We are taught in society to be polite, not hurt other’s feelings, be careful what we say and how we say it. In essence, we are encouraged to be guarded and not share our inner thoughts and feelings.
There is good reason for this. You probably know someone who has no filter; he or she routinely insults people, with the defense that they can’t take the truth. Such people delight in expressing their dark side. Not good, and not what we are talking about.
While it is true that we do not need to burden others with every thought that comes into our minds, keeping feelings hidden can cause many misunderstandings and problems in relationships. We, Phil and Maude, have encountered a number of examples of this recently.
We met a couple who have been together happily for over 15 years. The husband said that he comes from a family of jokesters and told the story that when his wife got reading glasses, he would tease her and joke about it. He did so in a lighthearted way, but she felt quite hurt. This went on for two years before she shared her hurt with him! He was shocked. He did not think such a thing could occur without him becoming aware of it, and yet, without direct information, it did. To avoid this in the future: they instituted a weekly relationship meeting, much as one would have regular business meetings in a company to get everyone on the same page. Their weekly meetings have helped them communicate directly and brought them closer.
Phil is a big fan of advice columns and regularly reads of situations that arise through people not being clear about their needs and desires. To take an example from a recent letter, the wife decided that since this was their 5th wedding anniversary, they should celebrate it although they had never celebrated anniversaries before. The husband knew nothing of her change of the usual and had arranged a day of golf. When she said it was their anniversary, he explained that this was the only date his friends could all agree on and he couldn’t cancel. She never told him that this was important to her and that she really wanted to do it this year. The expectation of him mind-reading and the lack of communication nearly caused her to take the kids and stay at a hotel.
We have been watching a series on Netflix called Atypical, which features a family with a son on the Autism Spectrum. The mother has complicated her life by not being truthful, but at a certain point, she expresses how much she has learned about honesty from her son, who cannot filter his responses, and always speaks his entire mind.
Cultivate a way to be direct and honest with your partner. Speak the truth and speak it with love Click To TweetStories like these are so common because we are brought up to be polite and not offend people. It’s probably an essential part of what holds a society together. But in a personal relationship, the exact opposite needs to happen because its strength comes from trust and mutual support, and it needs total communication. That requires unlearning our social upbringing, and that may call for plenty of practice before it becomes second nature.
Ongoing direct communication is the antidote, and we are convinced that it is crucial for all intimate relationships. We use a process for making mutual decisions and resolving differences that incorporates sharing our innermost feelings without criticizing the other. This allows us to reach the kernel of what each of us needs and enables us to find a solution that includes everything each of us wants.
Cultivate a way to be direct and honest with your partner. This is the very thing that creates that intimacy we all so desire. When you speak the truth, speak it with love. When you receive it, accept it as the other person’s truth. (And be open to the possibility that your version may not be the one true verity carved in the rock of ages.)
Being honest and direct is crucial with your partner, but consider how this could improve your relationships with family members and friends, too. The closeness of relationships is pretty much measured by how much truth and sharing takes place. Finding a place somewhere between the extreme of speaking every thought and the other extreme of always being polite and careful and often leaving one’s own feelings out of what is shared, is one of the arts of relating. The more you share, the more real you will appear and the more real you will feel.
Photo credit: collection of Suzanne Dechert