I look at him and my heart drops.
He’s done it again. It’s not that it’s a big lie. It’s more that he hasn’t been straight with me rather than any major deception. But it keeps happening, over and over, until it undermines my trust in him. Like the boy who called wolf, I’m not sure any more when to believe him and when not to.
He looks back at me, seeing my frustration and hurt. The expression in his eyes shifts and now he looks like a little boy who’s been caught with his mother’s purse. He knows he’s let both of us down—again—undermining his own attempts at speaking his truth and my attempts at being open to what he might have to say. But he also expects that it’ll be forgiven eventually.
And of course it will be forgiven, as it always has been, until the day comes when something gives in either me or in him and things change. I love him, immensely. He has so many wonderful qualities when he chooses to express them and in so many ways we have brought out the best in each other. We have shared many good and bad times together and have grown spiritually as a result of being together. I know by now that he is what he is and can accept, even enjoy, that most of the time.
At a deep level, he is a very loving, gentle and compassionate man. At a more superficial level though, his behavior can be anything other than loving, gentle or compassionate at times, and can get in the way of not only the emotional but also the practical aspects of our life together.
As parents, as well as partners, we have to be able to get on with running a house—bills need to be paid, shopping done, children nurtured and tended to. All of these require cooperation between a couple if they are to run smoothly and be the practical foundation for a home. With openness and love, most challenges can be dealt with. Without them, even the daily routine is a struggle.
How many times have I swallowed my annoyance and tried to explain why hiding the truth hurts? Why it makes me feel like he can’t or won’t trust me; why it makes me wonder what else he’s hiding not only from me but possibly from himself; why it makes sharing a life with him difficult in very practical ways. I’ve gently (and not so gently) asked why he is so uncomfortable with the truth that he can’t stand up for it even if he thinks it’ll make me mad. And I know his dislike of confrontation only makes things worse—though eventual confrontation is often the result of hiding the truth.
It has also made me delve deep into myself, exploring what it might be in me that prompts or attracts this behavior from another. I can see that my forthright expression of emotion can be challenging to some, that I can be critical when under pressure, and am impatient at times for things to move on more quickly than is always comfortable for another. A relationship takes two and I have had to adapt and flex my own natural styles so that they flow more easily with another. But there’s a difference between being flexible and being unhealthily accepting of a behavior that doesn’t bring out the best in anyone.
We all have our patterns of behavior. It’s not that mine are right and his are wrong, or the other way round. They just are the way they are. And some of the differences are sweet, even complimentary. He likes to tidy, I like to clean. He has incredible patience at times when I just want to jump in.
Sometimes, though, they’re not so complimentary. Sometimes they get in the way of what we really want from sharing a life together—happiness, fulfillment and depth, where we can each be ourselves but where the day-to-day responsibilities get done in the easiest way possible.
Trust happens on many levels.
There’s trusting another to keep their commitments—to pay a bill that has to be paid, to collect children from school, to make that reservation. There’s trusting that another will tell you about something that may have an implication for your life together in the longer term—a job application, the appearance of a potential new lover. And there’s the deep trust of knowing that another is tuned into their own heart and will do what is right for themselves, even if it means having to take a difficult decision or have an uncomfortable conversation.
So I stand looking at my beautiful, lovable, perfect (in his own way) man, wondering what to do. I—we—need something to change. And the ‘something’ we need to change is part of how he behaves—and, probably, part of how I react. I don’t need him to change so that I can love him more. Just as I hope he doesn’t need me to change so that he can love me more.
We just need to adapt our behavior so that we can get on more easily with our lives together. Lying brings with it questions about whether another is fearful of honoring their own truth, unwilling to look deeply at themselves or simply falling back into learned patterns of behavior where withholding information was a form of power and control.
Maybe if I had a more black and white view of life it would be easier. Then I could just point the finger at him and say ‘you’re wrong, so change or else.’ But I see life in multi-color, with no ultimate wrong or right. If he were with another partner who also had a tendency to secrecy and a dislike for direct talking, then all might be well—or, at least, all might be easier.
I’m well aware that my emotional expressiveness challenges him and I do my best to soften it.
I also see, though, that his discomfort with being truthful is getting in the way of his happiness, not only with me but with others. And so, I dance this little dance between my own anger and frustration, and my compassion and understanding for where he is and for where I am. I’m learning that loving ‘what is’ doesn’t always mean accepting ‘what is’ as the best way that things can be.
(Footnote: This was written several years ago as I worked with a client who was struggling between her spiritual belief that she should be loving and accepting of all, and her very real dilemma of how to deal with the practicalities of everyday life which necessitated a certain amount of trust between herself and her partner. The article is a melding together of her experience with some of my own.
Trust happens at many levels and she was learning to trust her own intuition which, at times, was in direct conflict with what her partner was telling her—leaving her in a place of not knowing who to listen to. Over time, she was learning to listen to her inner voice first and to then flex her communication style in order to offer a safer space for her partner to open up. It is a work in progress to this day but the learning, for both, has been deep and beautifully healing as he learns to trust another and she learns to trust her own deeper wisdom. Their love for each-other keeps them committed to working through these knots that inevitably crop up in some form or another in almost all relationships).
(Originally published on Elephant Journal)