What every relationship needs to thrive

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

May I be honest with you? Relationships can be hard. I’ve been married for over 20 years and I’m a Psychotherapist that has worked with hundreds of couples. I’ve seen some stuff and I know it takes effort to maintain healthy relationships. I also know that relationships that work include a few essential ingredients.

I often ask couples what ingredients they think are most important and they offer many great opinions. I want to suggest to you that when we boil them all down, the two most important ingredients are honesty and kindness. They work together in harmony. Honesty is kind and you are most kind when you are honest.

Honesty leads to trust, which is bedrock for any relationship. Without trust, no relationship can progress. Imagine what it would be like to be with someone you can’t trust will follow through on their words. To be honest is to be trustworthy which creates greater connection.

With many couples, I have discovered that not withholding information and telling the whole truth is incredibly difficult. Transparency is the most courageous thing you can do in a relationship since being misleading may frequently feel most expedient or convenient. Little “white lies” are alluring because there are few perceived consequences.

Photo by Avonne Stalling on Pexels.com

Brené Brown said that to be clear is to be kind, but admittedly in some situations being honest is also hurtful. The truth can hurt and this is the dilemma. Consider the common example of a wife asking her husband: “Do you think I have gained weight? Does this make me look fat?” Certainly this question, and many like it put the other person into the honesty trap. If he tells her it appears that she has gained some weight, he most certainly believes that he is now entering into dangerous waters. But if he adjusts the truth and tells her no, he can easily swim away from danger. The temptation to adapt the truth is great. Does he tell her the truth or does he tell her what he thinks she wants to hear?

In situations like this it helps to consider the bigger picture. He may look at this one small deception as minor, but it also sets an unkind precedent in which his wife may now wonder if the words he says are truth or lies. Once you establish a reputation for twisting and distorting the truth, it is very hard to be viewed as an honest person again.

If the truth is the “what”, then kindness is the “how”. Kindness is so important in relationships because it is the guiding principle of how people should relate to each other. I use the word “should” very carefully and sparingly, but it is appropriate in this situation. We should exercise more kindness in our interactions. A person that speaks and acts with kindness in relationships creates a sense of safety that encourages partners to feel valued and important, which in turn makes reciprocation more likely.

I’ve heard it said too many times, that “brutal honesty” is a just “the way I talk.” That may be true, but it doesn’t have to be. Honesty does not need to be brutal to be effective. Being brutal is often just an excuse to hurt someone with the truth and feel more right or better about themselves. In relationships, being brutal never does any good because it leaves the recipient bruised, in pain, and defensive. When we become defensive, we likely lose our ability to hear any truth and usually just block out all of the following content. Brutal honesty is almost always counter productive.

The healthy alternative is kind honesty. This is a response that does require thoughtfulness. Kind honesty seeks to share the truth in the best way possible, by honouring the value of the other person. Kind honesty also has the potential for greater acceptance. As somebody’s mother once said: “you attract more flies with honey than vinegar.”

Working with one particular couple, the husband finally admitted in session that he had been having an extramarital affair. It ripped my heart out watch his wife scream with agony as the truth of the moment settled upon her. It was tough to hear and it was a moment he had been dreading sharing with her, because he sensed it would inflict such pain. But then a strange thing happened. After a long while, she regained herself and admitted that she actually felt much better than before the disclosure. She shared that it felt so good to finally hear what she had sensed was true for so long. The truth, as painful as it was, confirmed her intuition and she no longer felt “crazy.” She was strangely content that she now knew the truth that he had worked so hard to conceal for so long. The absence of truth in their relationship was causing her more pain that when she found out. The truth set her free.

Taking a kind approach to telling the truth requires consideration of many variables such as time, place, length, tone, and other non-verbal signs. Consider how the person may react to the truth and be kind by prioritizing their feelings, because if you don’t express the truth with kindness, it may not matter how much evidence or truth you have on your side. This also means using a healthy dose of empathy to consider how the other person may react to what and how you say things.

