We often talk about how important communication is. The world we live in is one that is made up of and based on words. Therefore, it’s important that we choose our words carefully when we’re communicating with others, especially with people we care about. Whether we’re having an argument, trying to talk about our feelings or trying to clarify something, it’s crucial that we communicate openly and honestly. In other words, having open conversations is key to any relationship. But why? And what does “having an open conversation” mean anyway?
An open conversation can be summed up in a single word: honesty. But honesty doesn’t simply mean telling the truth. Honesty in an open conversation is having the guts to talk about the “inner you”. That means being brave enough to share your honest thoughts and feelings with your partner, family, and friends. It means not flinching away from sharing certain parts of yourself, whether they’re your opinions, how you feel about certain people or situations or how you feel in a particular moment. When we’re able to embrace such an intimate level of honesty, we extend a kind of invitation to others. We effectively say to them: Come on in and share your inner self with me, just as I have. Form an intimate, meaningful, and therefore lasting connection and relationship with me.
Now, open conversations are important in any relationship, as we’ve discussed in a previous article on Expectations and Standards in Relationships. But they’re especially important in our relationship with our spouses. Because how can we form a truly loving, trusting relationship with people we’ve chosen to spend the rest of our lives with, without sharing our whole, inner selves with them?
Having an open conversation with anyone can be terrifying. Because sharing your whole, inner self with someone else comes with a question that rests in the back of our minds: What if they don’t accept me as I am? What if they don’t like what they see? What if knowing everything about me turns them off? These questions are terrifying enough when the person before us is a relative, friend or co-worker. But they become even more so when our spouse, the person that we love and want by our side for the rest of our lives is involved. The idea of them not liking our inner selves, rejecting us, or distancing themselves from us is terrifying.
Having an open, honest conversation is this terrifying because baring your inner self to someone else means being completely vulnerable. It means risking getting hurt. It means letting our spouse see our fears, worries, and weaknesses. This, in turn, awakens the fear that they’ll leave us. When we give in to this fear and hold ourselves back, we prevent our spouse from knowing and therefore loving us fully. We deprive ourselves of the love we want and we deprive them of the joy and privilege of knowing and loving us. In doing so, we not only are keeping them at an arm’s length distance but rejecting them without wanting or meaning to. We effectively say: I don’t trust or love you enough to share my whole being with you. So, why would someone who has received such a message trust or love us enough to share their whole being with us in turn? Why would our partner invite someone in who has effectively rejected them?
When we give in to our fears and hold ourselves back from having open conversations, we put up a barrier between ourselves and the person that we love. We let our fears guide us and we stop ourselves from having a truly loving, rewarding relationship with the person we’ve chosen to spend the rest of our lives with.
An important root cause of this fear is generally our inability to accept our own faults, inner worries, and anxieties. We think our spouse won’t accept us as we are because we can’t do so ourselves. We don’t like that we let a bad day at work get to us, so we don’t share it with our spouse. We think we’re weak to be affected by a bad day and we don’t like seeing ourselves as weak. So, instead of sharing and getting the emotional support that we need and that will inevitably bring us closer with our spouse, we bury our emotions deep inside.
Our spouse perceives a reticence, an upset but doesn’t know what to make of it, especially when we brush off their concerns with an “I don’t want to talk about it”. In such a case our spouse will, at best, understand something is wrong but become upset that we don’t trust them enough to share whatever it is. At worst, they will think that whatever happened has something to do with them and will either become upset, angry or anxious.
But if we were to share details about our bad day and lay out our “weaknesses” before our spouse, we’d be able to see that our vulnerability at that moment isn’t something to be ashamed of. It’s all too human and acceptable. Having our spouse show us emotional support, accept our “weakness”, and show that they still love us despite, perhaps even because of it, will inevitably help us to accept ourselves.
Sharing more about ourselves through open conversations with our spouses will, therefore, enable us to see ourselves fully, through their eyes. It will help us to realize that we are individuals deserving and worthy of love, flaws and all. Our willingness to open up will encourage our spouse to open up as well, letting us be there for them in turn. This will naturally bring the two of us closer. Because of this, our relationship will have a dynamic where both of us are giving as much as we’re receiving and sharing as much as they’ve shared.
That’s all well and good, but the question still remains: How do we have open conversations? How do we even begin? If this is particularly difficult for you to do, there are a few things you can start with to pave the road for yourself. Before sharing a part of your inner self that you believe you need to share, take some time for yourself. Consider, how much of yourself you are ready and willing to share at this moment.
Having an open conversation doesn’t mean sharing everything all at once before you feel ready. A great way of figuring out what you’re ready to share and when is through meditation. Sit down in solitude for a few quiet moments and reflect on what you’re thinking and feeling. Is your current behavior congruent to what you’re feeling? If it’s not, how much of what you’re feeling or what you’ve gone through are you ready to share?
Now that you’ve explored what you want to share and why, think about how you want to share it. Like we said in the beginning, communication, like the rest of our world, revolves around words. So, choose them carefully. If you want to talk to your spouse about something they did that hurt you, for instance, be careful to stay away from words of blame and guilt. “I feel” or “I felt” are always more effective and communicative than “You did this” or “You did that”.
Let’s pretend you’re angry at your spouse for some reason or other. What’s more constructive when talking to your spouse? Saying, “I’m angry because you did X” or saying “When you did X, I got upset because I felt that my capabilities were being judged.” Expanding on why a certain behavior angered or upset you rather than just saying that it did not only helps you communicate your feelings better. It also helps your partner understand you better and perhaps make a conscious effort not to do the same thing again. But if you just accuse your partner of making you angry or act out in a passive-aggressive manner, your partner may not be as receptive or compromising as they would otherwise be.
Another important thing to keep in mind when communicating is to focus on “I” instead of “You”. This way of communicating follows the same logic as staying away from guilt and blame. “Saying “I feel like” or, “I think that” will help you communicate your wants, needs, and feelings much better than saying “You did x” and “You made me feel”. The first way of communicating is a way of opening up. The second way, however, is a way of laying blame and that is not what you want to do in an open conversation.
The final thing that you should always remember when having open conversations is this: Who are you communicating with? This is not some stranger before you, nor are they an enemy. It’s a person that you love, a person that you’ve committed the rest of your life to. How much do you trust this person? How much do you love them? How much of yourself do you want to or are you ready to share with them? How close do you truly want to be to this person? And most importantly, do you respect this person enough to know that they can handle your truth?