When we ask couples to tell us what they value most in a relationship, they often say “honesty!” They want their partners to be truthful, to be open about what they feel, to reveal more of themselves.
So you would think that they would want their partners to say just what’s on their minds. Not so. In reality, many people expect a certain kind of honesty and intimacy –- the kind they can handle! They want to hear things that make them feel validated, give them a sense of acceptance and approval. In general, they want to hear what makes them feel good.
How many of us can honestly say that we are prepared to handle the “truths” that we don’t want to hear? Can we tolerate listening to ideas, views or perceptions that make us anxious? And do we have the courage to tell our partners what we know they may not like to hear?
Here’s how you can test your own willingness to be honest. Would you find it hard to say:
“I don’t feel like making dinner tonight. In fact, I don’t like the idea that I am expected to make dinner every night.”
“You know, I had an interesting conversation with Suzanne/Ted (co-worker of opposite sex) when we went out for lunch today…..”
“I am going to go out by myself tonight. I just need some time alone.”
“Lately, I don’t feel excited when we make love.”
Overcoming your fear of self-disclosure
To what extent do you feel you that can be open and honest with your partner? Are you inclined to hold back and say only what you think he or she wants to hear?
When we have difficulty being honest, we are often afraid of rejection, whether it is subtly or overtly expressed. We get our sense of “self” from what our partners do or say, and try to derive emotional stability from the “relationship”.
Rather than face the reality of rejection, we make “compromises”. We compromise in order to “get along”, to avoid conflicts and negative reactions such as anger, sarcasm, put-downs, blaming, or retaliation of any sort. And in doing so, we sometimes end up compromising our own integrity.
Even though it may feel more comfortable momentarily, compromising feeds a pattern of giving up on a part of ourselves. And over time, these small sacrifices erode our sense of self-worth.
So, if you don’t feel you can be open and honest, what are you afraid of? When you don’t speak your mind, do you feel more …or less …. connected with your partner?
Perhaps you feel the ground you stand on isn’t that firm. In other words, you may feel on some level that you don’t know where you stand with your partner. You are on guard, watching every word, holding yourself back, worried about your partner’s reactions. Any wrong move and the ground may start to crumble beneath you. It feels like walking on eggshells.
To overcome this fear, you need to take a leap of faith that you can be yourself with your partner – and that, with time, you will learn to become less anxious and reactive when he or she has trouble accepting what you do or say.
You may have to learn to tolerate some discomfort. But in the long run, you will be laying a strong and solid foundation that will allow each of you to be yourself: autonomous and self-reliant, while still being close and united as a couple.
It takes time to learn to express what you need and want, and to feel comfortable showing your love openly. So be patient.
Give yourself the opportunity to practice more self-disclosure, because it is from this place that your relationship can grow. The more honest that you can be, the more respect that you show for each other’s independence and differences, the more trusting you will become –- and the sooner your relationship will feel like it is on solid ground.