Healthy relationships are characterized by openness, honesty and transparency. That’s because uncertainty – especially about matters of the heart – creates anxiety. Anxiety produces self-doubt, which is death to self-expression. Before long, you’re a prisoner of your own emotions, and you learn to fear them. The fear produces more anxiety, and the cycle continues.
The best relationships are ones where both parties feel so at ease with one another that they can speak their minds without fear of blowing the relationship apart. Even – or especially – when there are challenges, feeling free to address them head on is key to what psychologists call “healthy arguing.” It’s a non-combative process where both parties state their concerns and calmly negotiate a solution or compromise. In contrast, when a couple never argues, it suggests that one or both parties are avoiding conflict by being submissive. On the surface everything looks harmonious, but underneath differences grow and resentment builds.
Nervousness is Not the Same as Fear
There are some times when we all are nervous to broach certain subjects in relationships. When we’re heavily invested, it can be extremely stressful to initiate a topic that may result in a discussion we don’t want to have. This is why women are so hesitant to bring up the subject of Defining the Relationship. Even men in serious relationships who have discussed marriage with their partners are often extremely nervous to propose.
When I did a lot of acting on stage, I regarded feeling nervous as a sign that I cared about my performance. It meant I was fully invested, and not just phoning it in. We get nervous when we lay ourselves on the line and make ourselves vulnerable to rejection. That’s normal, healthy and inevitable.
Fear is a Red Flag
When we feel genuinely afraid to mention something to our partners, it’s because we feel deeply insecure. We often know from experience that our questions or concerns will trigger a backlash. That may be indifference, anger, physical violence, or total rejection.
Even early on, when we feel afraid to discuss exclusivity it’s because we’ve already received numerous signals that it’s not happening. We sense the relationship is not moving forward, and we don’t want that confirmed. Usually women who are dating players avoid saying anything about commitment because they know the guy is not relationship material. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is an approach that keeps people from knowing the truth, which may serve their purposes in the short-term. This is especially common when women believe they can effect a change in the other person over time.
What we find scary is the prospect of learning that things are not going to work out. As long as we don’t rock the boat or ask too many questions we can pretend that everything is going fine.
Transparency and Security are Present in All Healthy Relationships
When your partner is a great match for you, there will be no uncertainty about commitment. You’ll be on the same page re moving forward, being exclusive, meeting friends and family, etc. Because you will both be expressing affection and a desire to become more intimate, you will both feel secure. The process must be fully mutual – a relationship cannot be driven forward by one person.
When that happens, no subject will feel scary. Even if you don’t know whether the relationship will ultimately endure, you’ll feel secure knowing that your partner cares for you deeply and respects your feelings.
This is the seventh post in a series. Previous posts include: