April 12, 2024

couple hugging in autumn park from back

By Mikaela Pannell

I cringe internally whenever I hear someone complaining about their spouse to others. You are your spouse’s safe place. Their cheerleader. Their defender. That means both in their presence and when they aren’t around. Speaking charitably of your spouse at all times is an essential part of a successful and holy marriage.

In the vows spouses take on their wedding day, they promise to love and honor each other all the days of their lives. I think that is the most overlooked part, especially in a world where people complain about pretty much everything. And I hear people complain about their spouses a lot. There is no human relationship more important than marriage, so it should be nurtured and protected. Speaking negatively about each other can only bring harm to it; there is no upside to trashing your spouse.

Ultimately, it comes down to trust and respect between spouses. I trust that my husband will have my back—not only when we’re together, but also when we are apart. Likewise, he trusts that I will do the same for him. We respect each other very much, and that means we won’t speak poorly of each other when we’re at work or hanging out with friends.

It sets a standard for what is considered acceptable treatment. Think about it; if you don’t respect your spouse enough to only speak about them in a loving way, it opens the door for others to speak poorly about your spouse, as well. Not only that, it also opens the door to gossip in general. That is a difficult door to close, indeed.

Now, I’m not saying that if there’s a problem within your marriage you should just shoulder the burden silently. Jesus tells us that if we have an issue with someone, we should go to them first. This absolutely applies to our spouse! For example, if your husband has a habit of putting his clothes on the floor instead of the hamper, and it’s really bothering you, bring it up to him. Not to your friends. Complaining about him can change the way he is viewed by others in a way that is not fair to him, especially if he isn’t there to defend himself.

On a more serious note, if your wife is in the throes of addiction or if the two of you are fighting all the time, you may not be able to work through it on your own. Treatment and/or counseling with a professional is an acceptable and sometimes necessary way to mediate conversation rather than just bashing your spouse.

Even in those situations, it is still important to be charitable toward your spouse. A regular human conversation often involves family life, and it’s okay to discuss struggles with others. What makes the difference, though, is how you talk about the struggles. There’s a difference between “our lawn mower is giving us trouble,” and “ugh, my husband can’t even get the mower to work.” One of them presents you as a team with your spouse; the other tears them down. This can be challenging, because complaining is a really easy thing to do.

Mikaela Pannell and her husband Jordan with their two children, Melody and Titus.

Frankly, speaking well of your spouse helps you get to heaven, and speaking poorly about them does the opposite. Gossiping and/or badmouthing people in general is sinful, but it’s more serious when it’s your spouse. That’s because marriage is meant to reflect the love between Christ and his Church.

Christ loves his bride perfectly, so we as spouses have a high bar to strive toward. I’m no expert, but I’m pretty confident that Jesus doesn’t gossip about us. Jesus is always looking to build us up. That is our calling as spouses.

Arguably, one of the most quoted passages in Scripture is 1 Corinthians 13:4. “Love is patient. Love is kind …” It is kind. Talking about your spouse in a charitable way is how love is lived out kindly. Spouses are supposed to build each other up, and should be able to count on each other to do so. It would be incredibly hurtful if my husband were to walk in on me speaking badly about him, and it would take a toll on our marriage because it would make it difficult for him to trust me. It would also make it much easier for Satan to sow seeds of doubt in my husband’s mind regarding my love and commitment.

We live in a society that really enjoys gossip and complaining, and it can be quite a challenge to not get sucked in. But we are called to be different and stand against the current. Striving for a holy marriage is definitely not for the faint of heart, but it is worth every moment. If you’re looking for a simple way to improve your marriage, start by making a conscious effort to only speak lovingly of your spouse.

And anyway, as my parents always used to tell me, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all.”