Over time the physical stage of the relationship is typically replaced by a period
of getting to know more about other aspects of our partner’s personality.
Some of these characteristics are endearing to us – and others irritate us.
We learn how our partner attends to the demands of everyday life, and we learn that he or she may not do things the way we do them. Our partner may take a more aggressive approach than we do. Or we may find that our partner dwells on issues, mulling them back and forth, before coming to a decision – which is something that may create anxiety in us. Our partner’s sense of loyalty to the relationship may be different from our own. These differences may seem catastrophic during this phase of the relationship. And at this stage, rather than looking within to make our own personal adjustment to our partner’s quirks, we may try to force our partners to change their behavior. Power and domination may enter into the dynamics of the relationship – and this can have a major negative impact on intimacy. It is at this stage that genuine communication becomes important to the continued success of the relationship.
Communication is at the center of relationships. The quality of a relationship depends on the quality of the communication between the two partners. The most treasured times within a relationship are those in which we tap into our partner’s authenticity with heartfelt communication – those times when we talk truthfully.
Unfortunately, these moments come far too rarely for many of us. Those who can achieve physical intimacy are not necessarily those who can communicate well verbally. Why is this? Some people simply lack the tools and experience for talking about emotional issues. Others talk a mile a minute, needing to be validated by others but instead driving them away. Some people are guarded and have difficulty in opening up about anything personal. Some people are unable to listen to their partner – they always bring the topic back to themselves, or they may see their role as the one who gives (unsolicited) advice.
Some people interpret their partner’s desire for a serious talk as criticism. They become defensive when their partner tries to share the honest truth with them. A serious talk, then, can easily lead to an argument – and this leads to a failure of honest communication. The more failures there are, the less likely the couple will try to communicate on a genuine level in the future – to the detriment of intimacy in the relationship.
Telling the Truth
Truth is difficult for many of us. We all engage in a bit of self-deception in our lives. There are things about ourselves that we have not been able to examine or accept. We have difficulty in admitting our flaws – even to ourselves, much more so to our partners. Sometimes we guard our intimate feelings because we have been hurt in the past when we tried to share them with others, so that trust is a difficult area for us. For example, if you and your partner are feeling unloved and lonely, but you try to cover it up by saying that everything is fine, you will continue to feel isolated. Our commitment to a relationship means that we have decided to open ourselves up to another person, flaws and all. To continue to deceive ourselves with our partner impedes the intimacy of the relationship.
A relationship has the potential to provide a healthy way to come to terms with our issues, both personal and interpersonal. Accepting the truth, and talking about it, can free us of pain and set the stage for a healthier future. When we share our fears within the context of our partner’s loving understanding and acceptance, the fears dissipate. The issues we have been holding on to alone for so long lose their force when they are shared with someone who loves us. Telling the truth can bring down the barriers that isolate us from our partners. It can lead to a new level of self-acceptance and authenticity in our own lives – and this in turn leads to a stronger level of commitment and intimacy in our relationship. The truth can make us whole and set us free.
Here are some guidelines for telling the truth –
Understand what you intend to do when you communicate. This calls for an honest look at your motivations. If you intend to create healing, clarity, or a deeper sense of intimacy within the relationship, your intention will probably lead to these results. If, on the other hand, you want to make yourself look good and your partner look bad – or if you want to hurt your partner – then distrust will result from the communication.
Assess how well your partner can handle the truth.
There are times when your partner may not be ready to have heartfelt talks. A clue to this is when your partner continually rejects, or is unable to hear, your attempts at increased closeness. If your partner tends to become defensive, if there is a history of fighting when serious issues are discussed, if your partner is unable to honor your personal information and can’t keep a secret, or if there is a history of betrayal – then it might be best to practice telling the truth with another person, not your partner. Then, when you feel comfortable in telling the truth and trust feels comfortable to you, it will be time to engage in heartfelt talks with your partner. Some people prefer to start the process alone with a therapist, since they are trained to listen nonjudgmentally and are less likely to take things personally.
Understand your own fears about telling the truth.
Communicating on an honest and truthful level makes you vulnerable. You may fear getting hurt or hurting your partner’s feelings. You may feel that you will be misunderstood or that your partner will judge you negatively. Our fears are based on past experiences and reside within us. They are often unrealistic. The higher goal is to communicate truthfully with your partner in order to have a more satisfying relationship, and this means having the courage to confront your fears.
Accept the fact that your partner does not have to agree with you.
Many of us are afraid to have intimate talks with our partners unless they agree with everything we have to say. Unfortunately, this leads not so much to intimacy, which involves a sharing and acceptance of our differences, as it does to control struggles and isolation from our partners. Accept, and even treasure, your partner’s individuality. Two people can be right at the same time in a relationship – it’s just a matter of two different interpretations of the same events. Intimacy occurs between two complete, whole individuals, each of whom honors their partner’s way of looking at the world.
Listening to the Truth
If you want your partner to be honest with you, you have to be a good listener. Communication is a two-way process. A good listener –
- is non-judgmental and open-minded;
- doesn’t jump to conclusions;
- understands that the truth comes out a little at the time, not all at once;
- doesn’t try to impose his or her personal version of the truth on the speaker;
- doesn’t interrupt and allows the speaker to finish talking before responding;
- helps the speaker clarify what is being said;
- can tolerate different opinions without becoming defensive.
People frequently hear something other than what is being said. We mis-perceive because of our own life experiences. If we frequently become argumentative or have our feelings hurt during conversations, it is helpful to examine our ability to listen without drawing conclusions prematurely.
The way we hear what others say is often more a reflection of us than the other person. True listening involves looking within and developing the ability to hear correctly what the other person is trying to say. When people have heartfelt talks, their intentions are usually good.
The long-term success of any relationship depends on the ability of the two partners to achieve intimacy through their communication. When the two partners feel isolated from each other and blocked in their ability to achieve the closeness they once felt, it is time to work on expressing their innermost thoughts and feelings to each other. This involves taking deep look within and a commitment to face the fears which have driven them apart. Telling the truth takes practice, and lots of it – first on your own and then with your partner. Looking within and accepting who you are – and then sharing this with your partner – is healing. It is a way to wholeness, both personally and as a couple.