Why Openness Builds Stronger Marriages and Families

One summer evening in 2022, my husband and I stopped holding our breath. Sitting across from one of our favorite married couples at the Chateau Elan Winery, we exchanged stories about our newly married experiences. As the sky turned pink and orange, we laughed, mhmmed, and shed tears as we discussed difficulties navigating finances, respect, faith, illness, and spousal needs. 

Seven months into our marriage, my husband and I had many conversations with several married couples, but most weren’t comfortable opening up. We observed folks shift in their seats when we tried to be honest about what was happening in our marriage.

However, as we sipped our wine around a firepit that summer evening, we found that this couple would be vulnerable enough to show us their mess. My husband and I let out a deep sigh and shared our mess, too. As we all mustered the courage to ask and answer the hard questions, we found that our mess wasn’t as scary as we thought and that it was safe to be open with people we trust. Although we were different people in different relationships dealing with different issues, many of our experiences were similar. We weren’t crazy. We weren’t alone. We were normal, and marriage was hard.

We felt seen and known. 

This refreshing experience took a sledgehammer to the walls my husband and I didnt even realize we began to erect. It also unraveled the spoken rule of our childhood–that “what happens in the house stays in the house.”

A relatively modern saying that popped up in the 20th century, the rule has become a mantra often recited to children in Black households. Emphasizing family privacy, it has resonated with people who want to protect family business. The saying might sound comforting at first, promoting privacy and family loyalty, but as many Black families have experienced, this mentality can be problematic by inadvertently hiding abusive behavior. It can also create a toxic environment due to the bottling up of negative experiences and cause emotional strains within families. Additionally, there can be a breakdown in trust and healthy dynamics when family members are encouraged to keep secrets. This harm unfolded onscreen in Love is Blind’s Season Six as Clay revealed to the world that when he was a child, he was aware of and involved in his father’s infidelity. He confessed that his father often took him on these trips, which they both kept from his mother. For marriages, in particular, this type of behavior leaves little room for outside support or accountability. 

Many of us probably don’t even realize we’ve carried the dysfunctional rule into adulthood and, now, into our own homes. However, for my husband and I, that day at the winery marked a critical shift in our household. We found healing and encouragement in taking the masks off and relating to our peers, who were in a similar place in life and willing to be open about the good, bad, and ugly.

Craving more of that intimacy in our friendships, my husband and I began a young married couples’ retreat in January 2023. After inviting over ten couples, four of us came together from various parts of the country to cultivate spaces of community, rest, joy, vulnerability, hope, and freedom. Although marriage isn’t easy, we found it’s worth fighting for–together. 

In one year, the retreat has grown to eight couples (plus a waiting list), demonstrating both a need and desire for connection and community. We head to Austin, TX, at the end of 2024.

Updated: June 19, 2024 — 12:02 pm