Being Brutally Honest in Marriage

Brutally honest - AdobeStock_164857670 copyWe’ve all heard the phrase, “Honesty is the best policy.” And we agree. That’s especially true within marriage. We’re all about being truthful and honest with our spouse. It’s difficult to build a healthy, loving relationship without it. But being brutally honest is another thing.

We can speak in all honesty in respectful ways without being vicious about it. If we “just say it as it is” without any filtering involved on our part, our spouse will most likely feel attacked and will slam his or her ears shut to receiving what we have to say. And what good will that do?

We totally agree with something that blogger Martine Forman said on this issue:

“I don’t think honesty needs to be brutal, especially in an intimate relationship like marriage. I think there is always a way to deliver honesty to your spouse with compassion and love. Shouldn’t we try to keep brutality out of the marriage equation?

“This doesn’t mean your spouse will always like what you have to say. It also doesn’t mean that your spouse won’t end up hurting your feelings (or the other way around). But this should mean that regardless of how your spouse perceives your honesty, he or she believes it comes from a place of love, not malice. Your spouse should feel like you have his or her best interests at heart.”

Being Brutally Honest

Now we have to say that some spouses will receive the truth in negative ways no matter what you do. Sometimes the truth hurts no matter how it is delivered. And many spouses don’t want to hear it. But speaking the truth, when you know it needs to be said, isn’t the problem. It’s whether or not you are “speaking the truth in love.” Plus, you need to consider if you are being wise in the timing, the setting, and the way in which you are delivering it (not to mention your motive for speaking it). If you are speaking the truth in love, and are sensitive to other considerations, you at least know that you have done your part in contributing to the health of your relationship.

We confess that we haven’t always spoken the truth in loving ways with each other. At the beginning of our marriage we blurted out what we believed to be the truth whenever and however we wanted to. Yes, we were being brutally honest, but we were also being stupid. We fell into the common lie that just because we had a marriage license, we could just be our own “natural selves.” But our natural selves didn’t always have a tendency to say and do things that were wise. That’s where knowing and applying biblical principles is important.

The principles for growing a loving marriage are the principles for living, which we can find throughout the Bible. A good example of that can be found in 1 Corinthians 13, and beyond. We have some of them listed in the article, Communication Scriptures for Your Marriage. Check them out!

But What about Withholding Brutally Hones Thoughts?

Here’s something that Drs Les and Leslie Parrott wrote about this issue of being brutally honest with each other:

“Some people lean into the idea of being ‘brutally honest’ with one another, no matter how hurtful the result. But when you let the concept of brutal honesty rule your communication with one another, you open the doors to unnecessary conflict in your relationship. Rather than a safe space, your marriage could potentially deteriorate into a warzone. Other spouses feel the need to say everything that comes to mind, without thinking before they speak. But some feelings and thoughts are fleeting, and don’t last for long. There’s no need to vocalize passing sentiments that could be hurtful to your spouse.

In James 1:26, James emphasizes the importance of controlling what you say, and thinking it over carefully before you say it. Before you speak, ask yourself whether it’s possible to share this truth with your spouse in love, or whether this information might lead to unnecessary distress. Do you really need to say it? Would it be harmful to withhold your thoughts in this instance?” (Drs Les & Leslie Parrott)

Radio Interview Concerning Being Brutally Honest

On this same topic we heard an excellent interview with Shaunti Feldhahn a while back on the radio program, Focus on the Family. Shaunti is a researcher, speaker, and a best selling author of several books. She recently came out with a terrific one titled, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: The Little Things That Make a Big Difference. It’s based on a nationally represented survey of over a thousand couples of “highly happy couples.”

In this interview Shaunti talked about her findings in this research project and some of the “habits” that these couples employ in their marriages. These are “little things” that helped to grow their marriages into loving ones. The following is something she spoke about in the interview titled, “Uncovering the Secrets of a Happy Marriage” as it pertains to being brutally honest.

She said:

“What’s really fun is one of the other habits, and this is a little one. I almost missed it. I didn’t realize what a big deal it was until I started looking into the numbers. We’ve gotten into this weird habit when we’re in a marriage. We let it all hang out. We think, I should be able to say whatever is on my mind. I should be able to tell it like it is, because brutal honesty is really important.

“I asked one woman about this who had that sharp, snappy, sarcastic ‘teasy’ attitude. But she had a really happy marriage. I said, ‘What do you think about brutal honesty?’ She looked alarmed and she said, “No, no, no, no, no. It’s dangerous.’

“She said, ‘I need to be able to be honest, absolutely. I need to go deep, and tell him when there’s a real issue. But that’s when I most need to be careful not to hurt him, and to be kind. I’m to pull back a little bit from the sense that I should be able to tell it like it is. That’s when you most need to be careful.

