Honesty and Openness in Marriage
“Communication is to a relationship what breathing is to life," - Virginia Satir.
One must think about that statement for a while before it is understood.
Communication is not just talking to one another. True communication happens when the person we are communicating with understands our words, AND also the thoughts and feelings that go along with those words. Most of us have few relationships in which we feel totally free to tell others what we think and feel.
Actually this is understandable. Rejection is the greatest fear we all live with so we tend to reveal little of our true self until we have had time to determine whether the other person will accept us as we are. As we begin to trust the other person and develop a sense of safety in the relationship we can grow deeper in our communication, revealing our deeper thoughts and feelings and begin to experience the kind of marriage most only dream of.
Unfortunately many of us hold onto fears even when the other person has shown themselves to be trustworthy. We may hold onto our fear of rejection because of experiences from our childhood, or from a false belief that no one would ever really love us if they knew us. The fear may come from a number of experiences or beliefs from our lives, but without breaking through to becoming honest and open our marriages will only be pseudo-marriages and we will live them unfulfilled and unhappy.
How to Become Honest and Open
Before you can become honest and open in your marriage you must make the choice to do so. Even if your spouse is unwilling you can still decide that you want to be open and honest. It takes courage to make such a choice but it is the entry way into a fuller and more satisfying marriage and life.
Choosing to express your true feelings also means that you must take responsibility for your feelings. Many of us live as if someone else has caused us to feel the way we do. We might say, “You hurt my feelings by laughing at me in front of my friends!” True, you may feel hurt by the experience but what do you do next? Do you hold in resentment? Do you forgive the other person? Do you have negative thoughts about that person that you do not reveal? All of these are feelings and thoughts you are responsible for.
Learn how to express your feelings and thoughts without blame or judgment. This is not easy because we all have a strong tendency to blame others when we are hurt or angry. But when we blame others it always escalates the anger and never leads to resolution.; One way to be honest and open about our feelings without blaming is by using statements about our self and our feelings (called "I-messages" because they start with "I feel" or "I felt"), instead of "you-messages," which start with an accusation, such as, "You did this (bad thing)," or, "You are (another bad thing)."
Warning: We do not intuitively use I-messages. It takes dedicated practice to start using them naturally, however, once you do it will change how you look at others. You will no longer blame others for feeling hurt or angry, but will learn to own those feelings and begin looking for ways to resolve the conflict mutually (win-win style).
Hopefully, Satir’s quote has a fuller meaning for you now. Honest and open communication brings life to the marriage.
Larry McElvain, Founder, Discovery Counseling Center
November 2, 2020