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How to be Truthful Without Being Hurtful

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Some questions from one spouse to another are nearly impossible to answer without causing heartache.

For example, what is a husband to say when his wife asks, "Does this red dress make me look fat?"

A good-hearted husband longs to be truthful without being hurtful, but that isn't an easy rope to walk on. Most men feel totally trapped by this question, because they have learned, perhaps the hard way, that saying nothing or saying "I don't know" actually means "you look fat."

What if he tactfully says, "Honey, when you feel good in a dress, that's what is most important to me"? That could satisfy her.

But what if she counters, "Well, I only feel good about a dress if you feel good about the dress, so do I look fat in this red dress?" So finally he responds, "I do like the red dress but enjoy the black dress more," to which she retorts, "So, you don't like the red dress because you think I look like a fat tub of lard? You think I am unattractive"?

As I said above, some questions from one spouse to another are nearly impossible to answer without causing heartache.

A husband who strives to be truthful without being hurtful will certainly fail at times, but he must maintain his resolve to tactfully speak the truth. Maybe this is why Proverbs 24:16 states, "A righteous man falls seven times"! Some just lie. "No, the red dress does not make you look fat." Others tactfully say, "Because of the extra baby weight you still carry, which you'll get off soon enough, the black is more becoming right now than the red dress. But I love you no matter what so give me a hug."

The key is for a husband not to compromise his integrity by just telling his wife what she wants to hear. But this is tough to know how to do. (What we do know is that wives who carry extra weight live longer than husbands who mention it.)

There are also times when it is the wife who must decide how to be truthful without being hurtful to her husband who has posed an uncomfortable question to her.

For example, how should a wife respond when her husband asks, "Am I providing enough for you?"

What if she feels they are a dollar above poverty? Should she divulge her true feelings knowing he is trying his best, keeping down two jobs? Should she straight out say, "No. We need more money, especially for insurance and the kids' college education, and I'd like to do extra things like buy a red dress I saw at our neighbor's garage sale"?

Once again, the key is for the wife to not lie or to compromise her integrity by simply telling her husband what he wants to hear. A wife who truly believes that there are some essentials not being covered by her hard-working husband’s salary can find a way to tactfully share that opinion, while still acknowledging her genuine appreciation for all he does to sacrifice for their family.

Good-hearted people will fall at times as they attempt to be tactfully affirming without lying. This is especially tough when the listener is feeling insecure and unappreciated. But even in these times it is still possible to speak truthfully without being hurtful.

-Dr. E

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider

  1. What personal instance came to mind when you read the opening statement: “Some questions from one spouse to another are nearly impossible to answer without causing heartache”? Have you ever been hurt or hurt someone in a situation like this? How could it have been handled better?
  2. Wives, would you rather your husband tactfully acknowledge the baby weight like in the example above, or would you prefer he straight-up lie to you in order to give you the answer you want? Why do you say this?
  3. Husbands, how would you feel if, in response to your direct question, your wife admitted that your family is lacking financially? Would you prefer her to respond in some other way?
  4. No doubt you have failed in situations like these (see Proverbs 24:16—“A righteous man falls seven times”). What improvements need to be made in your attempts to be truthful to your spouse without being hurtful?
  5. My mom used to love to tell the story of the wife who bought her husband two ties, a red one and blue one. On Monday morning he came to breakfast with the red tie on and she blurted out, "You don't like the blue tie I bought you!" Do you have any funny stories like this that show how tough it can be to navigate a relationship?