by C.S. Griffel
Transparency. What a tricky, dangerous word. The truth is transparency is the key to an intimate marriage. In fact, I would argue, you simply cannot have intimacy without it. If you are not your authentic, transparent self, then there is a wall dividing you from your spouse. You are building a false intimacy based on a lie.
But what is transparency? Is it expressing every feeling I have every moment that I have it? No, because feelings and emotions are fleeting things, based on a wide variety of elements. Hormones, overdue bills, clingy kids, a hard day at work, can all effect our emotions. No, instead, transparency is showing your spouse your true, authentic self, sharing your deepest secrets, darkest fears, and riskiest dreams. This kind of transparency, when shared between two people who keep one another’s sacred trust, leads to the greatest kind of intimacy. Knowing deeply and being deeply known. Not only that, as marriage partners we then have the singular privilege of walking hand in hand with one another through all the triumphs and failures of life, of being our partner’s biggest fan, shoulder to cry on and voice of reason. Sadly, many marriages, even after years, never reach this level of transparency, or if they once did, this knowledge gets lost in the minutiae of life.
The process of blending two individuals into one marital unit presents a series of roadblocks that keep us from either being transparent or remembering what has been revealed through earlier transparency. Here are some of those roadblocks I’ve discovered over the years.
Unmet expectations. This is huge. We all come in to marriage with a set of expectations. I am not talking about a list you made of qualities you wanted in a spouse. I am talking about an internal reckoning of what a marriage partner should or should not do. Likely, you will be nearly entirely unaware of many of your expectations until you find them unmet.
These expectations come to us throughout our lives, mainly in childhood, but perhaps from a first marriage as well. Without warning they can even come from comparing your life to that of your friends. Expectations can be birthed from something as simple as “my dad always filled up my gas tank” to deep emotional wounds like infidelity in a family of origin or prior marriage. You might not realize that you expected your husband to fill your gas tank until you’re sitting on the side of the highway, out of gas. You might not expect that your wife can’t make those potatoes like your mother until you’re eating a pile of mush you cannot identify. You might not realize that your spouse arriving home 15 minutes late without calling will send you into a tailspin of terror until it happens. You might suddenly find yourself dissatisfied with the house you once loved because somebody’s husband could afford a bigger, nicer one, or dissatisfied with your wife’s body because your friend’s wife has a thinner one. All of these scenarios and countless others can lead you three directions. Into a knock-down, drag-out fight, into silent, boiling anger or into greater transparency.
When these unmet expectations crop up, identify them for what they are and talk about them. In a transparent marriage, we need to be able to both 1) speak up and 2) LISTEN up. In reality, it’s likely that your spouse had no idea about your expectation. Because they apparently loved you enough to marry you, you may presume a willingness to meet the expectation if you’d ask now that you realize you have it. Conversely, the presumption is that you loved your spouse enough to marry him or her and that you will be willing to hear and meet your spouse’s needs. (Though, I caution men, you may be able to say you don’t care for the potatoes, but don’t compare them to your mother’s unless you want to wear them.) Lastly, be willing to adjust your expectation. You married a person who came from a home that ran a certain way. Just because it wasn’t the way your childhood home ran doesn’t make it wrong. Make new expectations together based on your own strengths and weaknesses as a couple. Your wife is not the same person as your mother, your husband is not the same person as your father, your new family is not the same family as your family of origin. It is a brand new, unique entity. And if you are comparing your spouse to a friend’s spouse, cut it out. Period. That is dangerous to your marriage and belittling to your spouse.
These unmet expectations are rarely deal breakers, don’t allow them to become so. The ones that are deal breakers need serious addressing and possible action with the advice and care of professionals. They can be the result of emotionally unhealthy families of origin. These would be things like abuse, physical, sexual or emotional, addiction or infidelity. Get help.
