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Sincericide, When Speaking Your Mind Can Kill A Relationship

We all know good communication is the bedrock of a healthy relationship. Here's why keeping some of your thoughts to yourself, and a practiced lack of utter sincerity, is a bedrock of a healthy couple.

A couple sitting on a rooftop in front of skyscrapers.

A couple relaxing on a rooftop in front of skyscrapers.

Aleksandr Popov via Unsplash

BUENOS AIRES — We know we can often be hard on ourselves, even if our perpetual, and private, self-evaluation can help us reassess our conduct and do better.

But what if it's your spouse or partner criticizing you? How harsh can they be without harming or even killing a relationship? Ours is a time of limited tolerance for dissent (with a brisk tendency to cancel and "unfriend") and polls show younger generations are keener than before to meet kind and empathetic partners.

While we can always state our views and discuss a point of discord without offending, it is also crucial to understand why and when we feel we are justified criticizing a partner's conduct or decision. Because even the plain truth, blurted out freely and once too often, can do irreparable harm. Some call it "sincericide."

Psychoanalyst and therapist Irene Fuks told Clarín that the dangers of "sincericide" are in the word itself, which combines sincerity with homicide and suicide.

"There's something deadly at work," she stresses, as words become darts. And while some people like to boast they say things "as they are," we need to stop a moment, says another analyst Erika Salinas, and "ask ourselves, this thing I'm going to say, does it add up, is it necessary or does it contribute something?" It is one thing to disagree, she adds, and another "to tell [your partner] what they 'are' or 'are not'," which can be hurtful.

Constructive criticism can often be destructive

People often speak of the benefits of constructive criticism in a close relationship, but while an individual may appreciate feedback in other contexts like work — where other rules apply — this should not become a flimsy excuse for firing your mean gun. Fuks says constructive criticism is "really something parading as something else, right? It's a disguise. There's a belief this is constructive, but maybe I'm hurting that person or trying to make them see something they can't right now."

The therapist runs couple therapy sessions in Buenos Aires with her husband, and says the danger of bluntless is that the critic thinks they "has all the truth and know what's good for the other one." Another danger is that it could become habitual, she says. There is always violence involved, she says, "because I'm trying to impose what's mine on the other person: some idea or ideal, or a way of seeing the world. And ways of seeing the world are always personal."

A back-to-back couple leaning against a wall.

A back-to-back couple leaning against a wall.

Henri Pham via Unsplash

Less societal tolerance for abuse

Now, what if I'm asked for my view? It's normal to ask for your partner's opinion. Fuks says, "you could say 'in my opinion,' or 'I'll tell you but it's up to you to decide what you want'. If the other person is opening a door, you have a bit of space to state your views." This is a sign of trust in you, she says, but without giving you the right to be hurtful.

Speaking when asked "is to accompany" a partner, she says, and quite different to "imposing your perspective on life and things." Erika Salinas concurs, saying you must know why and how you're going to speak, and not assume your good intentions will justify bad form. Criticism is useless, she says, if it leaves the listener helpless and "paralyzed with anxiety."

She suggests some steps before you disagree with a partner: Do not use hurtful or cutting words, as this constitutes abuse. Be flexible and understanding of other points of view. Pick the right moment to speak, and remember, you don't have to say what you think!

There is never a good excuse for being abusive, she says. If that is a recurring item in your relationship and you "feel ashamed, hurt, judged or pressured... we're clearly in an abusive relationship, abusive to... our values, feelings and needs." Rudeness and a harsh put-down might have been seen before as part and parcel of a "standard" marriage, but the standard marriage is fading away as is, thankfully, social acceptance of violence at home.

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