We all go through life presenting to the world a façade that we hide our true selves behind. Whether we do so from fear, because we believe that certain attributes and qualities are expected of us, or because we hold to the belief that we will be rejected if we allow our true selves to be known, we each hide all or a portion of ourselves from others in our lives. Often times this façade or mask will bleed over into our intimate relationships. We don’t allow ourselves or our partners the liberty of getting to see or know our true selves. We close off certain facets of our personalities and hope that those closest to us will never discover them. Why do we do this?
Many of us are indoctrinated from a very young age to believe that saying, doing, acting in, or feeling a certain way is wrong, shameful, or even sinful. We are encouraged to spare others feelings or sensitivities. We are told that being too open, too honest, too “real” or authentic will make others turn away from us. While these directives may not be said openly, they are certainly implied. As children, our parents tell us to be honest yet criticize when we are loud, boisterous, or unruly. It is natural, as parents teach their children how to function in society, that the children will eventually equate decorum, manners, and structure as indicators that their true natures must be concealed because they do not conform. Sadly, in those relationships where it is beneficial for us to show our true self with all its accompanying flaws, we instead hide away, fearing that if the truth ever came out, we’d lose those most important to us. It would be infinitely better if we celebrated individualism instead of trying to curb it. If we applauded forthrightness instead of calling it rudeness. If we supported authenticity instead of labeling it rebellion.
This past week, I had the occasion to be involved with several individuals struggling in relationships where their innermost wants, needs, feelings, and even aspects of their characters were being hidden from their children and significant others. Some had been in relationships for 20 years or more and had never truly opened themselves up to their partners, the person who they had covenanted to share their lives and fortunes with. In every situation, this omission, this subterfuge, had reached a point where either one or the other or both partners were struggling with whether to continue with the relationship. One such relationship was faced with a divorce and a secret that was eating away at both partners. Once one of the partners determined to demand the truth, the relationship went from one of blame and anger to one of openness, consideration, and complete honesty about what each partner’s expectations and needs were. While the couple still chose to continue forward with the divorce, they are happier, completely honest with each other, and the animosity between them has dissipated. They are once again enjoying the close friendship that characterized their relationship before they married. to look at them together, you would think they were a happily married couple. The truth is, they are happy with the knowledge that they have had many good years together but now they are ready to move on.
Another relationship is facing a similar decision involving separation. One partner has chosen to no longer hide their feelings, their needs, or their thoughts. This openness has given them the courage to stand up for themselves in their relationship and to demand what they need; common courtesy, respect, and consideration. While this marriage may eventually dissolve, for now, one partner is being completely honest about themselves in relation to the marriage and to their partner. Eventually, the other partner may follow suit. Where this relationship will end up is unknown but at least one of the partners is being authentic and honest and that freedom has changed their whole demeanor and outlook.
The last relationship had a lot of secrecy shrouding it. One partner felt that they could not be open and honest without negative reprisal. The other partner felt that they could not be open and honest without causing emotional harm and damage. So neither was being completely honest, with each other or with themselves. After much soul searching, deliberation, and the support of several concerned friends, one partner chose to come out and expose all their hurt, disappointment, concerns, and unmet needs to their partner. This openness allowed the other partner the freedom to be just as candid and open. Surprisingly, neither partner experienced what they had both feared, negativity or emotional damage. Instead, they learned more about each other than they’d discovered in over two decades of marriage. They found that the person they were truly meeting at last was someone they wanted to know better and the pair are now working on building their marriage on a foundation of complete honesty. That is not to say that there will not be tears and sorrow and sadness but there will also be gratitude, a better understanding, and a deeper trust because both have resolved to be 100% honest with each other and to leave nothing unsaid.
It makes one wonder if many marriages could have been saved if complete honesty had been one of the guidelines upheld by each partner. Often, we learn too late, that honesty could have changed the outcome of a bitter separation or a nasty divorce. We teach our youth that “Honesty is the best policy” then often, we turn around and fail to apply that stricture to our own lives. It is only when we allow ourselves the liberty of being completely open and honest that we can experience the freedom of being our true selves. When we apply honesty, a loving consistency in thought, speech, and action, to every aspect of our lives, we give ourselves and others the freedom to live without deceit, self or otherwise. In reality, the truth does not have to hurt. It promises to set you free. Free to live your life without subterfuge, without masks, and without regrets for things left unsaid.