I was having lunch with a friend the other day. She was telling me about a new relationship she is in. She said it is going really well. It is one of those situations where it hasn’t actually been going on that long but because of the way they connect it feels like they’ve been together for a lot longer.
She said that because it is going so well she is already having thoughts and questions that she normally wouldn’t have this early in a relationship. She was worried that asking them now might spoil the great new relationship energy that they were enjoying.
As she was talking it struck me. Being vulnerable isn’t always just about being your authentic self. It is also about a willingness to learn about another person’s authentic self. Part of her fear was that she might get answers to questions that she might not want to hear and it would hurt or even end the relationship. And right now it all feels so good.
While there might be some argument about timing at the beginning of a new relationship, it just seems like common sense that these questions should be asked as a relationship develops over time. But in reality I often see something different in sessions. I frequently see long term relationships (think 10 years or more!) where partners don’t know significant information about each other. Things like spiritual beliefs (or non-beliefs), political views, significant life events from the past, views on finances or the importance of family…I could go on and on.
So why don’t people ask about important aspects of their partner’s life? Sure, sometimes it may be self-centeredness. But often it is fear of what we will learn. When you don’t really know important things about your partner what you can do is create a projection of the person just the way you want them to be. You can take all of the good things you like and just pretend about the other parts. They have a wonderful, happy past with no major issues. They really believe the same way you do about important issues. Their interests and values align perfectly with yours.
So why rock the boat if things are going well? If you are happy with the projection you created, why not just enjoy that? The reason is because that type of relationship frequently doesn’t go well forever. A time comes when these issues rise up and begin to cause problems. In reality there likely are differences, there are issues from the past. And when the person starts acting in a way that isn’t consistent with the projection you have of them, you are going to be confused and hurt. You may say “they just aren’t acting like themselves.” The truth is they are. What they aren’t doing is acting like the projection you have created.
If you want true connection with someone it requires knowing and accepting their authentic self. And that’s a scary thing to do. It means being vulnerable to the hurt and disappointment that may come from learning about their past…the pain, the issues, the differences of opinion…all of it. But true connection is about knowing and accepting someone. True connection is about both parties safely being able to expose their authentic selves.
I’ll challenge you to consider this in your relationships. Do you really know about the important people in your life? Or have you always just made certain assumptions? Maybe you even actively discourage your partner from sharing. I’ve had clients say that they have tried to discuss issues with their partner or that they dropped lots of hints but their partner never asked any questions. The message the person took from that is that the partner didn’t want to know…it wasn’t safe to actually discuss it. That doesn’t create connection…that creates barriers.
You probably know what I’m going to say here – connection is created through vulnerability. And if you want to learn how to be vulnerable here is yet another way. Be willing to deal with the fact that an important person in your life has different opinions than you or has difficult issues from their past. Make the effort to find out who they really are and what is important to them. How do you do that? Just ask.