Being honest with your partner seems like a no brainer. Almost everyone believes it’s a given when they fall in love and set up home and family with their chosen one. But most people think being honest with your partner is about accounting for your whereabouts, money issues, childcare, family obligations, life-style and so forth. But that’s accountability, not honesty.
Being honest with your partner involves
• Not holding back on what you really think, want, need, and feel
• Not pretending you are okay with something if you aren’t
• Not going along with something if it isn’t really you
• Not assuming the role your partner has given you rather than be your authentic self
• Not hiding your true self lest it be won’t be approved of or validated
Being honest with your partner involves acknowledging and dealing with the much deeper fears governing your life.
We can look at the stuff you are conscious of and that comes to mind easily, and then there are the more unconscious motives and conflicts that you aren’t aware of until it bursts through.
Being honest with your partner – immediate surface recognizable fears.
Most people would acknowledge these fears as being universal and understandable.
• Fear of hurting a loved one knowingly
• Fear of being mean and labelled as such
• Fear of being selfish and disparaged
• Fear of being cold and heartless, risking the withdrawal of intimacy and affection
• Fear of loss – loss of belonging, loss of value, loss of companionship
• Fear that you are doing to someone what was once hurtful to you – making you as bad as those that caused you pain
BUT There is a much stronger and less tolerable fear
Being honest with your partner – the real fear and the real threat
• The real fear is that by taking care of your needs first you are not caring for your partner
• Therefore your partner may not survive because they need you to be their care giver
• Therefore you are in danger of killing off the one you love
• AND you will be the loser in the long run.
• So the terror inside about being honest with your partner is that you will end up with no one to care for you, and you will cease to exist – AN EXISTENTIAL FEAR
Being honest with your partner – fear of being selfish, mean, and heartless
Julian a 33-year-old Chiropractor lived with his girlfriend Madeline a 35-year-old cosmetician. They had found each other online and felt strongly connected as soul mates. Both told each stuff about their difficult childhoods and comforted one another. They planned to marry and settle down, supporting each other in building up their businesses before starting a family. A week before the wedding day, Madeline called it off. Julian was stunned and left the apartment.
Being honest with your partner – conflict between wanting the closeness while fighting to be yourself
Madeline had not been honest with Julian regarding her fear of his clinginess. It made her fear being invaded and taken over. She had not told him about her need for personal space and to have a mind of her own. During their relationship she had allowed him to dictate how things went, glad to have someone so caring, repressing her fear that she was being robbed of her autonomy, just like the fear she had growing up in a home where her father dominated with a reign of terror.
Madeline did not look forward to the wedding as the date got nearer. She wasn’t interested in bridal showers or guest planning. She couldn’t sleep and felt the need to run away. The trigger of the wedding date made Madeline conscious that she was about to give up her mind, her autonomy, and her individuality for the sake of avoiding being alone, crunched, and devoured her soul. Her authenticity now came out in a volcanic burst. The relief was palpable. Yes, there was guilt, and self-abrogation for doing the dirty deed, but also immense freedom to be who she really was. Whether the couple will get to know each other as their real selves and find a more genuine love remains to be seen. Madeline is working on her insecurity and Julian is in therapy to manage his feelings of being betrayed, and his desperation for closeness that came across as clinginess. They are also trying to get their heads around the shock and how they relate moving forward in couples counseling.
Being honest with your partner – fear of being unlovable and alone.
Armand a 34-year-old online marketing aide for bloggers, enjoyed the lifestyle he and his partner, 37-year-pet groomer Gemma had created for themselves. Gemma’s family had welcomed him in with open arms and his parents included Gemma in their events. Armand gave the impression that he was up for everything Gemma organized, be it a weekend hike, visiting friends, going to concerts or bar hopping. But he kept something from her, and was terrified of it being exposed by accident.
The secret which Armand couldn’t tolerate about himself was that he just wanted to stay home, lounge around in between bouts of work, and not perform for Gemma by being the life and soul of family events and keen to be so active all the time. So he pushed it down into his unconscious, forcing himself to be the nice guy.
Being honest with your partner – conflict between wanting to have the caring you missed out on versus the adult version
Putting himself first in his laziness felt great and empowering in his fantasy world, the same one he used when he was a child when he was made to take care of his parents. But it soon gave way to disgust about being lazy, and his wish to be let off going places and doing stuff. So he often found a way of being sick that was a legitimate excuse for not doing any of the Mr. Nice guy stuff– whether it was from excessive drinking, tummy upsets after eating out, or stoned on weed. Being honest with his partner was out of the question. She would find him intolerable and leave.
Being honest with your partner turns you into a fraud and a performer
Armand said yes to whatever Gemma suggested in a way that showed enthusiasm, and she usually bought it. When he couldn’t pretend to be all excited, he played sick, and Gemma was the ever attentive care taker he longed for. In those precious moments the younger part of him came out, condoned through sickness. It gave Armand guilt free care – he didn’t have to take care of anyone in order to be cared for – not like taking care of an alcoholic mother and a father who demanded his son act like a man, by never showing feelings and just sucking it up during his childhood.
Armand hid that lazy part that didn’t want to be the carer but the cared for. Except when she was away doing jobs for clients. Then he set himself free to laze, remain ungroomed and let the house be untidy. He’d got lost in reality TV or social media. It was the care free childhood he never had. When Gemma was due back, he ‘d make a huge effort, or feign sickness as a justification for not getting things clean and tidy.
Armand had grown up in an environment where he was recognized and valued only for how well and how often he took care of his mother and their house; for how he matched his father’s exacting standards at school and at home. He hated it, and wanted the opposite experience in adulthood with Gemma. But he wasn’t honest with her because he thought that if he didn’t take care of her by being who she wanted, she’d leave and he’d be without a caretaker again. He never really had the kind of caretakers he was entitled to as a child, and he may lose the only one he had now as an adult if he fessed up.
He’s too scared to be honest, terrified of being alone – the existential threat rules. Eventually it will end badly. If Armand can take himself seriously and seek individual psychotherapy, he may feel safe enough to be his own person and enjoy a real equal relationship where he gets and gives care.
Being honest with your partner – long term risks of holding back
• When you hold back, hide, or pretend, you invalidate yourself.
• Your confidence takes a hit
• You get angry because you imagined that holding back, hiding and or pretending would please your partner who would then reward you by filling you up with self-esteem. Except you get nothing but more expectations and a lack of gratitude.
• You are irritable and WAIT, AND WAIT for your partner to see your misery and give you permission to be yourself – i.e. tolerate you the way you are. But it never happens.
THEN THERE ARE TWO POSSIBILITIES
1. You shut down completely, become a door mat and totally dependent on your partner.
2. You assert yourself, stir the pot, and renavigate the relationship by being yourself and forcing your partner to see you, respect you and like you for who you are. Doing that work takes courage. Working on yourself in therapy will give you the framework and support to help you through.
The choice is yours.
Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. 2022
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