Every Tuesday we’ll be posting an article about restoring and strengthening marriages that have been damaged by sexual sin. Hope it’s helpful.
Tonight my fifteen year old talked me into watching Mr. and Mrs. Smith, a Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie movie released years ago which I’d never seen but, he assured me, I would love. I didn’t. Midway through, in fact, I remarked to him that if silliness took speed, it would come out looking something like this film. But the movie’s general theme of duplicity and marital trust did get my interest, and I was especially keen on a general point it made: Secrets can kill a marriage, but resilient love resurrects it.
Pitt and Jolie play hired assassins who are married but neglect to tell each other about their real work, opting instead to pretend they hold traditional jobs. When a professional crisis forces both of them to admit their secret lives, both react with outrage and, in fact, nearly kill each other. Then comes a passionate reconciliation, followed by a long recitation of secrets they’ve kept from each other over the years, then finally, an ultimate commitment to protect each other and their union.
Ironically, the film opens and closes with the two of them facing a marriage counselor, and I found myself relating most to those scenes, even seeing quite a few of my own clients in them. Because the secrets one or both parties keep are usually the things that bring couples into my office. Something exposes the secrets, the marriage is now in crisis, and the looming question becomes, So what do we do with this?
Three lessons Mr. and Mrs. Smith learned in the film apply to any couple in crisis over a husband’s secret life.
Lies Create Wedges
Long before the film characters knew about each other’s secrets. they both realized they’d been drifting apart as a couple, without fully understanding why. That’s because when we lie to someone, no matter how deeply we love that person, we create a wedge of secrecy that can’t help but cripple intimacy. In fact, most wives I’ve worked with who discovered their husband’s secret sin have reported that the secrecy was more hurtful than the sin itself. To lie is to say, in essence, “I choose to keep you out of this part of my life, and I don’t trust you enough, nor do I respect our relationship enough, to come clean.” That’s a message no relationship can endure for very long.
Wedges Create Distance
A delicate, essential part of marriage is mutual dependency. We build a life with a spouse with whom we hope to share our secrets, weaknesses, dreams and fears. But to deliberately keep significant secrets is to block that sort of intimacy. My close friends with whom I’ve established years of mutual trust are welcome to come into my home even when it’s a mess. (What else are friends for?) But if I’m keeping something unclean in my home, something I wouldn’t want them to know about, then suddenly I’ll start getting prohibitive about which rooms in my house they can go into. They’ll notice the change, of course, and assume it signals a change in our friendship and trust. And that’s the stuff relational wedges are made of.
Lies Injure; Love Heals
Oddly, the Mr. and Mrs. Smith characters had a deep bond despite their glaring and deliberate secret keeping. When they first discovered each other’s lies, they both assumed that, because their partner had lied about some things, the entire marriage must therefore be a sham. But the more they explored what they really had despite their mutual dishonesty, the more they realized a genuine bond had built up that had been injured, not killed, by lies. This is especially important to the wife who finds she’s been deceived by her husband about one thing, because in her justified rage and pain, she’s likely to assume her entire marriage is bogus. But if she and her spouse take the time to examine the totality of what they have, there’s a good chance she’ll see that his deception, while heinous, needn’t be the end. There are, more often than not, lasting bonds that can be revived.
Of course Mr. and Mrs. Smith is a fantasy story, and is far from my list of recommended viewing. But for real couples, the film’s also a reminder of the severity of deception, the consequences of double lives, and the hope for healing even the most damaged of marriages can look for. And that’s a message many couples today need to be reminded of.