De-valuing the other person’s point of view. This is far easier to do than you think. I have seen de-valuing rip couples apart, even after decades of marriage. One spouse is very social, the other very anti-social. The one wants to have people over every week; the other would never have anyone over. The social spouse, having lived many years with her need de-valued, leaves-fed up. The offending spouse watches his marriage disintegrate before his eyes, never having realized the marriage was in trouble.
We all have an internal set of values. I value quality time and relational connection over laundry or other housework. My husband values orderliness. This difference created conflict early in our marriage. The clean laundry would sit in a basket, unfolded, for days. Or, the laundry was folded but other household chores remained unattended. I had chosen outside play or reading time or a trip to the library over housework. I chose what I valued. When I come to the end of my life, I promise I will not regret that basket of laundry that didn’t get folded. I will regret that I didn’t read my kids wonderful imaginative stories or that I didn’t allow them enough time to run and play. Consequently, for years I de-valued my husband’s need for orderliness. I felt his need was less important, that, in fact, what I valued was superior to what he valued.
First, what my spouse feels is real and important to him whether I agree it’s real or important or not. Second, the very thing I de-valued in my spouse is the thing that gives me the life I lead. His orderliness makes him excellent at his job. He provides an income so that I can stay at home with the kids. He never leaves his underwear on the floor and he frequently does the dishes and even picks up after me. He takes care of all the bills and does the budget, a thing I utterly despise doing. Rather than allowing this difference in internal values to tear us apart, we have chosen to grow toward one another. I try to schedule my day so that the most important chores are done. My husband, realizing that we’d basically have no relationships with anyone—including the kids—without me has eased up his expectations about housework. And if something is really bothering him that I just didn’t catch (I will think the house is in perfect order and he’ll see something out of order anyway) he just takes care of it. He knows I didn’t miss it because I don’t care.
What does this mean when it comes to transparency? How can you be transparent with someone who de-values what is important to you? And how can you expect someone to be transparent with you when you so clearly de-value what is important to him or her? It’s important to your spouse. That makes it important to you.
Tone of voice. I cannot tell you how many small arguments-sometimes turning pretty ugly-I’ve had with my spouse over tone of voice. Most often we are actually in agreement with one another, but one of us just got bothered over the other’s tone. More than likely, the offending partner didn’t realize his or her tone sounded as snappish as it did. Honestly, we hear sharpness in our spouse’s voice and calmness in our own. Suddenly we find ourselves in a nasty argument over nothing because of a perceived slight.
But perhaps sometimes there is truth to the statement that you really did snap at your partner. I wonder how we would sound to ourselves if all our interactions were recorded and played back for us. I bet our tone of voice would, in fact, sometimes incriminate us.
Why does it matter? A caustic tone can shut down communication and transparency just as quickly as any words. You know your tone can belittle even without saying insulting words. Two things need to happen to alleviate the tone issue. First, each partner needs to take responsibility for his or her words AND tone. Be honest with yourself. Do you tend to use a biting tone because you have some underlying irritations with your spouse? Really, sometimes we are more polite to a stranger than to our own spouse. Second, don’t be overly sensitive. Sometimes tone is just an accident of a long, tiring day or strong emotion about a given topic and is no way meant as an insult to you personally. If both partners agree to these two things, a veil can be lifted and two people who actually are more in sync than they realize can begin to have greater transparency.
Begin to dismantle these roadblocks and you will find greater peace in your home and greater trust in your marriage. Manage your expectations. They can tear your partner to pieces. Instead, let your partner know that he or she is good enough to receive your love right now. Then, work to meet whatever expectations you can. Value your spouse. Investigate what he or she values that you may be ignoring and begin to honor it. Lastly, speak kindly. Acerbic remarks may get a laugh in a sit-com but they never build trust. They destroy it.
When you begin to do these things you will find and create for your spouse a safe place to share dreams, hopes, secrets and fears-a safe place to be transparent. As your transparency increases the intimacy will naturally follow. You will find yourself walking through life hand-in-hand with your shared dreams stretching beautifully in front of you.
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