Communications 101

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I love reading and proofreading this blog (the admin is not only one witty chick, she’s also a ‘creative’ speller), but I wasn’t sure I was up for writing a guest post. In our social circle, I’m usually known as the introverted one, the inexperienced one. I’ve never had a successful “first date”.  My relationships tend to grow out of existing friendships. So what advice could I possibly give?

I’m here to talk to you about something I’ve gotten to know pretty intimately from a relationship perspective. Not so much from a dating perspective, but I know that it’s just as important when you’re dating. It may even be a deciding factor in choosing whether or not to continue dating a person. I’m referring, of course, to communication — the same ability that was so uniquely well-developed among the early humans that it enabled them to conquer the animal world. Unfortunately, today we don’t give our ability to communicate due credit. Sometimes we even neglect it, causing the building blocks of our social and romantic lives to fall apart.

My boyfriend and I got together several months ago after two years of close friendship. We waited so long because all the odds were, and still are, against us – we differ in everything from religion and cultural background to sexual experience and history. But we are the same where it matters – in our hearts and in our behavior toward each other, which reflects the kind of commitment, stability and security (not to mention good humor) our relationship requires to surmount the many obstacles blocking its path.

We know that if we’re going to build a relationship and keep it going despite the heavy external pressure and high stakes, neither of us can afford to up the ante and add internal pressure to the mix by playing games with each other. We have to be as transparent as possible whenever we communicate (which, ideally, should be often) — without false pretenses. Whenever I put on airs, hide things from him or tell “white lies,” my bf calls me out on it. I appreciate and admire him for that.

Despite the impulse to cut corners, it’s best to be true to yourself and honest to others in all your relationships — with friends, and even with acquaintances. This will make others see you as credible and trustworthy — and maybe even dateworthy.  Because when you’re dating or trying to build a relationship – not to mention keep one going – open, honest communication is key.

For me personally, dishonesty and evasive behavior have always been deal-breakers. There was a guy I loved a lot, but couldn’t bring myself to give my heart to him because, among other reasons, I could tell he wasn’t telling me the whole truth (about small things, such as why he was late to pick me up, and about big things, such as his feelings for his ex). He thought he was being tall, dark, handsome (he is all of the above) and mysterious — but to me, it seemed less like a mystery and more like a giant “don’t go there” sign hanging over his head.

This may seem obvious to some of you. I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise to hear how important open communication is in theory – but what about in practice? Are you as honest and open with your date or partner as you should be? Or are you playing games?

That’s right, folks — the opposite of being open and honest in any social connection — be it friendship, family ties or a romantic relationship — is hiding things and playing games. Playing games isn’t sexy, spicy, fun or exciting in the long run – even if it’s Christian Grey who’s doing it. All it does is introduce confusion, discomfort and tension into a relationship. Not to mention jealousy, suspicion and all that rot.

Our “honesty is the best policy” policy doesn’t mean we can’t have fun, pretend or roleplay in the bedroom – we can and do. But there are other things in the bedroom (and out of it) we won’t lie to each other about — such as if we’re too tired to do anything, if something hurts or isn’t pleasurable, if we’re insecure about something sexual or about our bodies, if we’re too scared to try something, if we want to try something but don’t know how or if one of us has trouble reaching climax (for example, he’s made me swear I’ll always let him know what’s going on if I get the urge to fake it), and so on and so forth.

Each of us knows the other is there to support and help (or, if need be, laugh about it), and we don’t shy away from each other, even if we feel too scared, insecure or embarrassed to talk about whatever it is that’s on our mind. At the end of the day, making ourselves vulnerable and transparent to each other doesn’t make us weaker; it makes us stronger both as individuals and as a couple. It gives me strength to know that he accepts and supports me exactly as I am, without any embellishments, without any of the masks I usually put on in the outside world, in a professional or academic environment. And I know and love him just as he is, no illusions to be disenchanted when the Oxytocin dissipates.

At the outset of our relationship, we discussed at length our exes and past experiences. He said one thing that bothered him about his exes was that they always expected him to automatically know what they were thinking and feeling, to always be aware of their wants and needs. If he couldn’t guess, confusion would ensue: he would feel inadequate, and they would feel he wasn’t being attentive enough, wasn’t a proper “knight in shining armor” — because he couldn’t preempt their every need. They hoped he would change and become what they needed, he hoped they would accept him as he is. Eventually — inevitably — they broke up.

At the root of this dissonance lay an acute lack of communication. You can’t expect your man to know what you want and need without telling him anything and just expecting him to guess. And you definitely can’t put him down, think any less of him or wish he would change when he doesn’t, because he’s hardly Mel Gibson in What Women Want – odds are he’s just as shy and insecure as you are. What he needs from you is communication and validation, not enigmatic behavior and mind games. He’s no mind-reader and you’re no fairy-tale princess — you’ll just have to tell him what you want and how you feel. Because if you don’t, he might misunderstand or never know — and disappoint you for no reason at all other than fucked-up communication stemming from misguided expectations and a failure to accept one’s partner as (s)he is.

