The Importance of Being Honest in a Relationship
(Our thanks to Oscar Wilde for the title.)
MAUDE: The day before Christmas I found myself in a strange and unaccustomed place. I felt sad, deeply sad, and somewhat lonely. I know this is common for many around the holidays, but not for me. I normally decorate, dress in seasonal colors with funny socks and jewelry (which I actually did this year too) and connect with many friends, far and wide. Being Jewish, I created these ceremonies and practices as an adult for our family.
I have boxes of tree decorations accumulated through the years that were made by family members, each with their own stories. Both children are grown now and have their own trees, and Phil is not into celebrating this holiday (although he will go along with moderate decorations and gatherings), but I still usually put up a tree or decorate the house. Well, every year but this one!
I had just found out that a cousin who I had reconnected with a few years ago, and with whom I was working on our family tree was in the last stages of Parkinson’s and having hospice care (he died Christmas Eve.) Phil shared with me that morning that he did not feel comfortable going to our kids’ celebration the next day, even though it is our safe pod. He felt very uncomfortable breaking the no gathering rules, which I completely understood while feeling differently about it.
By themselves, none of these things explained this deep sadness I was feeling. Certainly saying good-bye to 2020 was no cause for sorrow. And yet, there I was feeling removed from my surroundings, somewhat withdrawn into myself, and unable to connect in my usual way. I realized that Phil would pick up on this and might think it was because of his decision to stay home. That’s when I knew that full honesty and communication were called for. I could not let him think he was the cause or that he had to change how he felt to accommodate me.
We don’t do that with each other, but when your mate is sad and withdrawn, you do feel moved to do something about it.
So as we sat at lunch, I shared with Phil what I was feeling. I opened every pore and spoke with honesty about how I had a deep inexplicable sadness. I talked and he listened. He didn’t try to fix me or change me, he just listened. I found myself able to talk to him out loud and come much closer to hearing my feelings than when I just talked with myself. Slowly, I also started to feel differently, better, more centered with what I was feeling.
I talked about how I felt concerning the Christmas gathering and we discussed how we felt about me going and him staying home. In these Covid times, everything you do affects the people you live with. We discussed it and found the place where each of us could follow our convictions and needs without any change for the other.
I felt good that Phil knew what I was experiencing and understood he was not the cause or the solution. Honestly speaking my truth and owning my feelings as mine was releasing and soothing. When relationships can allow and embrace this kind of honesty they gather a depth and power that takes you through each day and each challenge.
When your relationship embraces honesty, it has a power that takes you through every challenge Click To TweetPHIL: I grew up in a household, time and culture where being direct did not happen. To hide the truth was a social compact. Politeness and social graces were simply the way things were done – I don’t say directly what I think of you, good or bad, and you repress your feelings, too.
These formalities have been relaxed over the years, but some form of them is still in place today. We use them because we need to get on with other people to have both a social and economic life. We modify both what we say and what we do, often without even being conscious of it, in order to fit in.
Society is based on this socialization, this control of our impulses, because humans have the potential for both good and evil. A very few of us may be born saints or psychopaths, but for most of us, our behavior comes from how we were brought up and what the messages from other people are. Society and socialization have the same etymology, so it is not surprising that one requires the other.
Yet the more we adjust ourselves to fit in with other people, the more we lose sight of ourselves. After all these years, it is still not easy to speak about how I am. It is no longer social inhibition, it is the struggle of becoming aware of my feelings and being able to describe them accurately. Yet here is why I try: because to do so is to unearth myself from under the expectations of others, to climb from under the social blanket of conventions and manners. It’s not that I’m finding myself by finding my feelings; they are not the essence. It is the sense that when they flow through me unblocked, I am conscious of their source.
But how do we reconcile raw individuality with the need for social order? You might think that throwing off that blanket of social training is potentially dangerous as it will expose our wicked, antisocial side. The Judeo-Christian culture teaches that we must keep these primitive impulses under control, and that is necessary for an orderly society, but at the same time, this is the opposite of the message to find ourselves, to be in touch with our authentic nature.
How do we reconcile these two?
We are not talking about acting selfishly at the expense of others. It’s not that we are going to be ranting down the street shouting at passers-by and stopping traffic. We are still members of society, bound together by the need to cooperate and work together.
Certainly you may have inner demons to exorcise, but they are your demons, whether shyness, anger, phobias or regret. By speaking personally, i.e. in the first person, you own them. They are your statements about who and how you are; they are not a reflection on other people. When you speak honestly of others, be gentle.
For me, learning honesty is the work of a lifetime. Self-expression is exactly that – an expression of the self. It is a matter of hearing your own voice above the cacophony of social messages. Who we are is at base, unspeakable, yet it is an unmistakable truth. Find it and rest in it.
Social graces serve us well in the day-to-day interactions of society, but personal relationships are different. They thrive on honesty; in fact, it is what makes a relationship close, and the closer a relationship is, the more necessary honesty is.
Each time you are honest, when you show yourself, you risk being ridiculed, scolded, criticized, unheard, thought less of. Every time you are instead heard and accepted, your trust in your partner increases, and the next time you can be a little more honest in some direction, whether less hesitant or deeper or whatever place feels vulnerable.
In this way, trust and honesty feed on each other.
When you reach a place of complete trust and complete honesty, the relationship is transformed. The entire energy around dissembling is gone. The sense is of complete openness, and because there is no defensiveness, there is an easy closeness that can attain unity at moments. Maude and I live this life.
Photo credit: Damonza