Oct 102017 2 Responses

When You Think Your Spouse Can’t Handle It

It’s been more than 15 years ago, but I still remember it. I was visiting a church member in the hospital. She was older, but not of an age where death was imminent. When I arrived outside the room, I was greeted by several family members who gave me the bad news. While their wife and mother had entered the hospital because of one condition, the doctors had discovered cancer. She likely only had days to live.

After listening and consoling the family, I went to enter the room. Before I got through the door, the husband grabbed me and said, “She doesn’t know. Don’t tell her.” I was shocked to know the information before the patient, but sometimes that happens in a hospital. I asked, “Do you want me to wait outside while you tell her and then I can see her,” I asked. “No,” the husband replied, “we don’t plan on telling her. She couldn’t handle it if we told her.”

The confusion on my face was impossible to mask. This woman’s life was coming to an end and the family wasn’t going to tell her? She couldn’t take it? What did that even mean? How are you supposed to take that type of news? What does not taking it look like? Were they afraid the news might kill her?

As a pastor, it’s not my job to involve myself in family matters, but if I had to do it over again, I would have become more involved in that situation. While there are rare times in which a patient shouldn’t be told what is going on in their lives, those times are very unique and the last case scenario. No one has a right to withhold such information from a person. Whether they can handle it or not, it is that person’s right to have the information. (See: Can You Tell Your Spouse the Truth?)

Fifteen years later, I can’t count the number of times in which I’ve heard the phrase “He/she couldn’t handle it” regarding communication between husband and wife.

Partial Truth, Partial Intimacy

The lowest bar of marital expectation is truth-telling. At the minimum, we should expect that our spouses tell us the truth. This isn’t an excuse to be a jerk. We can’t coldly state our hurtful opinions under the guise of “just telling the truth.” Yet we should enjoy an open, transparent exchange of facts with one another.

When one spouse begins to withhold information from the other, the relationship of the husband and wife begins to decay. A healthy marriage is built on equality and honesty. Whenever we intentionally withhold information because we think our spouse can’t handle the information, we are creating a false relationship.

Information shouldn’t be withheld from adults. We protect children by not telling them the full truth because they lack the maturity and wisdom to handle it. Sometimes we hold back in order to extend the time of their innocence. While this can be good parenting, it’s poor marriage advice. Whenever one spouse withholds vital information from another, they are creating an imbalance in the relationship. They are exchanging a healthy marriage between peers for a relationship of an adult with a child.

How Do You Know?

In some cases, this is the relationship that has to exist. When mental illness is present, a spouse may not be able to share information with their partner. In other rare occasions because of a past event, some information might need to be withheld. However, in nearly every situation, one spouse withholds information from the other not because the other can’t handle it, but because the spouse isn’t willing to put in the time or effort necessary to process the information with the other. It’s a sign that respect is not present. (See: Never Share Truth from the Perspective of a Pharmacist)

If you respect me, you will honor me with the truth. You will allow me to deal with the same amount of information that you have. Even if it takes more time, conversation, understanding, and processing, individuals in a healthy marriage would rather embrace difficulty than withholding the truth.

Most spouses who think “he/she couldn’t handle it” simply don’t know because they’ve never tried. Having never fully shared information, they don’t know if their spouse could or could not handle the information. In most cases, they are protecting their own uncomfortableness under the guise of protecting their spouse. Withholding information is not protection; it’s selfishness. You married an adult so you should treat them like an adult.

It’s Not Your Right

At the heart of withholding information is theft. If you withhold information which your spouse should rightly know, you are stealing from them. Just as the husband in the opening story stole from his wife the right to know her life was ending, any time you do not share the full truth with your spouse, you are stealing from them information which they should have the right to process. Even if they struggle with the information, the struggle is their right. I do not have the right to truncate Jenny’s freedom simply because I think she may not be able to handle it. Any information I withhold would simply be because I don’t think she cares, not because I don’t think she could handle it or that life would be easier without telling. If she wants to know something, she has a right to know. I gave her that right when I said, “I do.”

If you think your spouse can’t handle something, get help. It’s an obvious sign that something is not healthy in the relationship.

2 Responses to When You Think Your Spouse Can’t Handle It
  1. SJ Reply

    What if the relationship is not healthy regardless of the sharing or lack thereof? Maybe one can “steal” something hurtful away from one’s spouse? Couldn’t it be more loving to withhold the information “I’m just not attracted to you but I’m committed to honoring my vows.”

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      To me, there’s a difference between holding something back which you think your spouse can’t handle versus kindly not saying things that would be hurtful.

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