Apologies That Lie

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Dear Dawson,

I am glad things are going so well, and I am doubly glad that you have been given an opportunity to apply what we have been talking about in your relationship with Lauren, and you have seen it bear good fruit. Her reaction to all these things has been especially telling, and good. And to top it off, you now tell me that the ring is actually in your possession, just waiting for an opportune time.

So with all that said, we are getting near the end of what I would like to leave with you, but as we do so, I want to go back and develop something I touched on in an earlier letter. What I said earlier was this:

Let’s say you had a little spat, one that she was entirely responsible for, and at the end of it, in order to make peace, you were the one who apologized. That meant that you were trying to build your relationship with her on the foundation of lies—and she knew it. You were both lying, but she was more aware of it, and didn’t like it more than you didn’t like it.

An earlier letter

What I want to talk about here is the importance of truth-telling in a relationship. But in order to do that intelligently, we also have to address the nature of truth-telling.

First, Christians are followers of the one who is the Truth (John 14:6). We should therefore be people who speak the truth. The Ten Commandment prohibit false witness (Ex. 20:16.) Colossians says that we are not to lie to one another, now that we have put off the old man along with his deeds (Col. 3:9) . And the lake of fire is reserved for liars (Rev. 21:8).

We have talked about this before, and so I know that apparent exceptions might occur to you. When everyone else is oohing and aahing over someone’s baby at church, you don’t have to volunteer that it is the ugliest baby you have ever seen. Refusal to volunteer that is not dishonesty, but rather good manners. And if you point to the Hebrew midwives deceiving Pharaoh, you are leaving something very important out. You really don’t want your relationship with Lauren to be like Moses and Pharaoh. Right?

When deception is justified in Scripture it is because there is a war on, or conditions that are tantamount to war. In situations where you want the opposite of warfare, where you want comity and peace, the commandment is strict—truth-telling is foundational. Do not bear false witness against your neighbor. Do not lie to one another (Lev. 19:11).

Many relationships that move into open enmity and then divorce do so because back when “things were better” they weren’t really better at all. Lying in a relationship is corrosive, and it is the kind of corrosive that will destroy the relationship.

And so in practical terms that means you should never apologize to your wife unless God believes that you wronged her. If, according to the Scriptures, you were out of line in your behavior toward her, you must be eager to seek her forgiveness. If you wronged her, put it right. And under those circumstances, she should never have to ask for an apology.

“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” ().

Ephesians 4:32 (KJV)

This should characterize your relationship, and the traffic should go both ways. When you are annoyed with her, and you express it, then you should put it right. When she is emotional toward you, unjustly, she should put it right. Tender-hearted, forgiving one another.

But there is a vast difference between this kind of forgiveness, offered and received as a means of restoring fellowship, and the kind of apologies that are (frequently) sought as a means of maintaining the upper hand. Apologies that are tools in the service of various kinds of power dynamics are an enormous threat to your marriage.

I once knew of a situation where a husband had a problem with porn, which we all know is no good. But the surprising thing was that when he started to address it, and get the victory over that sin, it caused difficulties in his relationship with his wife. This was because his sin would put him in the doghouse, where his guilt told him he belonged. And it is not possible to lead spiritually from the doghouse, and that part of it the wife kind of liked. She was willing to lose a bishop to take a queen.

That is an example of real sin having this effect. But the same kind of power dynamic can happen with “sin” that is simply asserted by the wife, and “acknowledged” by the husband, whether or not there was any sin there. He acknowledges it simply and solely for the sake of ending the quarrel.

If he makes up after a quarrel by apologizing for “what I did,” and she accepts it, and yet he could not tell you exactly what it was that he did, then he really is sinning against his wife, against his marriage, and against the spiritual integrity of his home. He is sinning against his wife by lying to her. Not only is he lying to her, he is lying to her about the condition of their relationship.

If he is saying, “I am really sorry, honey,” and he is thinking to himself what a piece of work, the best way to describe this kind of thing is as the preliminary groundwork for the divorce. It is truly no good.

One last thing about all this. Many times this kind of thing gets jumbled up and confused because of the sin that comes into the quarrel later. Let’s say that the wife starts a quarrel over a trifle, over something that he did or did not do that really should not have been a problem. Say that he didn’t say happy anniversary when he first got up, but waited until he got out of the shower, when he thought she would be awake. Something like that. Something dumb and stupid.

Now let us say that after fifteen minutes of trying to explain himself, he gets to the point where he loses his temper. Now he really does have sin to confess. Now he really does have something to apologize for. And when he seeks forgiveness for that, his wife takes it as an apology for the whole shooting match, and magnanimously forgives him. And he can’t say anything about it because he is the one who lost his temper. He is acutely aware of the distinction between his earlier attempts to explain himself and his subsequent loss of control, but it is a distinction he is not in a position to make.

And this is one of the reasons why, whenever we have started something unfair, we frequently keep going with that issue until the other person loses their cool. This is because we can then assume that their subsequent sin has somehow provided a retroactive justification for us having started the whole thing in the first place. It isn’t, but one of our private spiritual hobbies is the practice of kidding ourselves.

If this is a problem (and there will be temptations for it to become a problem), there is really only one way to deal with it. And that is to prepare yourself spiritually for an encounter with your wife (or soon-to-be fiancé), an encounter in which she thinks you were thoughtless, or insensitive, or too abrupt, or something in that neighborhood, and you do not believe so, and you work it through with her, all the way to the end, without losing your cool, and without apologizing.

Try it. Easy to describe, and very hard to do. Most men want peace and quiet in their homes more than anything, and sadly, many men are willing to lie in order to get it.

So if you do this right, you will experience two things. One is her respect. That is the first thing. That is the foremost thing. She wants to be married to someone who knows his own mind, and who can stand up to her. The second is the experience of your conscience deep inside you staring at your own behavior in utter disbelief, and saying, “I hardly know you, man!”

Your uncle,