I opened an all-day marriage seminar with this topic: confession of sin before the Lord. It came about because I decided to lead with the question, “What has been most helpful in my own marriage?” I would have preferred to answer “a soulful, extended hug,” or “laughter”—which was the prescription from a popular marriage seminar we attended years ago. Either would have been a nice way to ease into the day, but for me, the answer was, and is, confession. Confession—ordinary Lord’s-Prayer-confession, “forgive us our debts”—has been most helpful. This is as it should be.

Our relationship with the Lord is the foundation for our relationship with his people. The apostle John naturally moves from one to the other. In the opening to his first epistle, his first conditional clause is about our fellowship with God, and his second is about how right fellowship with God leads to right fellowship with others. 

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another. (1 John 1:6–7)

Then he moves to those well-known passages about confession.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8–9)

Let’s assume that our crippling sin in marriage is that we defend ourselves and accuse our spouse. How many times have I heard a spouse try to raise a concern with the other spouse, only to hear, “Really? That is exactly what you do…”  I usually hear husbands making that defense, and I have to fight the instinct to bop ’em. I prefer the more sophisticated response of becoming a bit silent, which, of course, would make any reasonable bystander want to bop me. 

Daily confession before the Lord is, I find, the most direct assault on my defending and accusing ways. If I am confessing my sins daily before the Lord, I have already confessed harsher motives than my wife ever could identify. When she accuses, and she should, my only surprise is that she doesn’t know the half of it. If she really knew my heart, she would have generated a much more extensive list. Fresh from a time of confession, I am all ears to her concerns, though I dare not miss a time of confession because a heart can turn foolish even after a good night’s sleep.

I have asked a number of folks over the years, “If you could give one thing to a marriage that would bring the most dramatic change and growth, what would it be?” The answers have been more varied than I expected. Having tried a number of those answers, I recommend this: confess your own sins, before God, every day, and watch what happens.