“‘You know, how you sometimes see somebody speaking to a husband or a wife in a tone that is sharp and curt? You think, ‘Would you ever say that or use that tone of voice with your best friend, like you were talking to your spouse like that? Why would you ever use that tone of voice with your spouse?’ One of the reasons these couples were happy is, they had a high level of just kindness.”

That’s great advice!

Here’s some additional Advice to note:

We totally agree with something Dr Phil McGraw said on one of his television programs:

“You cannot un-ring a bell. After you’ve said something, you can’t take it back. It may seem like a good idea to say something at the time, but your partner will hang on to that hurt. There’s a huge difference between being genuine and being brutally honest. If your partner shares his or her vulnerabilities and you attack them, you violate the trust and emotional integrity of your relationship.

“When you vent, you treat your partner as the enemy. It’s a lose-lose situation. Before you say something that could be disastrous, give yourself breathing room. This doesn’t mean that you should be dishonest, but it does mean that you should think twice before talking.”

Again, that’s great advice.

More on Being Brutally Honest

In Shaunti’s book, she shares something a “happily married man” told her on this issue:

“‘Some people have this weird dedication to being ultra direct, not caring how it’s perceived,’ he told me. ‘They say, ‘Hey, that’s just the way I am—take it or leave it.’ Well, yeah, that may be the way you are, but that is why you are being left! How’s that working for you?'”

That’s a good point to consider! In another part of the book (that we highly recommend you obtain), Shaunti wrote:

“One woman asked, ‘But shouldn’t we be able to let our guard down with our spouses and not be on our best behavior? Should we have to walk on eggshells? Isn’t marriage supposed to be the one safe place we can be ourselves and not be ‘on’ all the time?’

“Yes, of course! But treating your spouse with kindness is not the same thing as walking on eggshells. And as one person put it, ‘You should be able to let your guard down. You should be able to be relaxed and safe. You should be able to make mistakes and have your spouse forgive you. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to have a pattern of treating your spouse poorly.'”

It’s The Way You Are Honest

Counselor Paul Elmore wrote an article about being brutally honest. He concluded with the following statement:

“On a final note, the WAY you are honest is just as important as what you are being honest about. You can get in someone’s face and deliver truth in highly offensive ways, or you can be compassionate, kind, understanding, and loving. I’d suggest the later. It will work out better for you in the long run.”

I/we agree with Mr. Elmore on the benefits of being honest, particularly in marriage. We need to be honest with our spouse. If we aren’t, then we can’t have a very deep relationship. But we don’t have to be brutal about it.

The medicine industry has discovered that fact. People are more receptive to taking their medicine if it is palatable to swallow. That’s why they often sweeten the raw taste so the person will actually buy into using it. It’s a principle we should adapt too—sweetening the “medicine” so it goes down a bit better.

Being Brutally Honest VS Being Graciously Honest

So when you are delivering “the truth” to your spouse, don’t act as if you are better or smarter than he or she is. That is being prideful. And we know what the Bible says about pride. It can lead us to all kinds of trouble. Don’t imply in any way that he or she is stupid. Make sure you don’t reduce yourself to name-calling, or belittling your spouse. And watch your body language and the tone of your voice. There is a difference between firmness and pridefulness, and viciousness. You know the difference. Apply wisdom here.

Speak the truth, but give grace as you are doing so. Give the same grace that you would want to receive from your spouse when he or she speaks to you.

This is what we’re told in the Bible as far as “speaking the truth in love.” You still speak the truth, but you do it in a respectful way, motivated by love. That way it has more of a chance of being received in a way that will result in changed behavior. If it isn’t received well, you will at least know that it isn’t because of the way you delivered it.

We hope this helps. We’d sure love it if you would give additional tips below on this issue. That way we can all benefit from the insights you can give, as well.

Cindy and Steve Wright


Here is an article that supports and will give guidance on this issue:

Be Nice – Be Kind in Marriage


To help you further, we give a lot of personal stories, humor, and more practical tips in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. (It’s available both electronically and in print form.) Plus, it can make a great gift for someone else. It gives you the opportunity to help them grow their marriage. And who doesn’t need that? Just click on the linked title or the picture below:

7 Essentials - Marriage book


If you are not a subscriber to the Marriage Insights (emailed out weekly)
and you would like to receive them directly, click onto the following:

subscribe icon - AdobeStock_300285847

Print Post

Filed under: Communication and Conflict Marriage Insights

Join the Discussion

Please observe the following guidelines:

  • Try to be as positive as possible when you make a comment.
  • If there is name-calling, or profane language, it will be deleted.
  • The same goes with hurtful comments targeted at belittling others; we won't post them.
  • Recommendations for people to divorce will be edited out–that's a decision between them and God, not us.
  • If you have a criticism, please make it constructive.
  • Be mindful that this is an international ministry where cultural differences need to be considered.
  • Please honor the fact this is a Christ-centered web site.

