How Shame is Killing Your Marriage: Ron and Nan Deal
Could shame be killing your marriage? Counselor Ron Deal and his wife Nan know shame can keep you from being intimate and vulnerable. Time to fight back.
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Could shame be killing your marriage? Counselor Ron Deal and his wife Nan know shame can keep you from being intimate and vulnerable. Time to fight back.
How Shame is Killing Your Marriage: Ron and Nan Deal
Ann: I think for the first 20 years of our marriage—
Dave: Uh-oh, I’m scared of what you are going to say.
Ann: —I was living in shame because of my past, because of things that had happened to me, because of things that were done to me, things I had done, and I was hiding continually in our marriage. I became very self-protective. I don’t even think I let you into those darker places of my life.
Dave: That’s a pretty big confession. That’s half of our marriage.
Ann: I know. I think it’s taken me probably just as long learning how to get out of that shame. The truth is our past experiences and our past shame affect our marriages and they affect the way we parent.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on FamilyLife®app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: We were talking to a couple a few weeks ago. They said, “Yes, our past is not going to affect our marriage.” They’re in their first year of marriage, and we just literally wanted to almost to laugh out loud.
Not that it’s funny but it’s like, “Oh, you have no idea!”
Dave: “This will affect you.” Like you said, for 20-something years, and especially this topic of shame which we have been talking about the last couple of days.
We’ve got Ron and Nan Deal back in the studio with us. We’re going to do another day on this hot topic called shame.
Nan: Oh no.
Ron: But we need to because it is in every one of our lives.
Nan: It is.
Dave: As you hear us say, “…half our marriage.” It wasn’t just Ann. I was hiding, as well, and can still hide because of shame.
Ron: About three days ago Nan and I were having a conversation in the kitchen over breakfast, and I was unpacking some things about my shame and how it impacts my life and how it shows up in the little micro-moments of life.
I’ll give you a quick illustration. She said, “There’s breakfast casserole leftovers in the refrigerator.”
Nan: Because you have to know, Ron doesn’t remember, I’m not shaming you, Baby.
Ron: I waste food.
Nan: He doesn’t remember what’s in the refrigerator, and he’s over there doing something, just making toast or whatever. I’m thinking, “There’s delicious breakfast casserole. I want to help you out. You really love that.” He’ll forget what’s in our house to even eat, so I was really trying to help you out there.
Ron: Here’s where the emotional dominos go in my head and my heart. All of a sudden, I heard, “I should eat breakfast casserole. She has a need for me to eat breakfast casserole, and I don’t want to waste, because I’ve done that in the past. So, I need to jump in there and eat breakfast casserole even though I really don’t want breakfast casserole. But that’s okay, Ron; your opinion doesn't matter because you need to be doing what your wife wants you to do.”
Where does that come from? I spent a good deal of my childhood making sure my parents were happy with me, so I’m always letting other people’s opinions matter more than my own opinion. So, I spent a good part of our marriage not having opinions. Because if I had opinions then they might be wrong. Then I’m disappointing somebody that I love and care for. Nan’s opinion is far more worthy than my opinion, so I’m going to eat breakfast casserole.
Ron: That happened in a nano second three days ago.
Ann: That happens to all of us.
Ron: You know what? I’m finally at a place in my life where I go, “I know what that is, and I can have an opinion. She might actually be disappointed that I eat something different than breakfast casserole. You know what? It’s going to be okay, because I know that she loves me, and our relationship is not based on whether I please her in every moment of our life. It’s going to be okay. I can have an opinion. I’m a person of worth because of Jesus.”
All of that became the new thought that replaced the shame thought. That’s taken work, folks. [Laughter] I mean that has taken—
Dave: I’m exhausted just listening.
Ann: I don’t know why it’s taken 20 years.
Ron: --You should live it, trying to figure that, but this is the human experience. This is what we are talking about.
Ann: It’s beautiful, and it’s why we need one another.
