“Honey, How Could You?” read the title of the recent WSJ piece. Apparently many of us are at risk of being embarrassed by our spouses and of wanting to just run away and hide as a result.
There are two types of embarrassment. One (the one we are NOT dealing with here) is where your spouse, intentionally or un, targets you for embarrassment – either through teasing that can range from allegedly good-natured to downright cruel (and possibly abusive) or through revealing private information – which may run a similar spectrum.
The other type is when your husband or wife says or does something, perhaps silly or foolish, that embarrasses you.
Why are we embarrassed? Frequently it is because we imagine that people are laughing at our partner – and therefore us too by association. Or we think that they are looking at him (and therefore us too!) with disdain or contempt. We are embarrassed to be linked with someone who behaves like that, who thinks like that, who is the target of the scorn or derision of others, the butt of their humor. What does that say about me? My judgment? My choices? We feel judged and found wanting.
We should never be embarrassed by our spouses.
But what’s wrong with this scenario? Just like we should never be embarrassed by our children (so they should know we ALWAYS have their back), we should never be embarrassed by our spouses. Our first and most important commitment is to them. Our loyalty is to them. Our support is to them.
Whose opinion is more valuable to us than theirs? What do we care about how other people, who are less important to us, whose opinion if accessed objectively is actually irrelevant or certainly flawed, respond?
When my children would come home from school complaining about name calling, my husband would always ask them if it was true and if it came from someone whose opinion they valued. The answer to both questions was always no. I still remember an incident from college. My dorm mother complimented me on the dress I was wearing. I floated through the day feeling very good about myself until I remembered she was the same person who had chosen the really dreadful material for the couches in the common room. Her opinion shouldn’t have had the weight to inflate or deflate my sense of self.
What does it say about our marriage and our commitment that we are so vulnerable to the opinions of others? What does it say about us and our sense of self-worth?
Please God, if you have many years together, your spouse will inevitably say and do some foolish things along the way (yes even your spouse). And, believe it or not, so will you. But whatever you say or do, you want your partner’s support. You want to know they’ve got your back – even when you make a mistake or exercise less than stellar judgment.
An individual sense of embarrassment can be a healthy thing. It may prevent us from behaving in ways that we later regret, that are a source of shame. It may act as a fence against loss of control or foolhardy behavior. It keeps us in check. It’s a good personal tool for self-control.
But the key is self-control. We don’t want to control our spouses (well, maybe we do but that’s another problem!). Our job is not to keep them in check (although we may sometimes need to gently suggest that certain behaviors should be scaled back). Our job is to be supportive, however they act, whatever they do. We don’t want our husband or wife to ever be embarrassed by us. And we need to respond in kind. With unconditional love and support. Whatever they say (however bad the joke!) and whatever they do.