To be Safe You Must Share

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No Surprises / Big Surprises

Al Turtle 2006
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People still ask me, "How much should I tell my partner?"  I wrote a paper on this topic some years ago, and you can read that to get my general thoughts.  However, I want to share a new and simple idea.  This paper, and its chart, have had quite an impact on people.  In some cases, it has been "life changing" after one reading.  That has surprised, and pleased, me.  It has also upset a bunch of readers.  Look at the following picture.




If you want to be relaxed, you could choose to live alone.  (We are not built to live alone, though.) But if you want to be relaxed AND live with someone, then I believe you must choose the inner of the two circles.  To feel safe, to have low blood pressure, to be free of tension (at least when with your partner) all  you need is to create a relationship of few or no surprises. To be a source of safety to your partner you must gently share new stuff.  No surprises mean safety. 

However, the only way to get no surprises is to share everything.  If I know what my partner is thinking, if I know how she operates, what her values are, what her likes and dislikes are, then what she does will not surprise me and I can relax.  I may not like or prefer what she does, but it will not surprise me and I can be at ease with her. 

Thus, if you want to feel safe with a person, you need to develop the mutual habits of sharing everything easily, comfortably, and readily.  Simple.

Now, look at the outer circle.  Most people in our culture do not feel safe enough to share their inner workings, and thus they are careful about what they say.  They selectively share.  I think a foolish example of this is to share only nice things and keep awkward or negative things hidden.  Sometimes this is called being polite. 

While this may work with people at work, or with strangers, selective sharing in a long-term relationship is a problem.  The secrets will surface.  Thus, there will be Big Surprises, and with those surprises, there will often be a sense of betrayal. 

But Big Surprises will scare people into to a state of unsafety, apprehension, and tension.  This is nowhere more clear than in a marriage when an affair becomes public.  At that moment, the burden of the unknown and unshared material becomes enormous.  People, particularly the affaired-against-partner start asking many questions.  They have become fearful of all that unknown stuff.  The questions go on and on. 

I see this as an invitation to shift from the outer circle to the inner circle.  

A friend wrote me this week with this problem.

I will ask my husband if he will do something.  Let us say pick up a pound of fresh ground coffee from the coffee house he goes to every day.  He says "sure.  He comes home without the coffee.  I say "No problem.  Will you get it the next time?  He says, "Sure."  So, this scenario repeats itself…and still, no coffee.  We are now completely out of coffee.

So, before our separation, I would have just gotten the coffee myself and be done with it.  However, because that was the way I handled many many things –I would ask, he would say he would do something, he would never do it, I would "do it myself" and I ended up being resentful after awhile.

I don't want to be a "nag". I don't want to seem like I'm making a big deal out of seemingly inconsequential thing. Yes, I could just get the coffee and be done with it.  But, it really is about him saying he will do something and not doing it…..which leads me to question many of the things he says he will or will not do… do I know which ones are for real and which are not???

As you can see the most powerful of the issues here is that something is going on and has been going on in the husband and the wife does not know what it is.  No safety.  She is inclined to think this is a small matter (about coffee) but it is, to me, a vast topic about Safety and Trust.  At least she is aware of being in that outer circle.

Pot and Alcohol

I thought I would just add a bit of fun to this topic.  I have found that the effect of Pot (THC) in the brain is to prevent what I call rumination or the ability to understand oneself.  Pot smoking results in people who have an almost impossible time sharing what is going on inside themselves.  Thus they have to live in a world of chemically induced selective sharing, with Big Surprises.  I tell people, who want a good relationship to get as far away from Pot as they can.  Safety and trust depend on that sharing of self. 

I have a different experience of alcohol.  Of course, addiction of any kind will be a major problem, and alcohol addiction will just kill you.  However, some alcohol, a little buzz, can trick you into slipping your control and getting you to be more candid and revealing.  A couple of drinks may lead you to sharing a whole bunch more than you planned.  If you follow up on this, you may find yourselves becoming more and more candid and more and more intimate.  Kind of funny. 

The Road Less Traveled

Many years ago, I read this poem and loved it.  Robert Frost caught that moment of decision so well.  As I moved along toward intimacy with my partner, I was aware often that I was choosing to go down that untrodden road, to learn that yet unknown part of my partner, to discover that hidden part of me and to share it.  This decision we make every time our partner says or does something that surprises us even a little.  Will we go down that familiar road of imagining what is going on and not talking?  Will we share or invite our partner to share?  Someone once told me If you know where you are going, you are going no where.  You are commuting.  If you don't know where you are going, well, then you are really traveling!  

The movement from the outer ring in the figure above to the inner ring is all about choosing the less traveled road.  Mirroring, Validation, PreValidation, Pulling, and the Odd Dialogue, can sure help along the way.


The Road Less Travelled
 Robert Frost 1915
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.



