The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, July 22, 2001

Let us hear it....
Straight from the heart
A.J. Singh

CAN you and your life-mate reveal to each other who you really are? Can you talk about your strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears, successes and failures?

While for many couples the answer is at best a qualified Ďyesí, for others, it is a straightforward Ďnoí. Most people are afraid to let others, even a life-partner, know what they really feel about important personal issues.

Why is this so? Among the many reasons are lack of self-confidence, hidden resentments, painful memories, secret desires and so on. A few couples just donít know how to help each other accept and resolve their powerful, but hidden feelings.

Most urbanite couples in Mumbai, or for that matter in any big Indian city, hardly get half an hour a day to share their most intimate feelings due to the hectic pace of life. The pace of life in modern urban India is truly astonishing. No wonder relationships become stale, and mechanical. Rather than explore their feelings, many couples assume they know how the other feels. In reality, each of them is afraid to ask the other! For love to remain exciting, vibrant and intense, communication of feelings is absolutely necessary.


Illustration by BhavnaHow should one go about it then? To begin with an assessment of fears that stand up in the way of such a communication is helpful. Fear or suspicion, for some people, is the first hurdle. Most people harbour the anxiety that if the life partner knows everything, it is bound to lead to rejection of the relationship. Others fear their own anger. They resist exposing their deepest feelings, lest it results is anger which in turn could lead to violence. Still others fear an encounter with their own self-image and feel if they let their mate sees it, it may prove humiliating or even make him/her feel inferior.

Those who desperately seek love often fear that a heart-to-heart talk may create a new worry for them. There is the deep-rooted fear of losing love and being left alone to face life. The persistence of such a fear makes the creating and sustaining of a great love relationship difficult, if not impossible.

Again, withholding such feelings can create a burden on a mate and his/her relationship by undermining his/her self-confidence and ability to give and accept love. When two persons hide their deepest feelings, the relationship is doomed to boredom and chronic frustration. In such a situation, instead of making their needs clear, couples begin to manipulate, intimidate or induce guilt in each other. Affairs and divorce often follow.

A series of heart-to-heart talks establishes an emotional environment of care, safety and trust between the mates. It also allows both persons to accept and enjoy the risk of self-disclosure, discover hidden parts of themselves and develop new emotional connections. These talks instill the safety and trust necessary to do the psychological house-cleaning that every intimate relationship requires periodically.

Even if your mate is uncooperative at first, the more self-disclosing you become the more open and honest you would look and soon your life partner will join you. However, keep in mind that although self-disclosure is essential to personal growth and intimacy, it is a process to be undertaken carefully.

Total openness, in fact, can impose an unrealistic standard upon love and marriage. Those who say that the wife and husband should keep no secrets from one another, fail to recognise the basic human need for some zones of privacy.

If you donít feel comfortable while sharing the sexual details of a past romance, there is no reason to disclose them to your life-mate. Also, there is no obligation to reveal your sexual fantasy or secret that you feel is just too personal to share even with your life partner. Intimacy does not mean that you have to tell your wife/husband everything.

Self-disclosure must be done safely and in measures appropriate to the situation. For there are some disclosures that may lead to disabling effect. some may even end a love relationship, in stead of strengthening it.

In an understanding relationship, each mate learns to condone affairs that are seen as an emotional escape valve. These happen rarely when there is lack of love fitness in a partner and at a particular time in a relationship. So such emotional escapes are usually not discussed by wife and husband. The reason: Without a trained counsellor or friend or trusted person, a confession of this nature can trigger consequences that neither partner anticipates. Even the revelation of a one-night stand or affair can sometimes lead to serious impairment or destruction of a relationship or marriage.

Most people donít know that a heart-to heart talk between a couple can also be misused to psychologise a relationship to its death. Some people enter a relationship with the false assumption that they must expose and analyse every facet of their lifemateís psyche.

It is universally acknowledged that almost any truth or value stretched to an extreme becomes false. This applies to the value of openness in the relationships as well. Getting to know and be known by a mate is exciting and emotionally enriching. But to disclose everything in a fit of anger can be unkind as well as unwise, however. This is because openness is as important to intimacy as are propriety and good taste.

Here is a word of caution; heart-to heart talk is not a cure for a relationship gone sour. For that a marriage counsellor or psychologist needs to be consulted.

Some ground rules must be observed if the talk has to produce results. Some of these are; donít interrupt your mate when he/she is talking; donít reject anything he/she wants to share; stay open and vulnerable to whatever your mate says; nothing he/she says should be used against him/her to provoke an argument; share the truth from your heart as caringly, honestly and respectfully as possible; agree that both of you can disagree yet allow each other his/her feelings, understanding and point of view; not to blame your mate for your emotional flare up, if it occurs; immediately accept the blame, if that happens, and stop.

Before a heart-to-heart talk begins between the couple, disconnect the phone. Take other precautions so that no one interrupts its progress. Setting a time limit will preempt the tendency to "feel like quitting" when ever resistances come up. Use these talks to connect emotionally with your life mate more than anything else.