Spousal Privilege

Since I’ve been on vacation, I’ve been watching an unusual amount of television. Over the past few days,  I’ve been struck by the volume of material about sex. Talk shows, tv shows, even supposedly conservative networks like Fox News seem to be obsessed with the topic.  The mentality of these talk show hosts seems to be that we’re “afraid” of sex or “embarrassed” about sex and that’s why it hasn’t been talked about as openly in the past.  I’m a little surprised that none of them stopped to think that maybe the reason people do not talk about it is because it’s just one of those things that’s private within the context of marriage and simply doesn’t need to be discussed ad nauseum.

In the short seven months I’ve been married, I’ve come to realize that there are actually many things that fall into this category of things only to be discussed between a husband and wife. “Spousal privilege” is a legal term used to protect the marital bond from undue burden when questioning that could jeopardize the relationship. I’m using the term, however, to describe information that should only be kept between husband and wife. When I’m with my husband, I can freely be myself the way I don’t really behave around most other people.  When there is sure confidence and discretion, spouses can have the level of trust that enable them to completely, freely be themselves with their spouse. This level of trust simply cannot exist when there isn’t assurance that the other spouse won’t promptly post to their Facebook wall intimate conversations.

A campus minister once told me of a concept called, “emotional chastity”, or the idea that there’s really no reason to share certain kinds of information with people you don’t know well or have a tenuous relationship with. I’ve been at parties where a guest whom I barely know will start telling me intimate details about her personal life. This information is inappropriate without a larger context with which to understand her. In other words, certain kinds of relationships come with understandings and privileges that others don’t.

I also think that valuing this spousal privilege is important to upholding the dignity of marriage in the public square. Marriage needs to be set apart and elevated as an institution that fundamentally structures our society. It sends the message that there are privileges that come with pledging one’s life to another and sticking with it for life. It makes marriage the kind of relationship that society recognizes as elevated and respected. If we don’t treat marriage with a special sort of reverence in our own lives, why should the opponents of marriage?

Now, obviously, if there are problems obviously they should be discussed in an appropriate forum and it is of my personal opinion that the occasional discrete conversation with a trusted girlfriend is fine. If we want to promote the importance of marriage, however, I think we should all make an effort to uphold the dignities of our own individual marriages by giving our spouses a trusted environment to love.

5 Comments

  1. Wonderful article! God bless you!

  2. I wonder how this article would work with the Christopher West discussions?

    • Hahahahahahaha!

  3. The great movie on spousal privilege is 1957′s “Witness for the Prosecution”. I strongly recommend this movie to anyone interested in trial movies or the topic of spousal privilege.
    There are three English language versions of the move that I’ve seen, but I consider the original 1957 movie the best of the lot. However, they’re all worth a look.

  4. I think this is an excellent article. I believe the warning about discussing one’s sexual relationship with a friend is a good one too. I have heard many times about a “friend” using such information to destroy a marriage or to have an adulterous relationship with one of the spouses, so beware. I think it is better for one to get good Catholic books on the subject or talk to a professional, preferably one who shares one’s religion and values, about any sexual problems one has in the marriage, and most of all such problems should be discussed with the spouse, him or herself, after finding out how to charitably and effectively discuss such matters. Do not run down your spouse to another mutual friend on such a subject. It is a sure-fire road to disaster if you value your marriage at all.

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