Does Brutal Honesty Have a Place in Marriage?

Do you pride yourself on being “brutally honest”? Many of us do, but should it really be a point of pride in marriage?

While the old adage “the truth hurts” can be true, we should do our best to avoid being honest in a hurtful way. But oftentimes, we find ourselves in situations where we may try to justify harshness as a way to sway our spouses one way or the other.

The Bible is full of wisdom on how we should treat one another. While we should absolutely be honest with our spouses, scripture also teaches us to be loving. So is it possible to be both loving and brutally honest? Does brutal honesty have a place in marriage?

What does “brutally honest” really mean?

When considering whether brutal honesty belongs in marriage, the first thing we should do is look at the context and meaning of the word “brutal”. According to the Merriam-Webster thesaurus, some synonyms of brutal include “bitter, burdensome, cruel, excruciating, grievous, grim, hard, harsh, heavy, inhuman, onerous, oppressive, rough, rugged, searing, severe, stiff, tough, trying”.

The term brutally honest is usually used to describe someone who says exactly what they think, unfiltered, no matter who it hurts. We tend to think of brutal honesty as a kind of tough love, but in reality, do any of those synonyms evoke love of any kind? We’ll show you what we mean.

Contrasting brutality with love

In contrast, the Bible gives us the perfect definition of what love is in 1 Corinthians 13. Verses 4-8 (New International Version – NIV) say:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”

The Bible also gives us examples of how married couples should treat one another. While the above passage is self-explanatory on its own, we can add more context by looking at verses from Ephesians and 1 Peter that deal specifically with marriage.

“However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” – Ephesians 5:33 (NIV)

“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect […]” – 1 Peter 3:7(NIV)

God’s word demands respect, consideration, and understanding from husbands and wives for one another. And when Paul wrote to the Ephesians about how truth should be handled, he said this:

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” – Ephesians 4:15 (NIV)

That doesn’t sound brutal to us.

Reconciling direct honesty with love

So if you or your spouse have been in the “brutal honesty” camp, how should you go about transforming your honestly into a more loving delivery? First, think about being direct, rather than brutal.

Aligning brutality with love gives us an excuse to be cruel to one another. Removing cruelty from your honesty does not dilute the truth. Instead, it amplifies it. When we’re cruel to one another, we shut ourselves off from real communication. Cruelty causes us to raise our defenses. It closes us off to conflict resolution.

When you look at it objectively, the idea of brutal honesty is a logical fallacy. But it’s possible to be both direct and loving. And, you’ll probably find that it’s easier to resolve conflicts when you set aside brutality and all the baggage it brings with it.

If you and your spouse need a road map to more constructive conflict resolution, take a look at our book, The Good Fight. You don’t need to be brutal to get your point across. What you need instead is a strong strategy, both for listening and being heard.

Do you and your spouse struggle with the concept of brutal honesty? What have you done to shift into more loving communication? Let us know in the comments section.


  • Joyce Gerald says:

    Tartness in one’s response tends to end the communication process.

  • Tim Richards says:

    Great article. From my experience as a pastor who has counseled hundreds of couples over nearly 40 years of ministry, when brutal honesty is used, it typically only results in anger and when couples are angry, neither one listens. When both spouses simply want to be heard, but aren’t listening, nothing gets resolved and both are likely to hurt one another. The key is speaking the truth, but doing it out of love for your spouse with the goal of finding a shared resolution. When both the husband and wife respect one another and treasure their relationship they set themselves up to build a stronger relationship.

  • GREGORY COOK says:

    GOD Bless
    Per your shared Merriam-Webster definition of word one the answer to the question is simply no. CHRIST was honest and direct but always with concern (even with the Pharisaical folks) for where the results of being so left the relationship and fellowship. My problem is most often delivery. My honest forthrightness usually has a tone, facial expression, or hand motion and therein real communication is lost. Workin’ on it. 🙂

  • Andrew says:

    My friends, if someone is caught in any kind of wrongdoing, those of you who are spiritual should set him right; but you must do it in a gentle way. And keep an eye on yourselves, so that you will not be tempted, also.

    So yes, we must be honest but not brutal. Many times my wife has said to me, “It’s not what you said but how you said it.” Being blunt, is not the same as being brutal.

  • Fantastic article! I find that those who take pride in being “brutally honest” often take more pleasure in being brutal than they do in being honest. The truth should never be used as a bludgeoning instrument to get your own way.

  • David Retana says:

    Very interesting article. It’s never to late to learn something new or a better way of doing it.

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