Dave: We need to understand Jesus as He walks into this part of our lives which is, as we said the last couple of days, a huge part—
Ann: And He wants to walk into it.
Dave: —of all our lives. Yes. We mentioned this conversation Jesus had with the woman at the well yesterday. We had Dr. Kristi McLelland on. She’s a Jewish historian/a college professor. Her insights into history and even this conversation were enlightening to us.
We want to play a quick clip, and I want to hear your response. Because she talks about how Jesus walks into the shame that this woman at the well felt. It was an insight I had never really understood before. I think it can help us understand shame and how we need to respond as followers of Christ to this part of our lives.
Kristi: One of the things I like to unpack as we understand Jesus and His historical, cultural world in this moment is at that time, divorce was the exclusive right of the male. Only men could divorce their wives. Women could not even legally—that just wasn’t even a thing.
We’ve often thought of her as having five husbands, it means that she’s a man eater, she’s a perpetual cheater or something like this.
Ann: She’s loose.
Kristi: She’s loose.
Ann: Bad morals.
Kristi: But there’s absolutely no way that’s what the text is saying because she would be dead. They stone adulteresses in that world. We have a story in John chapter eight that tells us that. So, she’s not lascivious; so she’s had five husbands. What’s going on?
I always say, Jesus was not naming her sin in that moment; He was naming her shame. Because she had been left five times. Five men had married and left her. It’s different—
Ann: She felt like, “What is wrong with me that all these men would leave me? I must be broken.”
Dave: That’s her shame.
Kristi: That’s her shame. So, Jesus grabs her back to our definition of justice. From the moment that He says that to her—go read the narrative—He starts lifting her out of it.
In the gospel of John, she is the first person, the first person, that He ever explicitly admits that He is the Messiah. You can only do a thing for the first time one time for all of human history from Genesis one till the end of it all, she will forever always be the one that holds the right that she was the first one that He told that He was the Messiah.
Ron: What I hear in that clip is a woman who was not guilty, we could say, or responsible necessarily for those previous marriages, but she still carried the shame of it. For a lot of people listening right now, it didn’t start with that first marriage; it started earlier than that in a previous relationship or in childhood with family or with parents or what have you.
She’s kind of always walked around with this sense that she’s not worthy or “Nobody really wants you.” Then lo and behold, it happens over and over and over again, and the shame just gets deeper and deeper and deeper.
To connect the thought we heard from Dr. Kurt Thompson in a previous broadcast yesterday, Jesus says, “I see that and I’m not afraid of that part of you. I’m coming for that. I want you to know that that thing that you are just so ashamed of is not going to keep Me from loving you. I’m still here.”
By the way, that’s the beginning of healing. When we are honest with our story that we are so ashamed of, outwardly in a way that allows, Jesus first and foremost, and then other loving people here on earth for them to actually see that, hear that, and then for them to respond to us in a loving way to say, “I’m not leaving; I still care for you. You still matter to me,” that’s when shame begins to dissipate.
Nan: He meets her in the mess. She’s still in it. It’s not in the past for her. It’s in the present. That’s what I love. I’m sitting here listening to that clip and thinking, “The Messiah comes to her as she’s living with somebody.” She’s still in it, and He’s not afraid of that.
He’s going to come after us in our mess. We just have to be willing to share our messes. That’s a hard thing to do.
Ron: Let me wrap around to finish the rest of the story I started earlier over breakfast casserole.
Dave: Oh, we’re back there?
Ron: We’re back to that—
Dave: We’re in your kitchen.
Ron: —because the second part of this—
Nan: Honey, you can have whatever you want to eat. [Laughter]
Ron: Thank you.
Nan: Have that toast with that peanut butter and syrup. [Laughter]
Ron: That’s the good stuff.
The second part of that story is, even though I had to do all those mental gymnastics of “Okay, wait a minute; this is past. What am I doing? Why do I think that way? No, it’s okay. I can be a self,” the next thing I needed to do was let Nan see that in me. Because if I hold that all within myself, there’s still this suspicion, “Boy, if somebody I really care for saw that in me, they would still reject me.”
The only way through that is to find the courage to tell her. I had to find a trusted person, right? There’s been seasons in Nan and I’s marriage where I didn’t trust her to tell her those kinds of intimate things about me.
Ron: But at this point, I do. So, I said, “Let me tell you what just went on within me.” I’m sharing outwardly this whole thing about shame.
By the way, shame wants to say, “No, don’t share that because you will be ashamed that you feel shame,” so you don’t share. It’s like, “No, I have to share.” She held it with honor and respect and cared for me.
Ann: I would have said, “Thanks for sharing.”
Nan: Yes, and here’s what I really meant by that. I just wanted you to know it was in there so that you might be able to enjoy that. There was no need for you to eat it - just there it was.
Ann: But he was triggered.
Nan: Yes, he was definitely triggered.
Dave: Is this life, being married to a therapist; is this what happens? [Laughter]
Ron: Well, she was doing the therapy on the therapist. That’s one of those moments where I need it, I need the healing and I have to share that openly with somebody who will hold it sacred.
Nan: I’ll tell you this: it’s not just life with a therapist. I think it’s life with two people who have been redeemed and healed.
Dave: They’ve done the work. You’re doing the work.
Nan: —doing that work and trying to be more vulnerable with one another, more intimate. We would keep things from one another.
That was a huge thing for him to share that. It’s a very big thing now for me to share “You know what: I did this. I need to own this behavior in the past. But new Nan is going to walk in this freedom.”
We didn’t do that very well for a long time. I think that kept us from being intimate with one another. There was no confessional community.
Dave: I heard years ago, decades ago, they said, “Church is where people hide the most.”
Dave: As I was listening to Kristi, she said, “Jesus lifted her out of the shame.” I thought, “That’s what we should be; we should be lifters out of shame in our marriages, as parents in the church.”
What would that look like? Because it shouldn’t be the place we hide. It should be the place we are seen and loved out of our shame.
Ron: I think it always starts in a community; it starts with leadership. If leadership is unwilling to do that then nobody else is going to do it. Somebody from the front has to do that.
So often, pastors and leaders—I know because I was in that place—I did this. I shared a little bit, but it was calculating about what I would share about my life. I didn’t really open up. I sort of always gave this sense that we had it together and life was just fine. That really wasn’t the truth at all.
To the heart of the question—I mean there’s really two sides of this—back to my little breakfast casserole example—two things have to happen: I have to be willing to find the courage to share openly about something that I’m ashamed of, and it needs to be done in the presence of somebody else. In this case it was my wife, but it could be a small group. It could be some other people, fellow friends, or believers.
Nan: —or parent to child.
Ron: Parent to child, that will receive it and hear it and acknowledge it—not “Oh, it’s not a big deal.” No, no, no, “This is hard. Oh, I see what you’re talking about. I see you.” See there’s Jesus: “I’m coming for you. I see you fully as you are, and I still love you.”
That’s sort of experience from people that I love and trust now is what begins to heal that shame. It no longer has a hold on me, a grasp saying, “Ron, you’ve got to run and hide.”
All of a sudden, I experience “No, I don’t have to hide. I am received and love by God, absolutely, and by my wife in this moment sees me completely and she’s still here. I think it’s okay that I have this part of me that I’m not proud of.” That’s a healing process.
Dave: But—I know I’m listening to this right now and I’m in a marriage where I’m like, “Okay—
Ron: “I don’t trust that spouse.”
Dave: “If really told her. She wouldn’t stay….”
A child is thinking “If my mom or Dad really knew what I did last night, so I’m only going to tell them a little bit. They’re not going to stay. So, I’m not going to—and if I told anybody at the church, I’m not welcome back there, because what I’m doing is one hundred times worse than what anyone else is doing there.”
That’s why we don’t. How do we trust people that they won’t leave?
Ron: You’ve got to be careful to choose the right people.
