Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Why is it so hard to be honest? (Because we don't feel safe.)

Photo copyright @Jinterwas

I heard this conversation on the radio recently:

Girl: He told me the reason he broke up with me is because he didn't want to be exclusive anymore. And then I found out that he's planning a trip to see an ex girlfriend. Why did he LIE?!

DJ: It sounds like he tried to end things so he wouldn't end up cheating.

Girl: But he didn't say he was going to see an ex!

DJ: What would have happened if he told you the truth?

Girl: What do you mean?

DJ: What if he'd said, "I still have feelings for my ex and something in me needs to explore that."

Girl: Well, that would NOT have been okay.

DJ: He was probably trying not to hurt your feelings. So he didn't share the real reason, but rightly so as you would not have been okay with it.

Girl: I feel like there should have been another option, like he didn't really need to do this.

DJ: But he did, because of the way he was feeling.

Girl: But we were a couple!

DJ: You have to accept his feelings.

. . .

I thought about this all day, how hard it is to tell people how you really feel. But how necessary it is to being close and having a real connection.

So many topics can feel off-limits. You worry about the reaction you'll get. You're a decent person. No one wants to be a monster hurting those they love.

Bugs Bunny & the orange monster, Gossamer
But real life is messier than that.

Let's explore that conversation for a second.

What if he did wrestle with feelings for someone else? What if he decided he needed to see what that meant? He'd either learn it was a mistake and regret following those feelings or find they led someplace validating. Either way, valuable information.

But having unwelcome feelings is a terrible burden. What to do? Never in the history of ever has anyone been able to willfully change how they feel.

Repress, sure, but not excise. This is why some of the top industries in the country are numbing: drugs, alcohol, entertainment, escape, etc. -- all serve to help people avoid unwelcome feelings.

We have never been in control of how we feel. The only thing we can control is whether or not we accept how we feel, and how we act on those feelings.

I think the reason people hide their feelings (sometimes even from themselves) is precisely because of the fear that it will either make someone else feel terrible or cause an uncomfortable reaction, or both.

No one wants to be on the receiving or relaying end of unwelcome feelings. Either you're the callous jerk selfishly slashing your loved one's heart to ribbons or you eat your truth.

What about a third option: loving honesty?

The deepest foundation of intimacy is safety, which breeds honesty. We can share how we're feeling when we feel safe. This strengthens connection (lack of connection is the largest underlying reason for discontent in a relationship).

Maybe if the original couple had been able to talk honestly, they would have been connected more deeply and would not have been threatened by those feelings? Or maybe the breeding ground for unwelcome feelings wouldn't have arisen? It's hard to tell, but sharing can only happen when it's safe.

Marriage researcher John Gottman found that when couples didn't feel safe with each other, their bodies entered a fight or flight state. So the first step in getting closer is feeling safer, and the first step in feeling safer is making it okay to share, and this is done by learning good skills to manage conflict. (A topic for another post, so I will point to Dr. Gottman's blog instead.)