Brian writes in to ask this: “Pastor John, I logged into my wife’s Facebook account yesterday as I sometimes do, in order keep up with family and friends. I don’t really use Facebook. I don’t post. My wife was at home and also logged on, and she was having a private chat with her best friend. The message feature pops up automatically, and you’re shown the conversation. So, I saw it. They were talking about me. They were not speaking kindly at all. They were discussing my faults among comments about my personal struggles with depression. My wife messaged a few extremely private topics to this friend. I was heartbroken. How would you advise spouses on what they should and should not share with friends or family?”
Here are five ideas or guidelines that have helped me. Noël and I faced this topic, and I have blown it a few times. I will mention one of those to give you hope at the end. These guidelines are based on the assumption that the struggles a husband and wife have are normal hardships of getting along. There are more or less the frequent disappointments in life. I am not talking about illegal behaviors or life-threatening situations. I want to clear that up from the beginning.
1. First Your Spouse
I think we should follow Matthew 18:15, which says, if you find your brother or sister sinning against you or taking a fall, you go to them first. In other words, there is a real effort not to gossip — a real effort not to tell anybody else what you have just seen or found in a person. How much more is this true for spouses, right? So, I am assuming that there have been serious efforts on the part of a husband or a wife to deal together privately with what there struggles are before these other principles kick in to play.
2. Do Unto Others
The words of Jesus that we do unto others what we would have them do unto us is profoundly significant in marriage (Matthew 7:12). And I feel warranted to say that and to apply that because of the way Paul amazingly takes that command.
“We should seek permission from our spouses to share marriage problems with one or two trusted friends.”
He applies it to a husband’s love for his wife. He says, “In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28). It is like “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19) applied to husbands as your own bodies. “He who loves his wife, loves himself” (Ephesians 5:28).
Paul draws out the implication not only that we should measure our words and our actions by whether we would want our wives or husbands to treat us that way, but also that when we treat each other that way, we are really blessing ourselves. We are doing something really good for ourselves not to betray each other’s trust.
So, the Golden Rule becomes hugely significant in whether that woman on Facebook is doing something she would want her husband to do with his friends about her. And if she doesn’t want him to do that, she should shut down her Facebook.
3. Honor Your Spouse
Wives should think long and hard about whether what they are saying to their husbands and about their husbands in public or in private is honoring or respecting their husbands because of Ephesians 5:33: “Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects [or reveres] her husband.” Are the words spoken this way — in this time and in this place — a respectful behavior?
Similarly, husbands should think long and hard whether what they are saying about their wives in private or in public honors them as a fellow heir of the grace of life the way Peter says in 1 Peter 3:7. So that is the principle of respect and reverence and honor.
4. Ask First
We should seek permission from our spouses to share the problems of our marriage with one or two very trusted couples or friends that both of us agree on. This point has been so important for Noël and me. We have walked and talked through this numerous times. We must agree on one couple or one guy or two. I ask her, “May I share with David and John what we talk about? May I share with them what is so frustrating? May I share with them anything in our relationship that I think would enable them to help me love you better?” That is so different than gossip and venting, right?
So we do that. Noël can say whatever she wants to X, and I can say whatever I want to Y. We have entrusted each other to those friends. It is a huge thing, right? You don’t do that unless you have got some very close friends. So, I can speak freely, and she can speak freely because we have agreed.
I would frankly encourage all couples to have those kinds of friends. Do you have friends like that that you could actually entrust your personal lives to in order to know that it will not go beyond them and it will not come back and be used against you?
So, get permission. I blew that. I really blew that one time. I can remember so clearly mentioning something in public in church and Noël was so angry with me when I got home, because I hadn’t talked to her about it. She was so right about it. We got that healed. But I wanted you to be encouraged.
5. Handle with Care
There is one more encouragement that things could get better. I would say that, even if you have permission to share specific family issues, you should do it with the greatest of care. Such conversations easily degenerate into simply venting our frustrations.
“Do you have friends you can entrust your personal life to and know it won't go beyond them or be used against you?”
A wise friend will call us out on that: “Now you are not speaking in an edifying way here. You are not seeking to help out of love here. You are just dumping, and it is not helpful. You need to love her better than this (or love him better than this) and turn towards something more edifying.”
We should ask ourselves whether we are sharing the right amount of detail. Is it too much? It could get very unseemly. Are we sharing in the right tone? Are we using the right medium? I doubt that Facebook is ever the right medium. Good grief. Any kind of media that would run the risk of someone else listening in on what is meant for one person should be avoided at all costs. I have a lot of sympathy for this concern.
All of those, it seems to me, should be taken into account even when we are talking with somebody we both agreed on we can trust. Of course, I am assuming that all of this dialogue will be in a context of praying for and with our spouses and reading Scripture with our spouses so that we seek help from God who alone can keep us married and bring this relationship to a God-honoring, satisfying situation.
Some of these lessons I have had to learn in a very hard way, as I have said. I just want to close on the note of hope that, if some breech of trust has happened, there is a way forward. There can be repentance and forgiveness. I know that from personal experience. Noël and I are in a really good place after forty-six years, and we have really blown it more than once.