I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen honesty, or rather the lack of honesty, play out as the underlying issue in a marriage.
I always ask new clients about what prompted them to come see me. This generally gives me a pretty good idea of the presenting issues in the relationship and provides a launching point into the work we’ll do together. We’ll typically address some serious topics over the course of the first few sessions, topics that are good to discuss in any marriage. But inevitably, there will come a time when, often by accident, one spouse will say something that catches the other by surprise and touches a nerve.
I’ll see the body language change almost instantly, followed by a “I didn’t know you felt that way”. And with that, the stakes are raised. As a counselor, this is when my work gets tough and requires a lot of finesse.
Why? Because many of us bury – and I mean deeply bury – the root causes of our frustrations with our spouses. Sometimes that’s because we’re unaware – we haven’t really unearthed those roots ourselves. But often it’s because we are fully aware, and scared to death to expose them, for fear of unsettling the delicate ground we’re walking on in our relationship.''Most of us bury the root causes of our frustrations with our spouses.'' Click To Tweet
The underlying issue: we’re scared
In my experience, when we’re not honest about a serious issue in our relationship, 9 out of 10 times it’s because we’re scared. We’re scared of how our partner will respond to our feelings. We’re scared of the conflict that will result. We’re scared of the hurt feelings, the hostility, anger, tears, you name it. Or maybe we’ve been burned by past attempts and think there’s no good way to proceed. The end result is our fear keeps us silent and it controls our relationship.
The counseling world calls this a “lack of differentiation”. We’re burying our true selves for the sake of our spouse’s feelings. Or, often, what we perceive their feelings will be. And in turn, we’re sacrificing a deeper, more mature,and more authentic relationship with our spouse, all in an effort to keep the peace.
''When we're afraid to bring up difficult topics with our spouses,we're letting fear control the quality of our relationships. '' Click To Tweet
Is it time to bring honesty back to your marriage?
I don’t care whether it’s your spouse’s weight, or how they parent your kids, or that they work too much, or that they don’t want sex very often – whatever it is, if you’re not talking about it, then it’s not the real issue.
The real issue is that you aren’t willing to be honest with your spouse. These “secrets” cause cracks in the foundation of your marriage that will eventually grow big enough to swallow both of you.
What you can do now
Everyone needs a place to begin. If you are struggling with being open and honest with your spouse on tough subjects, here are four steps that will help you kickstart honest conversations:
Number One: Identify what’s important to you – Don’t make this about your spouse, make it about you.
Number Two: Write it down – Think about it. If you can’t put into words what’s important to you, how can you tell your spouse in a way they can understand it?
Number Three: Tell your spouse – Pick a time when you’re both in listening mode, when neither of you is frustrated or hostile. Again, make it about what’s important to you, not about whether your spouse is doing their part.
Number Four: Listen – Don’t sit back and listen, sit forward. Express with every part of you that you want to hear your spouse’s feedback – even when it’s not the feedback you wanted.
Now, it’s just the beginning, but it’s a solid one. After this, you can take actions to help you process what you’re saying to one another, truly accept the other’s perspective, and learn to support each other’s personal growth. That growth will provide the cement to re-strengthen the foundation of your life together as a couple.
I’m not going to kid you though. It may look like a simple process, but this can be really tough to do.. It takes practice and often times it takes the guidance of an experienced therapist who can lead you through the process until it becomes more natural to you. If it feels daunting or like it could never work for your marriage, I urge you to have at least one conversation with us before you give up. You can give us a call or schedule an appointment online. Your marriage is worth at least the phone call, right?