People often believe that they are withholding their truth to spare their partner pain, but their real intent is to protect themselves from the response they fear. Speaking your truth can open the door to renewed love.
Mark sought my help because he was thinking of leaving his wife, Linda. He had not been feeling in love with Linda for a long time, but they had two children and he really didn't want to break up the family.
"Mark," I asked, "Were you ever in love with Linda?"
"Yes, at the beginning of our relationship."
"Then what happened?"
"Linda seemed to get really insecure once I started my new business and had long work days. Even though I think I gave her a lot of attention on the weekends, she started getting angry pretty much every day. Then after our son was born, she seemed even more unhappy and irritable. She gets mean when she's angry and I just don't find that appealing. I don't feel close to her anymore."
"Have you said anything to her about this?" I asked.
"No," he replied. "She already seems so unhappy. I don't want to hurt her feelings."
"So how do you handle it?"
"I guess I just sort of shut down and pretend that everything is okay. But I'm spending more and more time at work because I don't like being at home and recently I met another woman that I'm attracted to. I realize I've got to do something about this."
"Do you really think that leaving her will cause less hurt than telling her your truth?"
"Well, if I just leave then I don't have to deal with her hurt."
"Mark, that's a lack of courage and integrity. And you have two children to think about. You once loved Linda and it's possible that you could again, but only if you are willing to be honest. You need to give Linda a chance to deal with this. She has no idea what's going on. She might decide to deal with her anger, or she might not, but at least give her a chance to make that decision. And relationship problems are never one-sided. Perhaps she has things to say to you too."
Mark decided to tell Linda the truth, even though he was really scared. He told her that her anger was pushing him away, and that he didn't like being home anymore because he felt so blamed and controlled by her. He told her that he was attracted to another woman who was treating him with kindness and caring, and that he wanted this from Linda. He told her he had been thinking of leaving and had sought my help and that I told him to tell the truth. He asked her if she would join him in counseling.
Linda was shocked. She had no idea all this was going on with Mark. She thought she was the only one feeling so unloved in the relationship. At first she reacted exactly as Mark feared, with anger, hurt, and blame. But he told her the truth about this too -- that he had been afraid to be truthful with her because of this reaction, and that if she wanted the truth, she need to be open to it rather than closed and angry. Finally Linda heard him and they were able to talk honestly for the first time in years. Linda was actually relieved at hearing the truth, once she got over the initial shock and they were able to talk. She agreed to counseling.
In counseling, Mark discovered that Linda also had been afraid to be honest with Mark, fearing that he would withdraw even more. She was just as afraid of his withdrawal as he was of her anger. They discovered that both of them had been protecting against their fears rather than being open to learning with each other. As they both opened to learning with themselves and each other, the love gradually came back into their relationship.
People often believe that they are withholding their truth to spare their partner pain, but their real intent is to protect themselves from the response they fear. Protecting against pain -- with anger, withdrawal, and blame -- will always bring about the very pain we fear, while opening to learning and speaking our truth can open the door to love.
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