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Tools and tips for every day relationship problems. Blog posts on how to stop conflict, how to have more intimacy and how to have better communication with your husband, wife or partner.

The Silent Killer in Your Relationship

Erika Boissiere

As a couples therapist, I have a unique window into the world of relationships. I see people from all walks of life, trying to do the best they can. So, what pulls them into couples counseling? There are many things, but the biggest offender that lurks in the shadow is silence. Silence, not in the traditional definition, but rather the continuous dance of holding back speaking your truth.

To diminish silence in your relationship, you must be willing to share your authentic self. You must have the courage to speak your truth, ask difficult questions, and at the same time, hold back the almost knee-jerk response of defensiveness, just long enough to understand your partner’s perspective. It is about allowing the space in your relationship to feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. Even if just for a moment.

But, as many couples will say in my office, “how do I evoke such an experience? How do I be vulnerable?”

Ask Provocative Questions

While attending a wedding, I stumbled across a set of playing cards strewn across the kitchen table. They looked and felt like your traditional deck of cards, but instead, they had questions on backs of them. As I read each card, my attention deepened. I found myself flipping each card in amazement and thought, “these are the very questions I ask my clients.”

“What are these?” I asked. “Those are the questions from {The And},” I was told.

Topaz Adizes recently won an Emmy Award for displaying the richness in human connection with a project titled, “{The And}.” Topaz and his team created a visual representation of the sometimes overwhelming complexity of relationships, with provocative questions used to help couples bridge the gap between secrecy and intimacy. He even got Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway to sit down, and in moments, had them vulnerable, honest, and extremely real about what it was like to work together.

To see this come alive, {The And} invites couples in for a taped video session, has them sit face to face, and answer a series of relational questions hand selected by his team at the The Skin Deep.

The end result is fascinating, and you’ll see it in their faces: Love, disbelief, curiosity, honor and sadness. But above all, you will see this: connection, and it’s the healthy kind.

If you’re curious to try it out, here are 10 questions selected from their card game.

  1. What do you think I want from life?

  2. What can I do better sexually?

  3. What would make you leave me?

  4. How do you think my early childhood has affected our relationship?

  5. How do I take you for granted?

  6. How have we grown lazy in our relationship?

  7. What are you scared to tell me?

  8. If there was one thing that I still don't understand about you, what is it?

  9. When do you feel closest to me?

  10. What do I do that hurts you the most?

The unspoken truth about relationships is that they are without a shadow of doubt, life’s most cherished asset. If you ask a parent of a newborn, a newly engaged coupled, or someone who has been through a traumatic event, they will all tell you in a heartbeat, it is the relationships that give them meaning. However, somehow we lose track of this perspective.

Like rust, there is a slow build up and then suddenly, a gaping hole. And while we all deeply desire positive relationships, the road to healthy connection is often riddled with complexities. A paradox, no doubt.

Truth-Telling is Harder than You Think

Asking deep questions and speaking truth out loud, whether to ourselves or to our partner is not easy. Many of us avoid it for all sorts of reasons. Some of us fear that if we speak our truth, conflict will ensue. Others avoid speaking their truth because of the feelings of shame and vulnerability are just too tough to experience. We know that in therapy, clients often lie to their therapist out of fear of being judged or feeling embarrassed. It cannot be ignored that some of us care so deeply about our perception, that we’ll lie to ourselves, our partners, and our therapists. Truth-telling is hard.

Some of us fear that if we ask certain questions, our partner might leave us. Whether because of a differing life vision, or something important that we’ve kept tucked inside. To ask it, could mean the end of a relationship.

Truth-telling is the portal to getting you what you want, and allowing the space to honor differences which fosters growth. It is the main ingredient of intimacy and a sense of closeness. It creates a deeper understanding of your partner and yourself.

Without it, your truth remains left unseen, for no one to know except you. Your relationship will encounter the biggest rupture of them all, loneliness and resentment. You’ll likely seek connection through other modes: alcohol, work-a-holism, distance or deception. Something almost everyone wants to avoid.

Relational Bravery

Healthy connection is complex. It is amazing how we all yearn for it, and yet so many of us struggle with our relationships. By allowing and honoring our truths, we allow for our life experience to be enriched. While speaking truth is difficult, we also know one thing for certain; bravery is not easy.

But, it is bravery that makes you grow. And it is growth that creates change.

-- Erika Boissiere is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, who specializes in couples therapy, based out of San Francisco, CA. She is also the founder of The Relationship Institute of San Francisco, which provides cognitive behavioral therapy to couples and relationships.