Nan: I think we have to flip that scenario. We have to flip that scenario.
I’m a part of a beautiful community, Regeneration. Every Thursday night, someone’s getting up and giving their testimony or you’re in a group where someone is sharing their life.
Not too long ago, one of my friends who I graduated with got up to give her testimony. She was the woman at the well. She came from addiction. Her story is addiction—five marriages.
At one point, Linda takes a breath and in the audience you hear, “This is a safe place. We love you; we’re here for you. God has got this,” and she goes.
This woman has been in prison five times, and she is now leading women in a Step Group. I see more Jesus in her. It’s beautiful, because she is in a safe place where she can share her stuff but also then share what God has done in her life.
We need to take a breath, step back and not be judgmental of what our spouse is coming at us with or what our kids are coming at us with. Remember what God has forgiven us. I mean we’ve been forgiven so much. It’s got to be a shift in the churches; it’s got to be a shift in our marriages and our families.
Ron: Nan’s Regeneration Ministry is huge. It has structure; they have rules about how you respond. You don’t crosstalk; you don’t gossip. You listen to people. There’s just this culture that creates that loving environment.
Marriage, as Dave was saying, sometimes is dangerous to be honest and real and transparent. Think about parenting for a minute. A child does something wrong. We want them to feel guilty about it. We want them to feel some measure of conviction about that, to feel regret about their own behavior.
I think that’s what 2 Corinthians 7, is talking about “godly grief” literally means regret. You feel regret over your behavior and that motivates you to repent and to change.
But what we don’t want them to feel is that you are a horrible person, that you are unacceptable, that you are unworthy of my love.
Those are two totally different things: regret over behavior but “You are still worthy of my love, and I’m still here and I’m not going anywhere. I’m moving towards you even in the midst of the moment where you feel the most shame.” That’s when we are able to maintain our influence and help somebody move through it and move, I want to say, past that shame moment.
Dave: How do you create, in a family, a grace-based home, not a shame-based home? I think a lot of us have created a shame-based not knowing it. We think we are doing the Christian thing—
Ann: Oh, I’m hearing it now with my adult kids of the things that I said and did, and I’m like, “Oohh!”
Nan: You have glances. You can do it with a glance.
Ron: —a look.
Nan: You can do it with one word.
Dave: A glance that says, “I’m disappointed.”
Nan: Yes, “Why are you doing that that way?” or “Why did that happen there?”
Dave: Even what you said earlier, “What in the world were you thinking?”
Dave: It’s basically saying, “You are a loser.”
Ann: Every parent is like, “So what do we do?” [Laughter] “That look had some power to it.”
Ron: Let me give you something that challenges me. Scripture talks a lot about God’s delight in us. Okay, slow that down for me; back up the track. He knows everything about you and me. He knows every sin I’ve ever committed. He knows how dark my heart can be in any given moment, and yet, He delights in me.
Nan: —and He keeps coming.
Ron: He keeps coming. The story of the gospel is God pursuing those who were dark in their hearts.
Alright, how do we delight in our child in a moment of disobedience? How do we delight in them in a time, a season of their life where, and it’s happened with our kids, where they’re turning away from what’s good and right and noble and following the way of the world?
I’m not saying don’t set boundaries. Absolutely, consequences, especially with younger children, we absolutely want to come alongside them and try to create some of that godly grief that leads to repentance, and we absolutely, positively want to communicate at the very same time “You are my child and I still delight in you. I still love you. This has not changed anything about the nature of your value to me.”
Now that is a delicate, delicate little tightrope to walk.
Ron: But I think that’s how we keep from using shame as our best tool. Because let’s just say it: Shame is one of the greatest parenting tools in the world. [Laughter] You can get a kid to change a behavior in a heartbeat.
Dave: —and guilt.
Ron: Shame will work. It’s a sledge hammer, and it creates all kinds of other problems in the long run. So, no, it’s not a great parenting tool. But it is a great fall back when you don’t know what else—
Ann: It’s a powerful tool.
