Be emotionally honest, not brutally honest
I attended a social excursion, recently, wherein I was put on notice by a friend with “you want me to be completely honest with you? Well here goes . . .” Not only did this make me nervous, I braced myself for a barrage, and my fears came true, as a barrage of insulting conjecture came flying forth with a fierceness I had not yet experienced with my friend.
Often times, couples will come into my office, with a chasm between them seemingly a lifetime long. They display and report hurt and distance and fear and distrust. They go round and round and argue utilizing the same phrases and statements, and tell me these are the same arguments they have at home. Repetitive. Unproductive.
When it is time for apologies, they are often cerebral exercises, “I am sorry” typically stated by the husband and the response is typically the wife stating, “yes, I’ve heard all this before.”
There is often follow up questioning (typically the wife says “but why did you do it in the first place?”) and there is the husband’s typical come back: “I am sorry, I won’t do it again.”
Sometimes, these conversations or variations of this conversation occur over and over, session after session. Sometimes, ultimately, the repetitious feedback loop with alter and new information will be divulged, perhaps something like . . . “I’m sorry, I did it because, I didn’t want to be around you . . . that’s why.”
At this point in the session, the other party, often the wife, will frequently cry at the new revelation.
This is where the entire dynamic changes.
I observe an entire shift in the relationship dynamic, right before my very eyes. The husband, typically observing the tears, will begin to shift endlessly in his seat, talk compulsively, look away, and will appear to become extraordinarily uncomfortable.
When I ask him the standard therapeutic question, “what is going on for you right now?” He’ll often reply, “I have no idea what to do . . . when she cries . . . I can’t fix it.” Upon further probing from me, the rationale often whittles down to “I feel . . . helpless.”
So, the alternative? Save the wife from hurting, save the husband from feeling helpless, alter, conceal, or omit the truth.
This plan of relationship survival comes into my office over and over. It’s often unconscious and takes awhile to uncover. It’s inception is noble . . . saving someone’s feelings from hurt. Who wouldn’t think this logic charitable? Unfortunately, the outcome is far different than the intended. The unfortunate impact, I’ve observed, is a decay in trust. The wife wonders if her husband has ever been honest with her, causes her to ask herself if she’s just a fool, feels shut out of husband’s inner world, and the husband feels more and more criticized by his wife – despite his best intentions!
An antidote? Honesty.
Not the aforementioned type of honesty, at the beginning of this article. Brutal honesty is far different than emotional honesty, taking personal responsibility kind of honesty, revealing oneself, kind of honesty . . . this self revelatory, real, intimacy- building kind of honesty may, at times, wound the other person. It will not destroy the other person.
Brutal honesty tends to come out in a blast, accusatory, full of intensity, sometimes in anger, and tends to induce the desire to move away. It can be experienced as criticism. Emotional honesty tends to come out softer, full of emotion, tentative, and induce the feeling of compassion in the other person. Despite the benefits of emotional honesty, it appears to be the most difficult to achieve.
This level of honesty requires the ability to tolerate being uncomfortable for a little while, to accept one may not be able to fix it, in the moment, or spare one’s spouse pain. It means allowing one’s spouse to have their own feelings.
The deep traumatic pain individuals tend to disclose is typically related to abandonment and betrayal. These tend to be the most intense, unbearable feelings in intimate relationships. Honesty about one’s inner experience is not something typically reported in therapy as ultimately destructive to marriages.
Sharing the complete self can lead to an intimacy deeper than ever imagined, can strengthen the compassion, can lead to a profound understanding of one another . . . and isn’t that ultimately, what we all crave . . . to be heard and understood?
Yvette Currie is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and San Diego native, contracted with the Department of Defense, currently on Yokosuka Naval base, the largest overseas Naval installation in the world. Yvette’s therapy dog is also a notable force with which to be reckoned. For questions, queries, or if you or your family are getting deployed to Yokosuka, please e-mail Yvette or stop by the Fleet and Family Support Center and say “hello” to Yvette or Bear.
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About Jennine Estes, MFT
Think of me as your relationship consultant, I'm your neutral third party that can help you untangle the emotions and help you figure out what's really going on. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, CA. Certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples. Supervisor. I write relationship and self growth advice for my column Relationships in the Raw. Creator of #BeingLOVEDIs campaign. MFC#47653