Do we have to tell each other everything? How do we decide between the good and the bad things to say, between respectful silence and the kind that leads to misunderstandings and confusion?
‘The idea that we can reveal everything about ourselves to one another is an illusion, since we can’t ever really know everything about ourselves,’ says psychotherapist Sylvie Tenenbaum.
But rather than talking about the day’s events, it’s important to talk about feelings. ‘When we say how we feel, it allows others to understand us better.’
Truth doesn’t mean we have to reveal everything we’ve done or thought. ‘It does mean being honest, and having the courage to get to the bottom of our disagreements so that misunderstandings aren’t allowed to ruin the bond between two people,’ says Tenenbaum.
Define your terms
When we begin a new relationship, should we hide details of previous ones? No, says psychoanalyst Jacques-Antoine Malarewicz. It makes sense to talk about the past to inspire confidence and trust in one another. Talking about past relationships is a way of saying, ‘You are better than anything I have known before, even if what I’ve had before makes me the way I am now.’ At the same time, it’s important not to give too many details about your past sex life, because jealousy can quickly take hold. We need to be as authentic as possible, tell the truth about who we are deep down and about how we want to live. ‘The risk is that we end up lying to protect the image that the other person is projecting onto us,’ says Tenenbaum. The start of a relationship is also the right time to talk about the things that make us happy and the things we have missed until now. ‘A man who had a mother who criticised him a lot may well be vulnerable,’ says Tenenbaum. ‘If his partner knows that history, she can accept what he’s like, because she understands the background.’
Infidelity: when to talk, when to keep quiet
‘Confessing to an affair is a good thing when cheating on someone is a symptom of anxiety or unhappiness that does not question a couple’s future together,’ says Malarewicz. ‘It allows them to confront the crisis and to overcome it. But, as some people are very jealous and impulsive, it’s better to hide certain things, because they may, without giving it enough thought, throw a relationship away.’ Some people misbehave for the pleasure of confessing all to their partner. ‘If you’re tempted to talk about it,’ says psychoanalyst Yves Prigent, ‘before you confess to your other half, talk to a trusted friend to make sure you really understand the reason for the disclosure.’
Zoe, 27, for example, found that over-sharing damaged her relationship. ‘At the beginning, my partner and I talked about our past liaisons. It was a game. I trusted him, so I told him that I was seeing two men at the same time for a couple of months and sometimes I would leave one and jump in a taxi to see the other, without either of them knowing. I didn’t love them and it was fun to go from one of them to the other one. ‘This episode had no impact on my life, but my partner was really bothered by it. He goes back over it with me frequently, and it’s affected him because he thinks that he alone will never be able to give me as much pleasure. It’s not true, but it’s impossible to make him believe it. I really regret telling him this story – it makes him worry and it has cast a huge shadow over our relationship.’
Avoid subjects that make one another angry
‘Never criticise one another’s families or friends,’ says Tenenbaum. Whatever your partner may say about their loved ones, it doesn’t mean that you can say the same things. It’s also important not to force someone into a mould that we have created – for example saying, ‘You’re always doing that…’. Nothing will change if they feel labelled. Some silences are intended to cause anxiety, for example disappearing for three hours and then saying you only popped out for the paper. ‘There’s a gap in communication,’ says Prigent, ‘which is manipulative. The only purpose of these silences is to get a reaction.’
Pick the right moment
‘Sorting out your rows by using other people is a disaster,’ says Malarewicz. ‘Trying to sort out problems in public risks humiliating the other person. How can we expect them to be open to what we’re saying?’ Equally dangerous are the conversations we have in the car on the way home after a night out. These can quickly lead to accusations. For a conversation to be constructive, it’s better to choose a quiet moment.