Have you ever shared with your spouse about how they had hurt you and your spouse became defensive, argumentative, avoidant, or contemptuous? Have you ever hurt your spouse, they addressed the issue with you, and you became defensive, argumentative, avoidant, or contemptuous? In both of these situations, either you or your spouse, or both of you, are doing something that will lead to years of frustration in your marriage - avoiding ownership.
Ownership means that we take responsibility for our actions towards our spouse. If our spouse was hurt because we were short with them, then we take ownership. If our spouse was hurt because we were late for dinner and hadn't called beforehand, then we take ownership. If we spent money that the other didn't know about and it hurt them, then we take ownership. If we were looking at pornography, our spouse found it, and felt betrayed, then we take ownership.
Ownership builds trust.
I remember listening to a pastor at my church talk one time about how he had hurt his wife in a conversation. He had been defensive and avoidant. The argument wasn't resolved. He drove off to work. On his drive, he realized that he wanted to take ownership for what he had done. He called up his wife on his cell phone and said, "I am so sorry. I don't want to do that any more. That isn't what I want to do to you."
In that moment, I realized something that has been very powerful for me and my wife. When I take ownership for my actions and have a deep desire to change and treat her differently during a similar situation in the future, then it builds trust between her and I. Even more trust is built when my future actions line up with my desires.
My wife and I go through this process all the time. She and I meet each other in the middle of our harm towards one another. Sure, we could avoid it, rationalize it, or debate it, but that creates further division. Instead, we meet each other in the middle of the pain, be it big or small.
Telling on ourselves builds trust.
Another form of ownership is telling on ourselves. There are times when we harm our spouse without them knowing it. Sounds strange, right? Think about little white lies you've told. How about pretending to enjoy something with your spouse when you were secretly hating the activity? Maybe it was more dramatic like you caught yourself flirting with someone at work and didn't realize it until after the fact. Now you don't know what to do.
Some of us might say that we don't want to hurt our spouse by telling them. Better to keep it hidden and try to change than risk telling our spouse and hurting them. Bill Thrall puts it very well when he says, "When we do something against someone in secret, we have already harmed them, they just don't know it yet." And, to be honest, they probably do know, they just don't know what it is. We all have a sixth sense that something is wrong.
Taking ownership and telling on ourselves is one of the deepest and most intimate things my wife and I do together. It feels paradoxical, but when we meet each other in the middle of our harm against one another, we experience trust, safety, intimacy, forgiveness, and peace. The terrifying part about this process is that the only way to get to those things is to meet each other in the middle of pain, sadness, confusion, and uncertainty. It is never easy or simple, but the risk may result in something glorious.