To be Safe You Must Share — 13 Comments

  1. Hi Al,
    I came across your website and papers June 2013 when my partner of 10 years left me without saying why and wouldn’t speak to me about it. I did a Google search and found you. I read lots of your papers, I did a lot of thinking and mind searching.

    I decided not to walk away but to try to mend things with him. I used your methods. He gradually started to talk and told me he had left because of the circumstances. Six months previous, his teenage children had come to live with him after falling out with their mum, he felt he couldn’t maintain a relationship and look after them. He said he felt he couldn’t give me what he thought he should, even though I had not asked for anything and I have always got along fine with his children.

    I sat back and waited. I thought if that was it, I would wait and slowly and hopefully show him we could make this work together. He said he still loved me and missed me and was doubting his decision.

    After 4 months I discovered he was visiting a woman at work, he said they had met a few weeks after we broke up. I was angry, I said he knew I was waiting for him and I asked for his honesty and to stop seeing me if he wanted her.

    He said he wanted to make a go of it with me and we started dating on the understanding he wasn’t seeing her. You can guess where this is going. We were properly back together by January but I found they had planned a lunch date in the March. He said he never intended to go but was too coward to say no to her. We have talked, cried, laughed and done our best to make a better relationship. I have asked for his honesty and openness, I still knew something wasn’t right.

    As things improved between us he has opened up and told me he was seeing her for 3 months before we met, he worked with her, her child was a similar age to his and he thought the grass was greener and allowed himself to get closer to her. He said he realized soon after we finished she wasn’t the sort of person he wanted a relationship with. He has also confessed to continuing to see her for 5 months after we got back together. This confession came a couple of weeks back. He said he used to call at her home for a cup of tea before coming to me.

    I feel all the work we have done to rebuild our relationship was done on top of untruths. Had I known this at the outset I may not of wanted to continue. I feel betrayed all over again. I am really finding it hard now to trust him, so much was covered up I keep wondering what else is there. I can’t settle comfortably with him. But I don’t want to give up we have come so far.

    I decided this morning to come back to you, to read more papers to try and find some help, guidance, support, lesson.. Anything to help. He is a good man and father, he does find it very difficult to talk, even if he has to ask his kids to do the dishes.. I am sensitive in my approach with him but I can’t just leave this.

    I ended up crying this morning and told him I’m troubled and having trust issues. He said he understood but offered no reassurance. I had to ask. He says if we talk about it his guilt at hurting me weighs him down for the day.

    Can you guide me towards any of your essays etc to help us please and thank you for making your work available. So many of your essays have given me a greater understanding of relationships and soothed my thoughts at times when it’s been quite tough going.
    Thanks. Hopefully xxx

    • Hello “mandarin,”

      Thanks for dropping by and sharing your story. I certainly can hear and see part of what is going on. Relationships aren’t easy and perhaps I can share a bit about your situation and give you further directions to look.

      One thing that puzzles so many “working” on a deep relationship is the need, not just to witness and experience what your partner does, but to deeply understand the “why” of what they do, (oh, and share the deep “why” of what you do, too). The reason for this is that a deep relationship requires a deep sense of safety, trust, freedom from betrayal and surprise – which can only occur with deep intimacy. Now, people always make sense. They always do what makes sense for them to do. So if you want no surprises, you have to solidly learn their sense and how it works. If you want to stop surprising your partner, you have to share with them your sense. Know their sense and then what they do will seem easily understood and no surprise, or shock.

      Most people start this journey-to-intimacy after some series of shocks such as you’ve had. And those shocks do hurt. Ow.

      And so before you is the gathering of a lot of data. Here are some of the questions I imagine you will get answers to, along the way. Why does he lie to you? (Probably first simple answer is that he’s scared of you – scare of what will happen if he tells you his truth.) The answer to this may lead to why he lies to many people? Why is it difficult for him to say “no” to the other woman? My guess is he is conflict avoidant in a way that generates lots of conflict. Cool thing about the answer to this is it may lead to what you need to do to get him to be reliably honest. Promises won’t work.

      Why does he pick the kind of women he does, including you? He does and he makes sense doing it. Even more interesting is why did you pick and stay with a partner who is commonly deceptive? Probably has to do with your momma and poppa. These questions often lead to brilliant observations that give you reasons to work WITH each other.

      Lots of stuff here.

      Your goal is that he finds you a) a source of safety as b) he learns to be a source of safety to you.

      It does sound as if you have been working on this, but just have to go further down that path.

      My guess is you’ve partnered with a person who is a bit on the Codependent side and thus tries to make other’s happy but not in a way that nourishes himself. Tricky. Gonna have to learn about Codependency. But not beyond you, I believe.

      So I would look into my papers on the Power of Passivity and Passivity in the Foundations and then look at the two papers on Caring Behaviors, Caring Days, and Caring Days a Discussion. All about both people learning healthy boundaries and both learning appropriate selfishness.

      Go ahead and post back here your questions.

      Good luck.

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