6 Sneaky Ways Shame Can Undermine Your Marriage

When we are the ones that bring hurt into our marriages, it can be more difficult to forgive ourselves than for our spouses to forgive us. We can carry an unnecessary and damaging burden of shame over the things we’ve done that we now regret.

The reality is that everyone of us have messed up at some point or another. To fail in our relationships is a part of what it is to be human.

Nonetheless, we can get stuck in a negative shame driven cycle that stops true healing from happening in our relationship. Many times, we are blind to the ways that we are stopping ourselves from finding true freedom in our marriage.

How can we spot shame’s effects and change the tide of our hearts to be able to truly accept the forgiveness we have access to? Here are some secret ways shame sneaks into our relationships and undermines our ability to truly move forward as a couple:

1. Shame Says You’re Not Worthy of Kindness from Your Spouse

Many of us work through an incident but fail to let ourselves “off the hook” for the wrong we’ve done to our spouse. Life goes back to normal, yet you continue to carry the heavy weight of unworthiness.

Your spouse reaches out to show you that they care but you just can’t accept the love they are trying to offer. Shame is the lie that says to you’re not good enough to be loved, and it can take hold of your heart and mind. 

Resisting the love of our spouses continues the cycle of hurt in marriage. Remember, your spouse wants for you both to be able to show each other reciprocal kindness and care. 

Refusing to accept their love stifles your ability as a couple to move forward and heal from past hurts. Be willing to accept grace so you can once again fully enjoy one another. 

2. Shame Stops Us from Being Honest with Our Spouse

Shame is the same emotion that led Adam and Eve to cover themselves and hide in the garden.  It truly is one of man’s first sins.

It pushes us to want to run and hide from ourselves and others. We don’t want others to see our ugliness. When we live with shame we start to feel the need to cover up our actions.

It’s tempting to lie to our spouse about our behavior because our shame is so great it can feel like we don’t have the strength to honestly handle what we have done. 

Jesus tells us that the truth will set us free (John 8:31-32). If we want to break the bonds of shame over our lives, we have to resolve to be honest in every situation. What can hold us back even more than messing up is messing up and living a lie!  Once we confess to our spouse how we have fallen short, then healing can begin. 

3. Shame Says You Could Never Achieve Your Goals

When shame takes hold of our hearts, our self-esteem plummets. Shame locks us up in a lie that tells us we don’t qualify for whatever it is our hearts desire. If your goal is to have a thriving marriage that others can look up to, the shame of our mistakes can tell us that we will never meet that goal. 

I’m here to tell you that’s just simply isn’t true. And the reality is many of us have to learn the hard way! If we are willing to learn, then our failures can be our best teachers. 

My husband and I went through a rough patch a few years back and decided to go to marriage counseling through our church. We were blown away at the generosity and wisdom the counselor brought to each session.

Later we were shocked to learn that what brought him to becoming a marriage counselor was living through two failed marriages! It wasn’t until he met his third and current wife that God really changed his heart and life.

It would have been easy for him to believe that because he “failed” he could never support others in their marriages but I for one am so thankful that he did not let that lie hold him back from pouring freely into the lives of others. His wise words and God’s Holy Spirit working in him saved my marriage from disaster. 

No matter where you’ve been God can use you. Let your failures build empathy and humility in your heart. Don’t let shame steal your dreams! 

4. Shame Steals Intimacy from Your Marriage

When shame is on the scene our natural response is to hide away and withdraw from our relationship. Intimacy and living withdrawn into yourself don’t mix well. 

If we want to be fully known and loved, then vulnerability is required. Shame really is the fear that our actions have made us unlovable. If we are afraid, then we aren’t free to fully connect as a couple.

This retreat applies to both emotional intimacy and sexual intimacy. If we are scared to share our failures, we cannot fully connect emotionally. If we aren’t connecting emotionally then our sexual intimacy will be lacking. Emotional connectedness and a meaningful sex life go hand in hand. 

Don’t let the lie that says you are unlovable take away the chance for meaningful encounters.

We read in 1 John 4:18 that we have access to a radical love through Christ that expels all fear from our lives. We can apply this not only to our spiritual relationship but also to our relationship with the people in our lives.

Invite God’s powerful love into your heart so you can boldly accept the truth that you can have a marriage filled with fearless love!

5. Shame Steals the Ability to Live Life Joyfully

When shame invades our lives, it permeates our minds and colors our every interaction.  We may go through the motions of happiness but if we are honest, these sweet moments are tainted by the message in our minds that says we aren’t worthy.

We hold back from truly experiencing the good our marriage and families bring to our lives. We are caught in a heavy fog, that only can be lifted when we turn to God to remove the power of shame from our lives. 

We find the hopeful message in Hebrews 12:2 that Jesus endured the cross so we don’t have to live in shame anymore!

The Bible even said it was His joy to endure because He knew the power it would make available to our lives. Joy is the opposite for shame-filled living. When we embrace the message of Jesus, we then are invited to experience joy each and every day with our spouses.

Let God’s hopeful message pull away the fog from your life so you can fully experience the sunshine again together with the one you love.

6. Shame Makes Us Selfish

Shame is an all-about-me kind of emotion. It only considers how bad you feel because of something you did. In our marriages, we can’t be the spouses we are called to be when the weight of shame is living in our hearts.

You aren’t able to connect, engage, serve, or enjoy your spouse fully when your heart is weighed down by the lies of shame. 

One of the best ways to combat shame is to get out of our own heads and start to purposefully consider the feelings of your spouse first. It may be difficult to shake off the feeling of unworthiness but living in them only hurts our husbands and wives more.

 When your mind wants to trick you in the rut of shame, make a point to serve your spouse better. It’ll distract you from your pity-party and make your spouse happy too!   

Sometimes a list like this can feel overwhelming and reinforce the negative voice in your head that says you “just can’t get it right.” That is not the message though!

The message is that shame is a part of the plan of the enemy of your soul, but the good news is God has a different, much better plan for you! God promises us that He has defeated the power of shame with the cross. 

We just have to take a step towards him and away from the burdens we carry to experience the freedom He promises. While our minds make that seems so hard, it’s really as simple as surrendering. 


Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes about all things motherhood for Richmond Macaroni Kid and creates devotions for Daily Bible Devotions App. She has work published with Her View from Home, is contributing to a year-long marriage couples devotional for Crosswalk, and is a regular contributor for the marriage/family/homeschool/parenting channels on Crosswalk.com. You can find out more about Amanda at rvahouseofjoy.com or follow her on Instagram at rvahouseofjoy.

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