Revised Septenber 14, 2006
Essays on Relationships
Chapter 3

Empowering People

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Not many years ago, a line in a popular song went, “I can't believe you're leaving me / When there's so much more to say.” In my view, a relationship is most fundamentally a dialogue. In coming together, we already have something to say to one another (even if it is only that we have nothing more to say). Dialoguing is the honest sharing of this something—what Dr. Leslie Farber aptly calls, “real-talk.” Until we speak it, it "hangs” darkly between us: It interferes with and obstructs our relationship.
This something that hangs between us is either pleasing or disturbing, maybe a little, maybe a lot. Dialoguing is not the same as conversing, although it sometimes takes place during conversation. Nor is it always verbal, although it often is. (Winking, smiling or caressing, if honest, would be dialoguing.) It is not about “things,” but about the meaning of those things for each of us. (Compare, “Mark bought a new CD player” with “When I learned that Mark had bought a new CD player, I realized how frustrated I am that I can't show off elegant possessions to you.”)
The possibilities for dialogue are virtually infinite. They include:

How you or I are affecting each other
“I get scared when you talk with other men;”
What our being involved means to each of us
“You give me a sense of place; sometimes I think I'd be lost without you;”
What happens to each of us out in the world and how it affects each of us and our relationship
“I was listening to George complain about his marriage and suddenly realized how grateful I am that we're together;” and,
Discoveries we make about life as we live it
“I know now that if I don't listen to the ‘kid’ within me, he sabotages my efforts.”
You might ask, “How do I know that something is hanging between us, and how do I know what it is?” In fact, I always “know” what it is. I am always aware of it in some way because it “wants" to be spoken, even demands to be voiced, and if I am not expressing it, I am struggling to hold it back and, in some way, am aware of that struggle.
In other words, if I pay attention, I may notice that I want to say something to my partner, or that I'm afraid to, or am trying not to. Maybe it's that she looks lovely to me, or that his arguing with me in front of my friends embarrasses me and I am hurt and angry that he isn't more considerate, or that I am offended that she is wearing the perfume I told her I don't like.
Sadly, when many of us were young, we were often very wounded when we ventured to speak our truths. As a result, most of us now have the tendency to censor ourselves—in order, ultimately, to avoid being abandoned or harmed—and we barely notice that we are doing so. But no matter how we rationalize it, such censoring is lying
(Most everyone accepts that telling someone an untruth is lying. Fewer understand that there are lies of omission as well as of commission; not telling people that they are disturbing you is lying, just as much as telling them that you're comfortable when you're not. Calling something a “white lie,” to excuse saying something that might be hurtful, for example, is simply a crooked attempt to justify lying.) 
We have learned to be such convincing liars that we frequently succeed in deceiving ourselves, often by rationalizing our behavior (“Telling him would hurt him” or, “That would be rude”), as though this makes it no longer deceit. Do you think I'm exaggerating? When was the last time you told an acquaintance or your intimate partner that he or she was hurting or scaring you?
But, lying inevitably damages a relationship, because it destroys trust: A significant relationship simply cannot survive without mutual trust. And it takes so very little to so shatter trust that it is impossible to repair. I know of very few relationships in which broken trust was repaired.
Dialoguing is the medium for creating and maintaining trust. It is the means by which, over time, we demonstrate our trustworthiness. To avoid dialoguing is to deceive. The more we deceive, the more untrustworthy we are; the more untrustworthy we are, the more we impair trust; the more we impair trust, the more we damage our relationship. 
My mother often suggested that I had “to learn everything the hard way.” I know now that we all learn the hard way, and this includes learning about intimate relationships. One of the more important things that I've learned the hard way is how much I value an intimate relationship and, consequently, how important it is that I take the very best care of it. I used to believe that my partner would think less of me if I shared my hopes and dreams, my scares and frustrations. I know now that what was lacking was just this kind of sharing, and that it is exactly what would have procured trust and would have fostered the success of the relationship. I know now that if I am to have a relationship in which I feel safe to be myself, then I must make it safe for my partner as well, by being trustworthy through my commitment to the dialogue, and that I must choose a partner who shares this commitment.

©1998 Stephen E. Linn, Ph.D. • Empowering People

Sustaining Long-term Relationships

A relationship is fundamentally a dialogue — honest sharing —“real-talk.”
It is not about “things,” but about the meaning of those things for each of us.

Dialoguing is the medium for creating and maintaining trust. To avoid dialoguing is to deceive.
Empowering People

Essays on Being Human

Chapter 1
On Feeling
Chapter 2
On Pain
Chapter 3
Being Depressed
Chapter 4
On Primal

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