Guideline # 9 for a Healthy Relationship

Written by on October 24, 2012 in On Relationships

Guideline # 9 for a Healthy Relationship: Leave Nothing Unsaid

This statement “leave nothing unsaid” is meant to be taken in the proper context. I don’t mean let every word or thought, kind or unkind escape your lips. I don’t mean that you should tell your friend or partner every single thing you think or feel. In fact, it is wise to keep much to yourself. What this statement means, in the way I am using it, is this: If you are withholding something from the other person for fear of rejection or other kinds of discomforts then the remedy is to speak this to your partner, to open up about what you withhold. To refrain from telling your friend you don’t like her hairstyle, (unless she asks for your honest opinion) is just discretion and consideration but not telling her that she interrupts you all the time is withholding. Don’t let these important communications fester inside of you.

The same is true for kindness and admirable qualities. I find for myself it is difficult to tell people that I love them or that I appreciate what they do for me. It is easier to just believe that they know how I feel rather than risk feeling vulnerable by telling them. The truth is, that I need to tell them that I love them and appreciate them for me. It is healthy for me to learn to be vulnerable and express myself freely even when I may be  rejected.

Communicate for YOU

It’s okay to say whatever you feel is necessary and important to communicate but just remember what you say is for you. Don’t communicate hoping to elicit a specific reaction or response but communicate because it is what you feel you need for yourself. Don’t tell others how you feel with the expectation that they will understand. Understanding comes from the other person and you really have no control over that, so whatever you choose to communicate must be necessary for you. While it is nice if you feel heard and understood by the other person that cannot be your motive for speaking up or you will find yourself in regular but varying states of disappointment.  But if you take this approach you will never be reactive because you are not concerned with their response. If you find that you do care, check your motives and get clear about what you need to say for you. Period.  Your success is based on your willingness to speak up and then doing it.

Make it Honest, Make it Kind

Always make sure that your words are as kind as possible without compromising your honesty or your integrity. Choosing to communicate kindly will take some effort because it requires you to consider how the other person will respond without becoming attached to their response. When you are contemplating what you would like to communicate first consider how to be fully honest, first with yourself and then in your verbal communication. After you are clear in your mind about what is true for you, then consider how to say what must be said, as kindly as possible, without jeopardizing your own honesty and integrity. All of this requires a more conscious approach to communicating.

Don’t Wait for the Perfect Moment

Sometimes I don’t speak what I feel because I worry that it is not the right time. I am waiting for the right moment but that moment never comes and that which was in my heart is never spoken and never known. I have learned to speak right in the moment. Sometimes I have something difficult to say and I am procrastinating saying it because I am worried about the other person’s reaction.  I don’t want to create problems or misunderstandings. But when I open myself up to the right moment presenting itself to me, I am always prepared to speak.When I remember that I am communicating for me it helps me do what needs to be done without putting it off.

I do believe that timing is important and blurting out whatever is on your mind whenever you feel like it is not what I am suggesting. I am talking about “carpe diem” recognizing the moment when it arrives and having the courage to act on it. There is a Hebrew phrase that is similar that I like: “If not now, then when?” Another example of this is having a warm or tender feeling toward someone and not expressing that feeling. Have you ever been overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude and love for a person?  Try calling that person right in the moment that you feel this gratitude and tell them. Notice how often you feel grateful for others and you don’t express it. Notice how much you think good thoughts about others and yet do not share this with them. Again, I must reiterate, this speaking in the moment is for you. This concept is not about informing the other person about how you feel or think. It is about creating intimacy and connection through honest expression. Don’t wait for the perfect moment, only trust that when the moment arrives you will have the courage to act on it.

Here is an example of when I learned the value of “leave nothing unsaid.”

Several years ago, after Thanksgiving dinner Aaron wasn’t feeling too good. He had a pain that wouldn’t go away. After going to bed early and sleeping for a few hours he woke up to intense pain. I knew it was serious because Aaron has a high tolerance for pain and when he is moaning and begging to go to the hospital it is pretty bad. We rushed to the hospital and after receiving some pain relieving drug the doctor diagnosed the pain as a gallbladder attack. He said it was a severe case and he recommended a removal of the gallbladder immediately. It wasn’t too long after, that he was prepped for surgery. I don’t know about you, but when I know someone is going in for surgery I always feel a little stab of worry. What if they never wake up? What if something happens while they are under the knife? Aaron and I had a few moments before he was to be wheeled into the operating room and I thought to myself, “Is there anything I need to say to him? Just in case?” I scoured my brain for unsaid words or sentiments. I came up empty and I had a grand realization in that moment: I had already told him everything, each day and hour as it was presented to me until there was nothing left to be said. I looked at him and said, “I feel like I am supposed to say something but I think I already have.” He smiled and said, “then don’t say anything.” There was nothing either good or bad that I hadn’t told him. So we didn’t talk. I stood there by the gurney and shared silence with Aaron and I felt peaceful knowing that everything that needed to be spoken had been said, and all that was left was love. 

Radical Honesty, Radical Responsibility

Sometimes, after years of  unacknowledged and unspoken stuff have backlogged in your psyche, you may need to clean out your emotional and mental closets. Often this requires communicating the old feelings and airing out the grievances of the past. In order to do this a bit of radical honesty is in order. For radical honesty to work successfully you need two points clear: the act of speaking honestly is for you and the second point is, to take full responsibility for how you feel no matter what the other person may or may not have done.

