Should we tell our spouse everything? The question is often raised in women’s magazines, but the responses are often disappointing and disheartening. Aleteia sought answers from Emmanuelle Bosvet, a marriage counselor at a Christian practice founded over 20 years ago, whose vocation is to answer the increasingly explicit call from the Church to take care of couples and their families.
Two extreme attitudes: say everything, and say nothing
First of all Bosvet invites us to identify the two extremes of a conjugal relationship, which are also its pitfalls: complete fusion and carefully maintained mystery. The former creates transparency and the guarantee of true love. But fusion tends towards “hyper” communication — each morsel of life is related, shared, revealed to one’s spouse, who becomes the exclusive confidant. While this type of communication is frequent and normal at the beginning of a relationship, insofar as it corresponds to a necessary step for the construction of the couple, it’s not intended to last. It risks leading to a feeling of suffocation, and the loss of desire, as “desire feeds partly off mystery,” points out Bosvet.
The other is sacred ground
Behind the temptation of saying everything, of sharing everything, is the desire to know the other perfectly. But “the other will always remain a mystery,” Bosvet reminds us. We can never know another person perfectly. We can’t say that we know our spouse “inside out” — it’s not possible because the other person changes, evolves, has other desires, and other priorities. Furthermore, to say that we know someone by heart actually imprisons them in a straitjacket and takes away any chance of them evolving.
The delicate definition of the secret garden
“I’m far from telling my husband everything, but I wouldn’t do anything that I couldn’t tell him,” confides a wife to the marriage counselor.
This is what could designate the limits of what we might call a “secret garden.” It’s not about hiding or lying, but keeping to ourselves certain impressions, feelings, desires or pain that we’re not ready to share, or that don’t bring anything to the relationship. The secret garden is also a place for personal activities where each person exists independently from the other. If we don’t tell our spouse everything, these moments “alone” can feed the “us” because “what I live in my individuality feeds the couple’s relationship,” says Bosvet.
While some patients procrastinate and end up asking Bosvet the question: “Should I tell my spouse that I’ve fallen in love with someone else?” she exclaims: “But many people fall in love! Three times, five times, ten times in their life! All while being married. We can’t control falling in love. However, what’s important, is what we do,” Bosvet underlines. As for discerning the opportunity of whether to tell one’s spouse or not, the marriage counselor invites us to take a look at the usefulness of the confession: will it bring anything to the relationship or not?
Don’t say everything, but “speak to one another”
Having a secret garden doesn’t really stop a dialog between the couple. According to Bosvet, it is vital to “speak to one another” — that is to say, to take some time to open up to our spouse, to reveal our needs, our deep aspirations, our emotions. That says something of ourselves, something real, and it’s a necessary moment for conjugal intimacy. “Through speaking,” she says, “we get closer to the mystery of the other, we become aware of their wishes, we discover little bits of their secret garden.” Dialog sows the seeds of conjugal intimacy and enriches the relationship. “Speaking to one another” means that a couple is alive.
Keeping quiet deliberately, a lie, or a secret garden?
Sometimes we keep quiet voluntarily, because the truth is too hard to say or because we don’t want to make waves. This can go from a scratch on the new car, to an extra-conjugal relationship, to pocket money given to a child against the advice of his other parent.
Bosvet suggests we become aware of our desire to cover up and to question ourselves about the profound meaning of this reticence. How does this revelation call into question the established order? What are my restraints? She gives the example of a young woman who buys a dress at an astronomical price and hides it from her husband because she feels she’s broken the rules. This cover up puts the finger on a misunderstanding within the couple: the wife finds the husband a little rigid in his manner of spending, or she needs a little whimsy and improvisation. A simple discussion would help modify the rules. Speaking, dialog, expressing our desires and our dissatisfaction help to make adjustments and to avoid lying and covering up.
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