This week I want to explore the topic of communication within an intimate relationship (with a spouse or significant other) as it relates to appropriate transparency.
The honest truth is, I did not succeed in this area in my marriage and I have friends who struggle with this in theirs. It’s the balance of being your authentic self while considering the other person’s perspective and feelings. Let me start with a story.
I was on a flight that had landed and we were all waiting to deplane when a woman in the row in front of me stepped into the aisle and opened the overhead bin. She and her husband had chosen aisle and window seats respectively, so there was someone sitting between them (we’ll call him “the stranger”). “Your suitcase is unzipped,” she said to her husband, talking in an elevated voice over the stranger. “What do you mean?” he asked. “YOUR SUITCASE IS UNZIPPED. WHY DID YOU UNZIP YOUR SUITCASE?” she retorted in a condescending voice.
“I didn’t unzip my suitcase,” he responded. Oh boy, this was going nowhere fast. They bantered back and forth but the thing that struck me is that she was tearing him down in front of a live, captive audience. I felt for the guy. He kept staring out the window as she relentlessly pushed him about this bag not being zipped all the way.
It caused me pause. At the end of my marriage, my FH (former husband) had shared with me that he felt I had emasculated him over the years and honestly, this is something I am still processing. As women we tend to want to control things by our words and actions and I’m guessing there were days, maybe even seasons, where I made him feel this way. I don’t fully understand it but I fully embrace it because it’s how he felt. It’s how my words and actions (or lack of words and actions) made him feel.
You see, we can’t deny someone’s feelings. When I was married one of the things I struggled with daily was not feeling like my feelings were valid or accepted by my spouse. I used to tell him, “But these are my feelings, I can’t help what I feel.” What I was actually saying was, “But these are my feelings. Could you validate them and show me some compassion?”
The communication struggle between me and my FH was that we had a disconnect; neither one of us could truly be ourselves around each other. It wasn’t always like that but over time our hurt and the walls we built prevented us from having authentic, appropriate transparency. I felt I needed to hide my feelings from him because he didn’t really care (my perception, not necessarily reality), so I turned into a robotic wife. What that means is that I did the things I felt I was supposed to do but they were exempt of love and void of good communication. I think fear drove me to this place because I had been vulnerable before and that it had been used against me. A lack of trust prevented me from truly opening up to this person and once I found myself in that place, it was the beginning of the end.
Let’s look at this from my FH’s perspective. He had a wife that was choosing just to go through the motions, doing the bare minimum to make it through the day. Our communication had been reduced to simple exchanges of necessary information…sharing about a scheduling detail for our sons or stating that we need orange juice on the next grocery run. We were in a bad place.
We were one extreme and I believe this couple on the plane was the other. My FH and I had poor and minimal communication and this couple had unfiltered and untimely interaction. Both extremes lack empathy and expose the other person. Neither are healthy.
As part of Jesus’ final instructions to his disciples after the Last Supper had ended, he told them to “love one another” (John 13:30). This must be the driving force behind everything we do. And you know what? I didn’t do this well in my marriage.
As for the couple on the plane, someone ended up grabbing the black bag that the wife had harped on her husband about. It wasn’t even their bag. Instead of apologizing the wife started laughing and changed her tone with, “Haha, that wasn’t your bag, isn’t that funny?” The husband found no humor in it at all. “You owe me an apology,” he said to her. (What he was actually saying is, “You hurt me. It would mean a lot if you could acknowledge you were wrong.”) But her pride prevented her from being vulnerable and repentive. She made light of the situation and refused to issue an apology. My heart broke for him, for them.
So my challenge to all of us this week, myself included, is this question: How is pride keeping you from appropriate and authentic transparency and communication with your spouse or significant other? And if you don’t have someone who fits in this category, how is it keeping you from having the best relationship with your kids or others who are closest to you?
I leave you with this: It is possible to be true to ourselves and who God made us to be while being sensitive to others by the way we pick our timing and how we package our delivery. “Love one another” should be our foundation, especially with those who mean the most to us. Let’s never be too prideful to change our approach or acknowledge with our partner that we need to change some things in our communication with them. Let’s always choose a path of being willing to grow, for on that path we learn to love others deeply and fully.
If you know someone who could benefit from this post, please share. God carved out a path of intense healing for me and I would like to share it with as many people who need or want to hear.