Ron: We want to delight and correct.
Nan: I think that’s what we need to do with God’s grace, with His mercy. It’s got to get into us. We have to know how much He loves us, how much His grace and mercy and steadfast love is for us, no matter how long we journey, we prodigal.
It’s the same thing with our spouse. It’s the same thing with our kids. The jury can still be out on some things.
I have felt that way in my life in my fifties. I’m just now grasping how immeasurably He loves me; He’s forgiven me. I want to show that grace and mercy to others.
When we grasp that, you don’t want to hold that in; you just want to give that out. I think that would help in our families; I think that would help in the church for sure.
Dave: Yes, as I hear you say that, I’m thinking, “Often in our sin—” maybe I’m just talking about me “—I run away from the Father, but if I understood what you just said, “His delight,’ even in my sin, I may come to Him with my head down because I’ve sinned and I’m confessing, [but] by the end of that conversation my chin is going to be up because he is going to literally lift it.”
Nan: —going to lift up my head.
Dave: —and say, “Thank you for confessing that. It was wrong, but I love you.”
Nan: “But I love you.”
Ann: “—and I died for that.”
Dave: “That is not who you are. That is what you did; that is not who you are. Let’s go live who you are.”
Nan: “Go and sin no more.”
Dave: If our sons and daughters ran to our homes with that sense: “I need to tell Mom and Dad what I did. It was wrong, but I know that they’re going to love me, and I’m going to walk back out with my chin back up, and I’m going to live the way I’m—I’m going to live my identity.”
Ann: “—I’m going to live free.”
Dave: That’s what we hope to embody as parents, right? That’s the gospel, that we would live that in our homes and our kids would feel it.
Shelby: You are listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Ron and Nan Deal on FamilyLife Today.
If you’ve ever messed up as a parent, hypothetically, you’ll want to stick around. Ron and Nan have some encouragement for you.
But first many couples in blended families struggle with the element of shame. But the good news is you don’t have to. So, join us for some encouragement at this year’s Blended and Blessed® live event and Livestream.
You’ll hear from Ron and Nan Deal, John Trent and other amazing speakers. The event is coming up on April 29th, and you don’t even have to leave home to attend. You can learn more under the show notes section on FamilyLifeToday.com.
Also, earlier this week we heard from author and speaker, Heather Holleman. Her book is called, Seated with Christ. We wanted to send you a copy as our thanks when you partner financially with FamilyLife.
Your partnership helps make conversations just like the one you heard today actually possible. Conversations that families all over the county, and really all around the world, desperately need to hear.
You can help more families today by giving at FamilyLifeToday.com, and we’ll send you Heather’s book as our thanks.
Again, you can give at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329. That’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright, here’s Ron and Nan with some encouragement for parents who mess up. You know, like me specifically, or really all of us.
Nan: If you have messed up as a parent, today is the day to go in and go, “Okay, I have messed up as a parent. I have shamed-parented you. Forgive me. I want to start anew, afresh, because this is what God’s done in my life. What do you think about that? Let’s talk about that.”
The day’s not over.
Ron: Listen to the importance of that? You are now demonstrating how to come out of your own shame. As a parent I can be stuck: “Well, I’m ashamed that I’ve been shaming my own kids, so I can’t really say that out loud.”
No, that’s exactly the thing to do: Confess, bring it to the surface, own it, put it out there, ask for forgiveness, and in so doing, demonstrate to your child a process that they need to learn how do to deal with their own shame.
Shelby: Do you ever feel like you keep messing up or you can’t ever get anything right spiritually or really just in general? Make sure you join us next week as Dave and Ann talk with pastor and author Dane Ortlund about applying the grace of God to our real lives. That’s coming up next week.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife®, a Cru® Ministry.
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*Audio clip from the FamiyLife Today® program, Jesus and Women, with guest, Kristie McLelland. 2/23/23 URL: https://www.familylife.com/podcast/guest/kristi-mclelland/
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