I’ve known some people who loved their partners a lot, but didn’t respect them enough to be open and honest with them. In the long run, this state of affairs culminated in a traumatic break-up. But how did it come to pass in the first place?

They say that love is blind. It really is. But if a stable, lasting relationship is what you’re after, you can’t afford to overlook the truly important things – and not just if the stakes are high, as they are in my current relationship. And definitely not just when the shit hits the fan.

Anger, frustration, embarrassment and other not-so-positive emotions can accumulate and cause tension between you and your partner if you don’t let them out through the proper channels – and by that, I mean without shouting, screaming, crying or being hysterical in general (and taking it out on your partner, at that). As the admin of this blog wrote in her previous post, you have to be attentive toward your partner and make sure there’s nothing wrong on their end — otherwise there’s quite a lot you’re going to miss.

But there is something you can do on your end, too. Some of the people I know aren’t that open with their partner, but really they mean well – they love their partner and think they’re being honest with them. What they don’t realize is that they’re not being honest with themselves first and foremost. There’s something they won’t admit to themselves or have convinced themselves is not true or of no consequence. But usually others – sometimes even their partner – can tell that something (that you don’t really see yourself with that person in the long term, that the sex isn’t really all that, that you’re repulsed by their porn habit even though Cosmopolitan says you should embrace it, that something about them just bothers you) is wrong and has been left unsaid. That is also the case with things you can admit to yourself, but not to your partner – sooner or later (most likely later, because they’re probably in denial too), they’ll figure out that you don’t really love them or that you’re actually allergic to their beloved cat Fluffy. And it’ll hurt so much more when they do.

So just be honest about things – with your partner, yes, but first and foremost with yourself. You’ll probably thank yourself later.

20 comments

  1. What a fantastic post. I just split with a partner of 4 years for those very reasons. There was far too much lacking with communication and it was never going to improve. It caused problems even though he loves me so much. sad really.

  2. Honesty is a practical and funny thing. I decided many years ago that there really was never truly a reason to lie. When I felt myself preparing to lie about something I would ask ‘why the hell am I lying about this?’ And so I stopped, not that I was ever big on it in the first place. That doesn’t mean brutal honesty all the time but it means honesty all the time. I promised my kids and my husband that I would never lie to them and it is much easier than I thought (though it means dodging the whole Santa thing with questions for questions sort of situations…honestly I look forward to the day when Santa is a thing of the past…is that wrong?). I wonder how many people have made similar pledges and how easy or hard they find it. Such a simple thing to live by and it makes for much easier passage through love and life. Great post. Simple and honest.

  3. Open Communication is one of the BIGGEST and MOST important things in a relationship; it practically makes or breaks a relationship in the long run. Exercised the wrong way, it leads to confusion, insecurity, anger, etc… I’m a big believer in “If you don’t ask, you don’t get”. It irks me when people expect their partners to always know what they want. In reality, none of us are mind readers and if we just got this through our heads, the world would be a better place :) hehe Great guest post, might I add!

  4. “Are you as honest and open with your date or partner as you should be? Or are you playing games? That’s right, folks — the opposite of being open and honest in any social connection — be it friendship, family ties or a romantic relationship — is hiding things and playing games.” – You’re dead wrong about this one. Not only you can’t tell the whole truth all the time to the persons near you, but at the same time this doesn’t mean you’re playing games. There’re certain things in your life which are private, and believe it or not are so even to yourself, let alone others. To lump not being honest as being a game player is like saying that just because you’re open and honest about everything makes you a better worthwhile dating material, which we all know it’s not the case. In all relationships, be they with family, friends or significant others, there must be a boundary between being honest and spilling your guts out, which makes you a pretty dreadful person. Just my humble opinion.

    1. Hi Lucianus, thanks for your comment. Obviously there are things in your life which are private – but hopefully they aren’t critical enough to ruin your relationship if you withhold them from your partner! We all have our secrets — my point wasn’t that we shouldn’t have any, that we should tell “nothing but the truth” or that we should spill our guts about everything and anything (we’re not George Washington, after all), but that we should be honest and open about the things that really matter. If we hide them, we’re playing games. And if we hide them from ourselves, that’s a separate issue, which is why I devoted a separate paragraph to it.

      1. Honestly is directly connected to your comfort zone, and for me honesty is vital. I try and be honest about my feelings and how I feel toward others, but yet, I still have secrets which no one will ever know, least of all my partner (if it ever came to be that is).

  5. Thanks for the comments y’all.
    @ Jiltaroo – thanks very much for taking the time to leave a personal comment. I’ve seen enough relationships disintegrate for this reason to realize how important it is to work on it.
    @ AlisaG – really? Dodging the Santa questions? Not sure I’d go that far — but many thanks for the inspiring comment. :)
    @ Love.Antoinette – I totally agree!

  6. It is a simple concept and yet I’m amazed by how many people don’t follow it. No good will come from lies and deceit. Nice thoughts on this.

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