gossip, bitterness, anger, and self-righteousness, all melded together into impenetrable obstinacy.
Perhaps your marriage isn’t quite that destructive. Perhaps gossip is a small part of your marriage, but it doesn’t shape the culture of your relationship. If that’s you, I would still encourage you to prune this bad habit from your relationship. It is not edifying, it does not honor God, and as Ephesians 5:4 tells us, it is “out of place.” Galatians 5:9 also warns that in the same way “a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough,” so it is with sin. No matter how confidential our gossip and our behind-the-back jabs, our words have consequences. There is a place for venting and listening, but let’s do so in a manner oriented toward love and mutual growth.
How do you and your spouse guard against gossip in your marriage?