Do You Really Want Total Transparency?
If you ask Brad what's most important to me in relationships, he will quickly answer honesty. You see, I had a brief and educational first marriage, in which big secrets were kept. Ultimately, I still don't know all the that was happening behind the scenes, but I seem to have equated any secrets or omitted information as potential destruction. Therefore, I tend to lose my mind (just a bit) if any of my family members lie to me. It essentially rocks my sense of safety and security.
A few weeks ago, I bought a new shirt. I have instructed Brad to be brutally honest with me about clothing, so when asked if he liked the shirt, he responded with the truth. You can picture it: me, excited to show off a new purchase, abruptly met with the honesty I have demanded. Apparently the shirt is not exactly flattering. He put it in the nicest package possible, but there it was...the truth.
So, I took a deep breath...and I thanked him for his honesty. I know. This being therapist thing has paid off in my relationships. A few years ago, I may have responded with something like, "Why don't you think I'm pretty anymore?" or "Well, it's not like your shirt is awesome!"
Even though I was able to reason that I had asked for this honesty, my disappointment was obvious. This turning 40 thing can be tricky! In usual fashion, Brad wanted to help me feel better and find a different top. I told him that this was the perfect opportunity for me to practice what I preach. Let me explain.
I constantly tell couples that we need to clearly state our needs. This is what I have done. My need is for Brad to be completely honest with me, and through some less than desirable moments, he has learned it is the better option for our relationship. It's also up to us to realize that when we receive honest feedback, we need to avoid being defensive, critical, or trying to place blame back on our partner. We need to just sit with whatever emotion might come up for us.
Then, here is the trickier part: I tell people on a daily basis that we must allow others to experience emotions. Brad had done exactly what I had asked, and then I needed the space to be able to have my emotions.
I think many of us would say that we want our partners to be honest and to be able to tell us about their internal experiences -- their thoughts, their needs, and their emotions. However, I witness many moments where one person opens and shares, and their person ultimately has a very difficult time accepting what they hear.
Maybe the information is painful to learn. Maybe we want to be believe that our person is feeling better about a situation than they truly are. Maybe we want our loved ones to live in a constant state of happiness. Maybe to hear that our loved one is struggling elicits fear for us. Maybe what we hear causes us to feel that we failed.
It makes sense, right? I find it much more difficult when one of my loved ones is in pain than when I am. Our natural tendency is to try to alleviate that pain. I am not suggesting that you don't provide love and support -- I am just suggesting that we allow our person to feel what they feel without trying to pop them back into a happier state.
I want you to take some time to think about what you are asking for. If you want your person to be very open, honest, and vulnerable with you -- I believe this is key to a thriving relationship -- then you need to make sure you can hold space for whatever comes up. If it is a strong emotion, can you support without rescuing or trying to minimize? If it is fear, can you validate and support without shaming or rescuing? If it is a need, can you consider meeting it without getting defensive?
Ultimately, my need for honesty outweighs my need for support for my fashion choices. However, that may not be for everyone. Take the time to communicate clear needs with your person, but make sure you are ready for what you ask for.
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