8 Ways Shame Undermines a Marriage

It’s no secret marriage is a beautiful but hard adventure. When I first got married, I assumed there would be a magic switch that would transform us into people who loved, listened and learned well. But this wasn’t the case. In fact, it was the complete opposite.

I didn’t take into consideration the arduous work and strength it would take to venture through the landscape of love. Often we would have beautiful mountain top experiences, but then we quickly tumbled into some of the darkest valleys. Both my husband and I brought our broken baggage to the table, which contributed to the roller coaster of emotions we were experiencing. Fear. Anxiety. Anger. Shame.

Shame was the most potent and lethal weapon the enemy was using in our marriage. Since the Garden, Satan has been trying to tear men and women apart through the avenue of shame. He knows the power behind making a person hide. He knows how successful guilt is in sidetracking God’s plan.

But thankfully we have a Father who redeems and restores all the enemy tries to tear down. He’s done this in my marriage, and He’s pointed us toward what matters most—the resurrection power of the Cross. God has brought my marriage back to life, and I want to take the next few minutes to dissect shame and its effects on couple’s life.

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<strong>Shame: The Ultimate Underminer of Marriages</strong>

Shame: The Ultimate Underminer of Marriages

Sometimes I don’t think we know how damaging shame really is in a relationship. When we feel ashamed we often think we are dirty, unworthy, and broken beyond repair. If we soak in these feelings long enough, we may be tempted to give up and give in to the enemy’s cruel lies. But we have to remember, God’s truth is always more powerful than the devil’s tactics.

It’s important to understand how shame messes with relationships because then we can begin to address how it is undermining peace and health in our marriages. Here are eight ways I have seen shame manifest in my marriage.

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1. Shame prevents intimacy and connection.

1. Shame prevents intimacy and connection.

We can’t be close to our spouse when we feel ashamed. Sometimes I wonder if Adam and Eve were not only hiding from God in the Garden, but also from each other. Hiding involves closing off our hearts in order to avoid further pain. But when we close our hearts to others, we also close our hearts to experiencing God’s full freedom and love for ourselves. Shame tells us we can’t approach others or God because we are unclean and will be judged. It stops us from sharing our struggles and being our authentic selves.

2. Shame makes it harder to forgive.

The person we usually need to forgive most is ourselves. The Bible tells us to “be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). But that is more difficult when we feel like we are unworthy of forgiveness. When we let condemnation have a say in our hearts, we naturally extend that attitude of condemnation or criticalness toward others. If we don’t believe the blood of Jesus has wiped us clean, we probably will have the same view of our spouse. Instead of taking our sin to the grace of the Cross, we take on bitterness.

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3. Shame makes true confession and repentance more difficult.

3. Shame makes true confession and repentance more difficult.

Related to point #2, there’s freedom in confessing our sins to one another and repenting before our loving God. When we confess, we bring everything out into the open and the enemy loses his grip on our hearts. It makes sense that the devil is going to try and keep us isolated and in the shadows of our pain. I like to say Satan is excellent at shaming us into a corner, but confession is a key to breaking free. Heartfelt apologies transform marriages.

4. Shame promotes unhealthy compensation for what we think we lack.

Often times when we think we are lacking in one area of our life, we will try to make up for it in others. For example, if we think we are failing as a wife when it comes to helping maintain the home, we may pour ourselves intensely into our jobs. We are trying to prove to others and ourselves we are thriving in another arena. Success in one replaces our perceived failures in the other. Of course, this only transfers our shame and does not address the root of our feelings with God’s truth – our identity is found only in Christ, not in anything we do.

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5. Shame creates a defensive posture and makes empathetic listening hard.

5. Shame creates a defensive posture and makes empathetic listening hard.

When we are so busy trying to defend ourselves, we end up pushing others away instead of opening our ears to hear what they have to say. We can’t respond kindly and acknowledge another’s feelings when we are ready to react. Defensiveness happens because we are afraid. We are scared of being shamed or rejected, therefore, we protect ourselves preemptively. But this only creates more distance. We cannot get close to our spouse when our shields are up.

6. Shame distorts our view of our spouse.

I’ve come to find when I feel guilty, I see everything my husband does as an attack or critique. My radar for condemnation is up, which means I am literally looking for ways he may be packing on the shame. This heart posture draws out the resolution process between us. It takes longer to reconcile (and is more painful) when we choose to focus our eyes on anything other than Jesus.

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7. Shame creates unwanted physical reactions in our bodies.

7. Shame creates unwanted physical reactions in our bodies.

Our bodies can be trained to react to certain people. Our hearts beat faster, our breaths are shorter, our muscles tighten. The fight or flight response is real! When our bodies sense that we are in danger, adrenaline picks up. We can physically react to our spouse when we allow shame to control our thoughts. We need to pay attention to our bodies and let them indicate when we need to bring our cares before the Lord.

8. Shame opens the door to other negative emotions that wreak havoc in relationships.

Shame was the very first negative emotion felt by humans after the fall, and from that one emotion came many others: fear, anxiety, anger, hopelessness, envy, blame, bitterness, resentment… just to name a few. The enemy knows shame is a foundation (if not the foundation) for relational fallout, especially between spouses. Honing in on shame will end up addressing many other thought patterns and emotions simultaneously.

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<strong>How to Stop Shame in its Tracks</strong>

How to Stop Shame in its Tracks

In all honesty, what has helped me most in distinguishing the fire of shame in our marriage is simple. 

Soak up God’s truth and love.

Confess and repent when needed.

Claim the truths of my identity as God’s Daughter out loud.

Pray and cast off shame when it rears its ugly head.

Praise my King and focus on Him.

When I am doing all of these things consistently, my spirit notices. I feel lighter and stand taller. And important note: all of these things are dependent on me. I am not responsible for how my husband responds to shame, but I do have the freedom to bring my heart before my Savior. I can “come boldly to the throne of our gracious God” (Hebrews 4:16 NLT). I can be assured that His view of me never changes. I am His child, chosen and dearly loved right where I am.

When God looks at His girls He sees the opposite of shame. He sees Christ in us. Pure. Righteous. Blameless before our King.

Photo Credit: © Pexels/Luis Quintero


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