In modern relationships, terms like space, boundaries, communication and secrets are often used to assess a health of a relationship. We want to have open and honest communication with our partners, and yet we want space and to set boundaries. Are these demands incompatible or can they all be satisfied in harmony?
Here is what I think ...
Open and honest communication
This is only possible, if the partners are comfortable with each other. Then one does not feel the need to handle the other, or beat around the bush, but can speak about whatever is bothering them openly and expect to find a working compromise, without fear of the relationship breaking.
This does not mean that there wont be a fight or shouting, but it means that both partners want to not only speak their mind, but also listen to each other, understand each others problems, and figure out a solution acceptable to both. Such communication requires complete trust between the partners, so each can be safely vulnerable with the other.
With open and honest communication, conflict and insecurities can be tackled head on, and in the early stages, before it poisons the relationship beyond repair.
A successful relationship requires the partners to give each other space to pursue their own interests. A relationship, is a partnership of two individuals, and to be successful a balance needs to be maintained between the identities of the individuals themselves and their identity as a couple. Each individual needs to be able to carry their own weight and contribute positively to the relationship. For this they need to nurture their individual interests and growth.
Here is an example of how open and honest communication and giving each other space can go hand in hand.
Suppose one partner likes going shopping on Saturdays but the other prefers to stay home and watch cricket. There is absolutely no point in either dragging the other to participate in an activity that they enjoy but their partner does not. So instead it is best to pursue their individual interests and set another day, to pursue genuine joint interests like going to a restaurant or catching a movie that interests both. Open and honest communication will enable them to talk about this instead of pretending to enjoy an activity that they clearly don't, , or resenting their partner for not spending time with them.
Does giving each other space mean each partner is entitled to their share of secrets?
One doesn't have to bore one's partner with a detailed commentary of everything one thinks or does, but deliberately leaving out information, one is aware one's partner would expect to, and want to, be privy to, is detrimental to a relationship, because it violates trust.
Not telling your partner something because they would not be interested in it, or not discussing an issue you both know, your partner would not be able to contribute productively to, does not constitute keeping a secret.
There is no general rule as to what constitutes keeping a secret, but we are usually quite aware when we do this, because we experience guilt. One may come up with many rationalizations and justifications as to why it is okay to keep a particular secret from their partner or even try to convince themselves that they are not really keeping a secret, but the information is not important enough to be conveyed, but in the heart of hearts, one is usually aware, when one indulges in keeping a secret.
The guilt of keeping a secret can be distracting in all future interactions creating a distance between the partners. Secrets have a way of growing and penetrating other parts of our lives and the deception must grow to maintain them. If secrets come out, as they often do, the lack of trust is reciprocated by the other partner and the relationship starts to erode.
Even if secrets have been kept it is best to admit to them without hesitation, and open up completely when the secret is out. That gives the relationship the best possible chance of recovery.
Secrets raise walls between partners that can damage the relationship. Yet boundaries in relationships are considered a good thing. Why? Aren't boundaries creating walls too.
In good relationships partners want to make each other happy. But a partnership requires both individuals involved to contribute productively and take on their share of responsibilities. If one partner starts to feel burdened or taken for granted it is important to talk about it and set clear boundaries to prevent resentment from festering and corroding the relationship.
Boundaries are not rigid walls but indications of what each partner brings to the relationship. These are fluid, of course, and when one partner is under stress or ill the other one will take on many of their responsibilities temporarily. That, in fact, is one of the big advantages of having a life partner.
As the lives of the individuals in the relationship change and take unexpected turns, boundaries need to be recalibrated but they must be talked about so neither partner feels overwhelmed or under-appreciated.
Sometimes it may be just a question of perspective, and a simple talk can clear things up and help you see that you were not actually being taken for granted, or sometimes you may come to learn that your partner feels the same way about some other things and you both need to appreciate each other more, and at yet other times some life style changes may be necessary.
On the flip side, once the domains of responsibility have been chalked out, partners must trust each other to execute their responsibilities and refrain from back seat driving. For example if your partner is doing the dishes and the dishes come out clean, you don't get to decide which dishes need to be washed first or how long they should be soaked.
The way I see it, communication, boundaries and space are the pillars of a relationship, that can coexist in harmony, but secrets and resentment, like the roots of ivy, slowly but surely grow and spread and eat away at the relationship causing it to crumble.