We review all comments before posting them to reduce spam and offensive content.


10 responses to “Being Brutally Honest in Marriage

  1. My husband and I have been married for two years and we have been on a rocky road. We started marriage counseling at our church and they suggested that we look for a couples devotional. My husband looked up this ministry on line and it had been very helpful for us. Reading the article on ” being brutally honest” made me think about the way I communicate with my husband. I am honest but it not of love and I just realize that I am hurting him. Just because I think it doesn’t mean I need to speak it out of anger. Thanks so much for sharing this topic. We look forward to getting our next topic.

    1. Hope, Thank you for sharing a peek into your married journey with each other. We’re so glad that you have already found help from what you read in this particular Marriage Insight. I know what you are saying here because I struggled with this concept earlier in our marriage. I’m not sure what switch went off in my brain that caused me to think it was okay to speak to my marriage partner in such a toxic way. How could I think it was okay to blurt out such immature, unfiltered, thoughts that really should have been censored before they came out of my mouth? Just because certain thoughts occurred to me, it didn’t mean that I should say (or scream) them without putting them through filter of love and respect first delivering them to my husband. In the heat of the moment we both said things we now regret.

      I thank God that He is helping me to think a lot more before I say them. I can still speak truth and even confront my husband without verbally attacking him. Being honest with a spouse? Yes! That’s important. But being honest doesn’t mean we have to be brutal in the way, and with the words we use to convey our “truths.”

      Additionally, there are a couple of marriage devotionals that we highly recommend. They are Devotions for a Sacred Marriage: A Year of Weekly Devotions for Couples written by Gary Thomas. Another is titled, The Love Dare Day by Day: A Year of Devotions for Couples written by Stephen and Alex Kendrick. These two books are outstanding in the ways in which they can help couples, if they apply these bite-sized principles. Also, you may want to daily go to the Marriage Missions Facebook and Twitter pages. We call them “Marriage Vitamins” to help our marriages grow and stay healthy. We daily post short marriage tips that can help us all in our marriage relationships. I hope this will help. May God bless you and your husband all the more as you lean into the Lord and the help He can give, as we apply His love and His eternal principles.

    2. There’s free App that you can download onto your phone that is promoted by FamilyLife, it’s called Toucan, I guess it’s a play on the words Two Can… It’s a Christian marriage builder App. We attended a Christian Marriage Evening and it was given out there. x

  2. I have been divorced for thirteen years, but I read your articles regularly because I believe that the Lord will send me a partner at the right time. I truly enjoyed reading this article. If only this kind of guidance were available to us then, how different our lives would have been. I believe this is a tool that can help me from making the same mistakes in future with the grace of the Lord and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. These articles can also be applied to any relationship, not only marriages.

    1. Thank you Maraldea for your encouragement. We feel the same way about this info… it could have helped us to grow our marriage in a positive, healthy way so much quicker. We have so many regrets from our past. But thank God He has taught and is teaching us to be open and honest with each other, and yet approach each other in kinder ways. It is our prayer that God will use us to help other spouses learn how to approach each other more like marriage partners, rather than opponents. Thanks again for your encouraging words.

  3. Thank you very much for the insightful and helpful article. I really pray that people are exposed to such sound advice. In some marriages one party throws the honesty words as they flash in his/her mind but the most unfortunate part is that the other party does not accept these truths regardless of how much they are sugar-coated. Sometimes you feel like the more you try to push the truth, you are going to break something and the impact of the breakage can be scary. I have even discovered that sometimes, these truths are more acceptable if they come from a non-spouse.

    1. You are right, Siyabusa, that some spouses won’t listen to what their own spouse says, but will accept it from someone else. Even so, we need to still make sure our approach to our spouse is more like a mature partner, rather than an immature child. Eventually the light breaks through in some marriages, as it did in ours (we were acting more like opponents than partners for a long stretch of our marriage). Prayerfully, God uses articles such as this to wake more spouses up, and then they join God in learning how to approach their marriages in healthier ways.

      Thank you for your encouraging words. We join you in prayer that God uses it to help those who need such advice.

  4. Excellent article. Its amazing how we sometimes are very brutal with our spouses but very kind with others. I am reminded of the saying, “It’s not what you say but how you say it.” But as you have pointed out sometimes no matter how kind and gracious you are in communicating some unpleasant truth it will always be taken in a negative and defensive way, so we need grace and wisdom in such times.

    Thank you so much for your ministry. I have been reading your articles and sharing them with my wife for many years now.

    1. Bobbline, Thank you for your encouragement and your observations on this week’s Marriage Insight. You made a good point about the necessity of having a healthy dose of grace and wisdom whenever we are trying to communicate “truth” to someone/anyone.