Being Dialogical: Sharing

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I want share my beliefs that being “dialogical” very much involves choices of what to share, when to share it, and acute clarity about boundaries.  One choice is the “to share or not to share” choice.  Another is the “when to share and when not to share” choice.  And another is the “how to share” choice.


My general rule is that “in an intimate relationship it is critical to share anything that your partner thinks is important.”  What makes this rule difficult is that you don't know what your partner thinks is important unless you ask.  Thus I believe it important to communicate with your partner a lot about what is important to them.  This is a bit like trying to find out what kinds of gifts they want for their birthday.  You have to research their likes and dislikes.  A rule of thumb is that “a gift is giving someone something they want.”  Over time I think partner's should get more and more accurate at guessing what their partner wants to hear about.  (see my Oneliners on Speaking Out.)


My #1 rule is that it is always better to “share” than to “not share.”  Not sharing, I believe, is a form of telling a lie – passive lying, and I believe it always increases the amount of mistrust and unsafety.  Sharing, even done poorly, is, I believe preferable, and increases trust.    


I have asked upwards of 800 couples this question, “If your partner is thinking something, and they believe their thoughts might upset you,  would you a) rather they tell you anyway or b) prefer them to keep their thoughts secret – for that is the choice.”   To date the answer score is about 2 b's and about 1600 a's.


The reason most people give for not sharing is “because they don't want to hurt their partner's feelings.”   I believe that clearly people would prefer their “feelings to be hurt” rather than be kept in the dark. 


To me this means that to be dialogical is to both be ready to say something that might hurt your partner's feelings and be ready to help with healing those hurts should they occur.  I think it also means being prepared to hear anything.


My #2 rule is about when to share.  My general answer is “as soon as the conditions of dialogue can be established.”  That sometimes takes some time, cuz we are busy people.  Sandra and I usually have at least two times a day that are set aside for being dialogical – a morning walk and an evening sit/lie down.  For me the issue here is to create time for the dialogical holding of mirroring with validation/empathy, containment, frustration, etc tools available.  The goal is to share the “truth” while being prepared to honor/handle your partner's reaction as they hear your truth.  As I believe you have no way to predict their reaction, only a guess, having dialogue available sets up the optimum structural situation.


My #3 rule is to share your thoughts, labeling them very carefully and believing them to be your thoughts, while preparing for your partner's reactions and thoughts – their diversity.  The principle is that I believe their reaction will always be valid.  The sender cannot control that reaction nor is the sender responsible for the receiver's reaction.  But the sender is responsible to try to maintain the safety of the relationship, by being available, respectful.  


I have found that tacking on prefixes such as “I believe, I think, I imagine, I make up that…” is about all you can do to ease the message for your partner. I think those phrases signal that you are willing to listen to your partner's point of view.  I have found that even using those phrases, listeners may not hear them at all.  I have found that I can say, “I think you are yelling.” and my partner will mirror it back “I'm not yelling.” (which seems both to miss the “I think” part and to drop out of mirroring. Well everyone makes mistakes.) I have found people, including me, can “scrape off” those prefixes very easily.  I believe you can never control how other people will react nor even how your own mind may react.  But you can try to minimize their reaction by “being dialogical.”

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