Why Relationships Require Radical Honesty — Even When It Hurts
In many ways, our society still upholds specific structural and energetic norms of the past. We have advanced in science, technology, medicine, and engineering, yet our physical biology—the ways we withhold and communicate information, and often the structure of how we choose to be in relationship with one another—feels outdated.
Although women are now procreating later in life, our physiological ability to bear children hasn't changed. Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that most women hit peak fertility between the ages of 23 and 31. On the other hand, the average age that women gave birth to their first child in 2014 was 26.5 years of age. This is 1.5 years later than the average age documented in 2000.
So many of us continue to find solace and safety in the idea of having a single partner until death do us part. But new definitions of monogamy are beginning to become commonplace. Research done by David M. Buss and Todd K. Shackelford, professors of psychology, confirms that roughly 30 to 60 percent of all married individuals in the United States will engage in infidelity at some point during their marriage. These numbers are probably on the conservative side, if you consider that about half of all marriages end in divorce.
There's no right answer; there's simply truth.
Being alone is often still considered taboo despite the fact that many of us feel lonely in our partnerships or when we are surrounded by a large group of others. It is estimated that one in every five Americans suffers from persistent loneliness, and while we're more connected than ever before, social media and technology may actually be exacerbating the problem. Professor John T. Cacioppo's groundbreaking research in his book Loneliness uses studies in neurology to define an unrecognized syndrome―chronic loneliness―and the effects that it can have on our health and well-being.
History loves to repeat itself, and I believe we are allowing it to repeat.
We fearfully cling to that which came before us because it is documented, known, and seemingly understood. We are afraid to carve out new ways of being because uncertainty is paralyzing. Change is overwhelming. Doing something in a new way ripens the possibility of failure. And yes, all of these feelings have the sharp shards of truth—but there is also something more.
Over this last year, I personally experienced a challenge that I believe often arises in committed, monogamous relationships (between two people who are completely honest with themselves). I found myself having feelings―romantic feelings―bubble up for someone that was not my boyfriend. To me, this is part of being human. Having these animalistic urges is part of what it means to be a physical creature on this planet. Fantasy. Desire. Escapism. Idealism. Anything that feels untouchable and outside the norm of everyday life.
Upon feeling these feelings, my initial inclination was to share them with my partner. I felt the need to sit down across from him, knee to knee, and simply speak that which was real—that which was coming up for me. However, after receiving external feedback from a few trusted sources in my life, I decided not to share my feelings with him. Instead, I buried them deep inside, hoping they would dissipate or disappear with time.
For the most part they did.
In Attached by Amir Levine, M.D., and Rachel S.F. Heller, M.A., adult "attachment styles," or the manners in which people perceive and respond to intimacy, fall into three main categories. These categories are in part a reflection of how we were cared for as children, but they also include many other factors that come into play as an adult. The three styles of attachment are:
1. Secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving.
2. Anxious people crave intimacy, are often preoccupied with their relationships, and tend to worry about their partner's ability to love them back.
3. Avoidant people equate intimacy with loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness.
As a general rule of thumb, I think I fall 70 percent into the secure category. However, like any flawed being, I have moments when I experience the anxiety of being in a committed relationship with someone. I can become preoccupied with the potential outcome(s) of the relationship—where it is going, what it means, and how my partner feels toward me. These anxious and worried thoughts make me question my relationship, pulling me out of the present and into a fear-based attempt to predict the future.
I would not describe these moments as comfortable or desirable, but I am able to see their significance and use them as a means for self-improvement. These moments are incredibly painful for me, and I am committed to finding ways to minimize their frequency and their capacity to rupture my inner steadiness.
After a few months passed without my having seen the person that I had been attracted to, I felt tired of not being fully transparent in sharing this piece of my life with my partner. There was something about withholding the information that felt gutless and cowardly. I knew I wasn't honoring the openness we had cultivated.
Leaning on the coping mechanisms of my past (many of which no longer serve me), I phoned a family member and few friends to get their feedback. Not surprisingly, three out of the four people I called warned me against speaking up, stating with total clarity that sharing what I wished to share would cause a massive divide between my partner and me and that he would be left feeling disappointed, angry, confused, and distant. And of course, all of those things could be true, but for some reason, my gut knew otherwise.
One of my friends, noting my anxiety, asked what I could do for myself in order to move forward. Without hesitation, my answer was to tell my boyfriend what was going on honestly and lovingly. I also knew that I would have to be completely open and nondefensive in receiving his response. Upon sharing this with her, my whole body softened. These feelings that I had been holding finally felt spacious and capable of possibility.
When the next opportunity arose for us to have a heart-to-heart conversation, it happened just as I had imagined. I took a few deep breaths, stared him right in his eyes, and shared my truth. As the sentences finished spilling out of me, I felt an overwhelming exhale of relief. A goddamn block of bricks fell off my shoulders, and the knot in my stomach came undone. I knew that I would be OK with whatever his response was simply because I had honored my own inner knowing and openly shared that which was true for me.
My boyfriend gently stared back at my tear-streaked face. When he spoke, the words that came out of him were those of understanding. Of nonattachment. Of openness and possibility. Of deepening. Of overwhelming compassion.
It made sense to him. He got it. There wasn't any fight or rupture or jealousy—just a calm and steady conversation about what being in relationship means to him, me, and to us. We chatted about boundaries, about commitment, and about attraction. And amid the somewhat taboo and unconventional words that were shared, a valley of deeper intimacy emerged.
Every relationship we have in life is wildly different based on the interweaving of two unique souls coming together. The containers are varied. The physical expression is varied. The thoughts and feelings and emotions are varied. However, I believe we are at a universal crossroad where we get to choose how we want to engage in the thematic and foundational building blocks in our lives: our careers, where we live, how we define ourselves, whether or not we have children, how we relate to our loved ones.
There's no right answer; there's simply truth.
And in the inevitability of unknowns and uncertainty that life offers, the only certainty and point of comfort we have come in our ability to choose honesty and integrity above all else—even when that which is true is not what anyone else may want to hear.