Few of us grew up in an emotionally safe environment, a place where we could be truthful about our feelings. Instead, we inherited faulty beliefs about our emotions. As a Marriage Therapist in Santa Monica I have found our caregivers sent us the message that our emotions were self-indulgent or embarrassing and best kept to ourselves; or that what we felt was somehow incorrect and shouldn’t be trusted.
A relationship can’t be truly healthy without emotional honesty. But, if you’re not familiar with emotional honesty, it can be hard to spot the signs that your relationship lacks it. Your intuition might tell you that something is off—that “I know I’ve forgotten to do something, but I can’t remember what it is” feeling––but you can’t quite put your finger on what’s wrong.
This is why it’s necessary to learn some of the warning sign your relationship lacks emotional honesty
Look out for these four:
If your family taught you it’s wrong or dangerous to express a “negative” emotion like anger, as an adult you’ve probably mastered the art of emotional control. You may even think it’s a benefit. But, there’s a difference between controlling how you react to strong emotions and controlling the emotions themselves. If you’re afraid of openly expressing anger, for instance, you may push it down or turn it on yourself. Suppressed emotions and inward-facing anger can turn into depression.
You’ve covered your true self in layers of behavior to keep the peace. But the truth is, you’re not letting your partner see the real you; intimacy is impossible without honesty.
When you deny and run from your feelings, none of your nagging issues will be resolved. If your partner does something that upsets you, they will keep doing it until you address it. Your partner can’t read your mind, after all.
Remember: emotions don’t just go away because you want them to. So, instead of talking to your partner about how you feel, you end up talking to everyone but your partner: your friends, family, even complete strangers.
A lack of honest communication is a recipe for disaster. It can turn your friends and family against your partner, and it creates an environment for emotional and even physical infidelity to take place.
This is a warning sign to look for not only in yourself, but also in your partner. If your partner never seems to be bothered by anything you do, it doesn’t mean you’re perfect. We all get on each other’s nerves sometimes. Instead, it may mean they don’t feel safe telling you how they feel.
If you’re scared of seeming needy, it’s likely that you’ll refuse to ask for help—even when you need it. Then, when help is offered or given, you’ll say to your partner, “No, I’m fine,” or, “I didn’t need your help.” Your partner will start to feel their presence isn’t significant, that you don’t appreciate them.
Asking for help honors the person you’re asking and enables them to ask for help right back. Give and receive, give and receive. That’s the formula for a successful relationship.
People often confuse discharging anger with dealing with anger. If you snap at your partner, yell, break a dish, you may feel a momentary release, but nothing has actually been resolved. If you haven’t addressed what made you angry, the thing that set you off will continue until you discuss it with them.
Anger can also become a tool you or your partner uses to manipulate the other. You may not be aware you’re manipulating them, so look for warning signs: Your partner acts cautiously around you. They seem afraid––or tell you they are afraid––that you’ll explode at them. You’ve created an environment in which they can’t be emotionally honest.
A lot of what precedes anger is the inability to be honest. Your explosive, manipulative anger feeds your partner’s suppressed anger. Emotional honesty is suffocated and you end up on the least fun merry-go-round ever.
When you aren’t emotionally honest, you build a wall between yourself and your partner. Your partner can’t discover your likes and dislikes, needs and wants, and boundaries when you don’t tell them how you feel. And, you can’t discover your partner’s likes and dislikes, needs and wants, and boundaries when they don’t tell you how they feel.
Now you have the tools you need to recognize the warning signs your relationship lacks emotional honesty. This is the first step in your journey toward emotional honesty. When you knock down those walls, you can develop true intimacy with the one you love.
Read more tips on overcoming unhealthy relationship habits at my blog on PsychologyToday.