By prioritizing both truth and kindness in your relationships, you are showing and telling your partner that you value their friendship and are not willing to sacrifice trust, even if it means having some difficult conversations along the way. In fact, having tough kind and honest conversations can bring you so much closer together than dishonest conversations ever could.

I often ask couples what ingredients they think are most important and they offer many great opinions. I want to suggest to you that when we boil them all down, the two most important ingredients are honesty and kindness. They work together in harmony. Honesty is kind and you are most kind when you are honest.

Honesty leads to trust, which is bedrock for any relationship. Without trust, no relationship can progress. Imagine what it would be like to be with someone you can’t trust will follow through on their words. To be honest is to be trustworthy which creates greater connection.

With many couples, I have discovered that not withholding information and telling the whole truth is incredibly difficult. Transparency is the most courageous thing you can do in a relationship since being misleading may frequently feel most expedient or convenient. Little “white lies” are alluring because there are few perceived consequences.

Brené Brown said that to be clear is to be kind, but admittedly in some situations being honest is also hurtful. The truth can hurt and this is the dilemma. Consider the common example of a wife asking her husband: “Do you think I have gained weight? Does this make me look fat?” Certainly this question, and many like it put the other person into the honesty trap. If he tells her it appears that she has gained some weight, he most certainly believes that he is now entering into dangerous waters. But if he adjusts the truth and tells her no, he can easily swim away from danger. The temptation to adapt the truth is great. Does he tell her the truth or does he tell her what he thinks she wants to hear?

In situations like this it helps to consider the bigger picture. He may look at this one small deception as minor, but it also sets an unkind precedent in which his wife may now wonder if the words he says are truth or lies. Once you establish a reputation for twisting and distorting the truth, it is very hard to be viewed as an honest person again.

If the truth is the “what”, then kindness is the “how”. Kindness is so important in relationships because it is the guiding principle of how people should relate to each other. I use the word “should” very carefully and sparingly, but it is appropriate in this situation. We should exercise more kindness in our interactions. A person that speaks and acts with kindness in relationships creates a sense of safety that encourages partners to feel valued and important, which in turn makes reciprocation more likely.

I’ve heard it said too many times, that “brutal honesty” is a just “the way I talk.” That may be true, but it doesn’t have to be. Honesty does not need to be brutal to be effective. Being brutal is often just an excuse to hurt someone with the truth and feel more right or better about themselves. In relationships, being brutal never does any good because it leaves the recipient bruised, in pain, and defensive. When we become defensive, we likely lose our ability to hear any truth and usually just block out all of the following content. Brutal honesty is almost always counter productive.

The healthy alternative is kind honesty. This is a response that does require thoughtfulness. Kind honesty seeks to share the truth in the best way possible, by honouring the value of the other person. Kind honesty also has the potential for greater acceptance. As somebody’s mother once said: “you attract more flies with honey than vinegar.”

Working with one particular couple, the husband finally admitted in session that he had been having an extramarital affair. It ripped my heart out watch his wife scream with agony as the truth of the moment settled upon her. It was tough to hear and it was a moment he had been dreading sharing with her, because he sensed it would inflict such pain. But then a strange thing happened. After a long while, she regained herself and admitted that she actually felt much better than before the disclosure. She shared that it felt so good to finally hear what she had sensed was true for so long. The truth, as painful as it was, confirmed her intuition and she no longer felt “crazy.” She was strangely content that she now knew the truth that he had worked so hard to conceal for so long. The absence of truth in their relationship was causing her more pain that when she found out. The truth set her free.

Taking a kind approach to telling the truth requires consideration of many variables such as time, place, length, tone, and other non-verbal signs. Consider how the person may react to the truth and be kind by prioritizing their feelings, because if you don’t express the truth with kindness, it may not matter how much evidence or truth you have on your side. This also means using a healthy dose of empathy to consider how the other person may react to what and how you say things.

By prioritizing both truth and kindness in your relationships, you are showing and telling your partner that you value their friendship and are not willing to sacrifice trust, even if it means having some difficult conversations along the way. In fact, having tough kind and honest conversations can bring you so much closer together than dishonest conversations ever could.

#couples #marriage #relationships