I can always tell when I need to have a radical conversation with someone because a resentment has begun to creep into my relationship. This lets me know that I have been withholding from that person. I then prepare to have a radically honest conversation. First, I get honest with myself. What is really bothering me? What needs to be said that I have not said? Sometimes I write this process out on a piece of paper just to help clarify the issues. Then I do the hard part. I look at each grievance and I find how I am responsible for my feelings and actions. I cannot emphasize this part enough, taking ownership for yourself in all ways, is essential for radical honesty to work. Otherwise, it is an excuse to spout off at others without even the dignity of courtesy and tactfulness.

To help illustrate this concept let me offer an example:

Let’s pretend I have an arrangement of tending my friend’s son for her, three days a week. She agrees to drop off her son at ten o’clock in the morning and pick him up at four o’clock in the afternoon each day. At first things go smoothly but after awhile I notice that it has become a drain and I am feeling frustrated with the extra responsibility. And then to top it off my friend shows up late at least two of the three days and drops him off earlier in the morning.

I assume that she is milking my generosity for all its worth and snagging a few extra hours a day to shop with girlfriends or do other recreational things and these thoughts infuriate me. I gossip to others about her inconsiderate behavior and get some sympathy from them or just reinforce my judgements about this person.

After time goes on I find that my resentment is spilling over and affecting the way I feel about her child. I find myself irritated by him and I have to work harder and harder to be kind and friendly. I notice that I am feeling more routinely angry all the time.

My friend notices my cold shoulder and asks me one day if I am okay. I tell her yes, I am fine. I am secretly hoping she can hear the sarcasm in my voice. I wonder how long it is going to take her to figure out why I am angry with her. But she does not seem to notice my sarcasm and assumes I am fine. Things continue downward. Finally, when I am so sick of it I could scream, I realize radical honesty is in order. A typical radically honest conversation starts out something like this:

Me: I need to talk to you about some things that have been bothering me of late. I was wondering if you would be willing to listen without interruption to what I have to say until I am completely done?

Friend: Sure, of course. (Interrupting others is a knee-jerk reaction for many of of us. Make sure that if your friend tries to interrupt you that remind her of her agreement.)

Me: I have not been honest with you about tending your child. I agreed to take care of him three days a week for six hours. I realized quite early on that it was really too much for me. I kept doing it and I didn’t tell you it was getting to be too much. I am sorry that I did not communicate this to you when I first noticed it. I also did not let you know how important it was for me that you pick up and drop off your child at the times you agreed to do it. I should have spoke up right away but instead I let it fester and cause me to feel anger toward you.

I am completely responsible for how I feel and I am not blaming you for my lack of communication. I also want to recognize that I have talked about you behind your back to others when I should have talked to you and worked this out at the beginning. I am sorry for that. The other day when you asked me how I was feeling I told you I was fine. That was not true. I was hoping to make you feel guilty. Obviously, that didn’t work. My withholding how I really felt has caused me to have harsh judgements toward you and I have chosen to gossip about you behind your back. I realize that I have jeopardized our friendship by doing so and I want to apologize for whatever hurt I may have caused.

Friend: I accept your apology. (This will hurt your pride quite a bit.)

Me: Now, I would like to continue to help you with childcare but I will need some kind of compensation, maybe payment for each hour that I tend your son. Or perhaps we could trade in some way. You could tend my daughter for me when I need it or you could pick up a few groceries for me at the store each day. I feel it is important for me to be compensated. I also need to be informed in advance if you will be bringing him earlier and leaving him later. I may have appointments and other obligations that will be compromised. Also, I may just need a break.

I would like to arrange something that works for both of us. Would you be open to discussing options that work for both of us? If so, I will agree to tell you right away when there is a problem and not wait until I am angry and resentful. Once we have arranged something I will be willing to try it out for a month to see if it works for me. We can decide to continue or not at the end of the month. Thank you for listening to me. If there is anything you would like to say to me I am willing to hear you out.

Whew!

It is important to remind yourself that you are being honest and taking responsibility for you. You are not beating yourself up and shaming yourself for your behaviors. You are courageously taking ownership of your actions so that they are in the light of your awareness. You will be less likely to repeat the behavior when you are so painfully aware of it and have acknowledged it openly.

What I am suggesting, is not easy to do. Especially if you have let a problem fester and get ugly. Radical honesty and radical responsibility can repair the damage and can give you both a fresh start. In the future, honesty becomes easier and you will be less willing to put up with others’ behaviors because you recognize that you are ultimately responsible for how you allow others to treat you. By taking responsibility for yourself you don’t get locked into the power struggle that is so common in relationships. In the above example there is no blaming or shaming. You can tell the truth without making the other person wrong or running yourself into the ground. In order to make a radical conversation work you have to have good boundaries and not want to be a victim.

Tell the truth about you. Take responsibility for you. It’s that simple.

Conclusion

When you leave nothing unsaid your relationship is clean, there are no hidden agendas, no wishing for something from the other person and no manipulation required. It will help you create good boundaries, it will keep you honest and let you live in the moment without the burden of the unsaid and unacknowledged chasing you like phantoms from the past. If you leave nothing unsaid it frees up your love so that it  flows and your communication will be effortless and kind. It is the ultimate in self-care. Leave nothing unsaid and your relationship will grow and mature and you will be free.

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