The Myth That True Love Means Saying Whatever You Want In A Relationship Can Be Hurtful
A common relationship myth frequently perpetuated in our culture is that safety and comfort in a committed relationship are dependent on being free to say whatever you want to your partner. This myth is understandably appealing. It carries the promise of a level of comfort in relationships in which you don’t need to do the work of considering what you say, how you say it, or how your partner might react.
However, this myth is quite problematic in reality. I frequently hear from patients about the ways this assumption can have hurtful outcomes. Importantly, the myth ignores the responsibility you always have for your partner’s feelings. While, in a healthy relationship, more comfort is built over time, the commitment to being mindful of your emotional impact on your partner remains constant.
Yes, Even If What You’re Saying Is True
Often a sticking point around someone feeling like they have the right to say whatever they want to their partner is when someone feels that what they are saying is true or correct. Because they consider it true or correct, they feel they should have the right to say it regardless of the impact on their partner. I find this comes up a lot around families. For example, an observation about your mother-in-law may be correct, but it’s not always going to land or be the kindest thing to say.
This attitude can be problematic because prioritizing being right over being kind can erode the trust and sense of emotional safety in a relationship. Emotional safety in relationships is dependent on trusting that a partner is looking out for you. In this case, your assertion, correct or not, becomes more important than how your partner feels about hearing that information, and that often doesn’t feel safe. You’re not considering the disruption it may cause.
Before Saying Whatever You Want, Ask Yourself Some Questions About Your Goals And Approach In Sharing
Before telling your partner something that may be potentially difficult to hear, it’s important to consider the question: What is my goal in sharing this? If the goal is simply, “I’m right and you’re wrong,” that’s not a good goal.
This doesn’t mean you should conceal resentments or discomfort. Instead, it means hold your delivery of feedback to be equally as important as its content. Another question that can be helpful to guide your thinking is: Is this a moment in which my partner is available to take this in, or are they too stressed to not experience it as a pile on? For example, maybe your partner dropped the ball on something crucial between the two of you, such as being late or missing a commitment. While you should talk to them, it may not be the best time to bring it up when you know your partner has had a particularly bad day or week outside of the relationship. They may not actually be able to hear you.
And finally, ask yourself: Am I focusing my phrasing on pointing out my partner’s undesirable behaviors, or am I staying focused on sharing their emotional impact on me? This is key. If you’re simply focusing on telling them, “You’re bad at this,” then it creates more distance in a relationship. Instead, the goal should be closeness. Bring them closer to how you’re feeling by telling them, for instance, that being late without warning makes you feel like you’re not a priority to them.
Ultimately, real comfort and safety in a relationship requires effort and maintenance. When we hope to be able to slip into autopilot, we run the risk of making the relationship seem less emotionally safe for our partners.