The conspiracy not to tell
Marriages are often held together by a joint conspiracy to limit communication. In many cases, an unspoken agreement is understood by both partners at a deep level—a level of fear, safety and security. Partners conspire to restrict and filter their interactions because, deep down, they sense the danger involved in expressing themselves more openly. Once this pact of limited communication is broken, the lid of Pandora’s box can blast open and an explosion of issues that were previously concealed can fill the air.
Open communication always forces unspoken needs, hurts and resentments that lie beneath the surface to spring forth. The stability and harmony that noncommunication preserved are shattered once newly voiced concerns break the calm. This disruption can certainly be a positive factor in making a marriage better, but only if the partners are prepared and equipped to deal with the issues and conflicts that erupt.
To chance such openness, you need strong confidence in your spouse’s devotion and commitment to the relationship. You need to trust that your mate is ultimately “with you” rather than “against you.” You have to believe that he or she has your best interests at heart, especially when the two of you don’t see things eye to eye. An atmosphere of safety and security has to exist so your opinions, needs and wishes can be revealed without threatening either your integrity or the integrity of the relationship.
Within this context of safety, partners also need confidence in their ability to negotiate and resolve conflicts. It is essential to have a mutual commitment to finding solutions that satisfy both parties. If I have faith that my partner is invested in my happiness and well-being, then I can be free to communicate honestly without the fear of being taken advantage of, ridiculed, degraded or abandoned.
Apart from the safety of a secure relationship and confidence in the ability to negotiate conflicts, couples should be wary of simply “improving communication.” The truth is, good communication in and of itself does not make a relationship better. Instead, good communication exposes conflict that when effectively dealt with, can promote a more open and intimate connection.