May 26 / Simcha

The Problem with “Don’ts”

Excerpted from Tell Me No Lies: How to Face the Truth and Build a Loving Marriage, by Bader & Pearson

The route to deception in a marriage [or long-term relationship]  is mainly found within routine exchanges.  Couples make demands upon each other and often expect things to be a certain way (their way). By laying down the law, they may inadvertently set the stage for deception. It can take only a few snippets of conversation to cue your mate to be more open or to shut up and shut down.  The situation can be hard to spot because, at first glance, it looks like everyone is in agreement. Also, a rule might not be articulated until it’s been violated.

Accepting a “don’t” laid down as a decree in your marriage puts a fence around a sensitive area.  [For example: “Don’t ever do X”; or “I don’t want to discuss that ever again.”]  It prevents you from exploring difficult truths about each other.  Truths often have some kind of vulnerability to them.  The word “don’t” often means: “I don’t want to be exposed as vulnerable.”

If you come into the marriage with a need for your partner to be strong, you’re not going to want to explore anything that may suggest otherwise.  The message you send will be: “Don’t let me see any part of you that demonstrates weaknesses.” You’re also fooling yourself by assuming that a rule is akin to a guarantee.

There is a constant interplay between what you demand from your partner and what your partner can give in return, between what you reveal about yourself and what you’re willing to know about your partner.

Although dealing openly and honestly with that interplay requires a great deal of fortitude and can often strike unbearably raw nerves,  it is often what a couple needs in order to find their way back to each other.