We have all been given false narratives about how we are supposed to communicate in relationship. These false narratives are often seen as honorable or required, particularly when we are trying to heal a relationship. Countless couples come into my office and talk about the need for absolute transparency for trust and connection to be restored.
When hurt partners feel the need to know every nuanced experience and feeling as they try to make sense how the relationship has gotten so far afield, they demand transparency. When the offending partner tries to reconnect and show that they are working hard to maintain the relationship, there is often a perceived sense that if they don’t gut themselves and answer every question the hurt partner asks fully and completely there will be no moving forward. However, this is not the path forward.
All too often the hurt partner can know too much leaving them reeling in doubt and intrusive thoughts. The offending partner is often left trying to make sense of their behaviors, and when they can’t answer the questions asked in a satisfactory manner, there can be an increase in guilt and shame while decreasing self-awareness and esteem.
Here my friends, is where we must make conscious choices about how to communicate. It is important to distinguish between the difference between transparency and honesty. When I introduce these concepts to couples I am quick to comment that I am not advocating lying or being deceptive – that never works and always increases the pain. Let’s break this down.
Transparency is the process of communicating the raw, unfiltered, unprocessed data, feelings, and responses that one experiences. Many people will state that they want this. The need to investigate every aspect of a person’s experience is what they believe will give them security and understanding. This could not be further from the truth. Transparency is the action of dumping one’s internal junk onto another in a way that makes them responsible for making sense of it, processing it, and trying to find the nuance and meaning. In many ways, it can be avoidant and hurtful. When someone dumps unfiltered and uncontextualized junk onto another, there is now place for connection, growth, and/or healing.
Honesty is the process of considering what internal thoughts/feelings/understandings mean and then communicating them to another in a manner that they can understand them. Communicating honestly means bringing context, care, consideration, focus, and responsibility to the discussion. When one communicates honestly, they holding themselves accountable for what they are sharing, how they share it, when they share, and ensuring that what they are sharing is understood appropriately. (Note: this is where the concept of brutal honesty is a fallacy. Brutal honesty is just transparency because it is not done with care…)
I do not in any way intend to impress that this natural. It isn’t. This is some of the most challenging intimate partner communication there is. It requires deep insight, self-awareness, reflection, ownership, and maturity. But, this can be learned. Learning how to ask for honesty can be learned And, as my amazing Grandmother Anna always told me It’s easy when you know how.
If you would like to learn more about honest communication, contact Elliott Kronenfeld at firstname.lastname@example.org.