Part 5 in the What love is all about series
“Is it safe to be naked?”
No, I don’t mean standing there with your clothes off, though that’s part of it. The more important part—in fact, THE question in a developing relationship—is “Is it safe for me to be emotionally naked, for me to share the truth about who I am, to reveal the darkest facts of my life, to be transparent about what it’s like to live with me?"
Of course, that’s exactly the question your about-to-be partner is asking, too.
Now if you have this, if you can both be totally vulnerable, totally yourselves, and find out that you’re totally safe, totally accepted—that’s the heaven of love. It’s what love is all about, this kind of intimacy, openness, and comfort.
But...do you have it, now, in your relationship?
Most of us don’t. We live in two-person worlds where we have to constantly choose between blurting out an “honesty” which makes our partner feel uncomfortable—this is where “The truth? You can’t handle the truth!” comes from—and feeling we can’t speak from the heart.
Shut up or blow up.
This is not good for love or relationships. If for no other reason than if you shut up long enough you will blow up, and the longer you’re shut up, the bigger the blow up.
Are we doomed to this?
No way. But in the words of Sister Corita Kent’s famous poster, Love Is Hard Work.
First rule. You both have to lay it all out at the beginning. If I’m a lazy slob, I have to show that early. If I don’t discover whether it’s safe to reveal that early on, I’m setting myself up for a double disaster. When it comes out, it may well turn out this is a dealbreaker for my partner. And now we’ve wasted a lot of time in a go-nowhere relationship. And my partner will feel betrayed for not having been told about this earlier.
There’s only ONE way to see if it’s safe to be naked. Put it out there. Be vulnerable. If you’re not okay the way you are with that other person, the sooner you find it out the better.
What were you thinking? That you’d hook them, then reveal your true self, and THEN it’d be okay because they’d be stuck with you? No.
Second rule. Before you lay it all out, guess what? You gotta know yourself. You’re going to show yourself? Fine. But what is it you’re going to show? Do you even know?
Suppose you’re kind of irresponsible. Or as you’d put it, fun. Or as the world would put it, irresponsible. You’ve gotta know that in the world you’re seen as irresponsible, not fun. Not knowing...irresponsible and clueless. So at least know yourself and protect your future relationships. If you’re irresponsible, know it and say it. IT’S THE ONLY WAY TO FIND A RELATIONSHIP WHERE IT’S SAFE TO BE OPEN AND INTIMATE!
Third rule. Think about why you’re telling the truth. Think about what your need is with respect to that truth. If I tell you a truth, it’s a bid for something. A request. If I walk in the room and say, “Boy, am I hot,” that may be me speaking from my heart, but I’m also asking for something.
But what? Maybe just simple acknowledgment and companionship. “I know! It’s been so hot all day. I’ve been miserable too.”
But maybe I want a cold beer. Or—because my nerves are frayed—for you to just shut the fuck up. Who knows?
I do know this, for sure. The more you can convert your truth into a need, the safer everyone will feel.
Especially if the truth is something more difficult than “Boy, am I hot.” What if it’s “I’m so sick of how selfish you are”? You see the problem. Your truth here—the truth of your feelings and your perception of me—is also a judgment about who I am, one that I might not agree with. That I might, in fact, resent. You might as well just throw poop at a monkey.
Think about it. How safe can you expect to be, telling the person you live with that they’re selfish?
But take a few moments to work through why you think your partner’s selfish, and what you’d need to think they’re edging toward being generous. Now you can convert
a truth that’s honest but buys you nothing -->
a request that conveys your truth but does so in the form of a need that your partner can hear.
And then you have a chance at the warmth and closeness and safety you’ve been longing for.
Your anger about whatever’s bothering you is NOT a measure of how hard you have to hit your partner over the head to get your point across. Instead, think about how you would want to hear from your partner that you were selfish. With anger and labeling? Or with...what? This is what we mean when we say love is hard work. It's the work we have to do on ourselves to get our needs met without losing our shit, to maintain a healthy relationship without losing ourselves.
Why Couples Fight will help A LOT here, by the way.