herald

Saturday 18 August 2018

the simple words we find hard est to say

Laying your emotions on the line at the very start of a romantic relationship is not easy but it can reap massive rewards, says Simone Kenny Glennon

Most of us love a good romantic film. Munching on popcorn as two good-looking characters fumble their way through the trials and tribulations of love. To us, the audience, the first signs of affection or love seem so obvious to everyone but the characters themselves.

We watch as they either fail to recognise their own feelings or refuse to admit them for fear of being hurt. There after ensues a cat and mouse game of mishaps while they navigate the murky world of falling in love. All the while we want to speed up the process by shouting at the screen "Just tell them how you feel!"

But then, where's the fun in that? There would be no funny plot lines, embarrassing episodes or miscommunication. Besides, that's not really reflective of real life is it? There's a rite of passage on the journey of love and being honest about our feelings rarely figures, at least early on in these budding relationships.

Pedestal

This was something that I had forgotten until a recent conversation with a friend. While discussing a new blossoming relationship which had reached an impasse (where I felt like the aforementioned audience member shouting: "Just tell him you like him!") I realised that from where I'm perched on my long-term relationship pedestal, it is so easy to tell someone to be honest about how they feel, but so hard to actually do if you're the one laying your emotions on the line.

How do you take that first step of admitting that you like the other person romantically? How do you broach the subject of clarifying whether you're in a relationship or not? And when is it appropriate to state your romantic intentions and to uncover theirs? For most it is like a game of chess. Agonising over every move; trying to anticipate your opponent's next move and avoiding checkmate at all costs.

If I knew the answers to any of the questions above I'd be a rich woman for sure. But I'm guessing how and why we play this game is probably influenced by the households we grew up in, as well as our past romantic endeavours.

My parents unwittingly practiced unconditional positive regard on my two brothers and me before they realised it was technique made famous by psychologist Carl Rogers, which involves showing complete support and acceptance of a person no matter what they say or do. This, amongst other things, obviously afforded us a certain emotional confidence.

Nothing was taboo in our household (and I mean nothing - our unofficial open shower/toilet door policy is testament to that!). We could express ourselves freely without fear of reprimand or embarrassment. We are also a very tactile family so actions often replace words - a hand squeeze of support, a greeting hug, even an affectionate thump (though this was more of a sibling gesture than any kind of parental abuse).

Vulnerable

Perhaps as a result of this I find it less difficult than most when it comes to expressing my emotions and affection. Well romantically anyway. So although I can see how it's a big deal for some people to admit how they really feel in a relationship, for me it's normal and natural.

My fears lie elsewhere - public speaking, failing at, well, anything - the list goes on. That's not to say I don't feel vulnerable or scared in the process but the payoff is the exhilaration. That and the bond that develops over time between you and your partner and the strength that emotional honesty bring to a relationship.

The fact that my relationship began under unconventional circumstances meant that we sidestepped the game playing and laid our cards on the table very quickly.

It was a holiday romance you see, so we didn't want to drag out a long-distance affair across the Irish Sea (not to mention find ourselves out of pocket due to phone bills and air fares!) unless we really liked each other.

Which we did. Still do actually. So we had to be upfront, about everything: liking each other, what we wanted from the relationship, what we could offer and what we expected in return. If only all relationships were so straightforward - romantically and otherwise!

Perhaps one of the elements that made it easier for us to express our feelings was that the majority of our relationship was conducted via email, text and phone (the communication du jour circa 2001). You can be far braver with your feelings when they're going through a keyboard or handset than baring your soul face to face. At least in the early days of a romance.

Now, 13 years on and with an 18-month-old in tow, it's not always easy identifying how we feel at times, never mind finding the time and energy to conversely (or otherwise) express it. But we still recognise its importance nonetheless and try to squeeze it in between nappies and naps. Which is probably why our relationship has survived, thrived even.

I'm certainly no expert in relationships but I have learnt a thing or two over the years and, once the spark is there, there are two things I think are vital in any romantic pairing: communication and honesty. I believe talking to and being honest with each other from the outset forms the bedrock of a durable relationship. If you can do that you can pretty much conquer anything together. Even sleep deprivation!

Stripping yourself naked emotionally is far easier said then done, but there are ways you can build up your emotional confidence gradually. Here are some tips to help you lay yourself bare, so to speak.

Love yourself

1 I'm going to state the obvious here: before you can love anyone else you need to love yourself. And no, not in that narcissistic 'if I was chocolate I'd eat myself' kind of way, but more in the 'I like and respect myself' way. Once you're happy in your own skin and accepting of yourself, faults and all, you'll be more open to receiving love - the good kind.

Gain emotional confidence

2 Friends and loved ones can really help with this by creating a safe place where you can express yourself without judgment or fear. Opening up to people you trust will help build an emotional confidence that can withstand any romantic setbacks that might occur. It will still hurt if being honest doesn't bring about your desired outcome but good friends and family will be there to help you through it.

Consider what you really want

3 You can only be honest about your emotions with other people if you're honest with yourself first. Consider what it is you want in a relationship. Everyone has different needs and objectives and identifying yours - with a view to discussing this with your partner - can either bring a relationship to the next level if you both have the same aims, or help you decide if perhaps you need to move on if you discover you have different goals.

Remove the fear factor

4 What's the worst thing that can happen by being honest about your emotions? Yes you're going to feel fear and vulnerability, but no one will die (at least we hope not!) and the worst thing is that your emotional honesty is not going to be reciprocated. But that's the best outcome too - you both know where you stand and can decide whether you want to proceed together or not based on fact not fear.

Create time and the right environment

5 It's difficult to be frank with someone you hardly see or only do so in situations void of intimacy. Building a bond with someone requires time and communication so that you can feel comfortable enough to be yourself. Where you spend your time together is also a factor in being able to say how your really feel. For instance, you're more likely to discuss your feelings in a quiet snug or in bed than, say, a nightclub or cinema.

Think of the benefits

6 Saying how you really feel can be such a relief, especially if you've been holding in your emotions for a long period of time. You will feel freer and experience an exhilaration that's hard to match. Plus, you may receive a response even better than you expected or hoped for. So what are you waiting for? Get naked!

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