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A friend of mine got into a relationship after a long drought. Her partner is very sensitive and would react badly to many of her mannerisms - jokes, sarcasm and some ways of saying things that she always did - so at the start of the relationship she started behaving differently to avoid conflict.

It's been some months and now she confided to me that she's often getting complaints from her partner that she "acts or is different when friends are around" which kind of shows that she is hiding her true self, and that she regretted being a "different person" in the first place.

I advised her to come clean and state that she was insecure and hid her behaviour at first, but now feels safe enough to not do this anymore, but she is worried about this creating a big trust issue and ending her relationship.

How would one reveal this fact without coming out as untrustworthy or insensitive?

  • Flagging as off topic because it's asking how to say something – Aequitas Feb 7 at 0:06
  • That's a close reason? Looking in meta I only found one question suggesting this should be a close reason with a vote of at least 10. Its highest voted answer says no. – Ed Grimm Feb 7 at 2:03
  • @EdGrimm well I just deleted my question because a 15k user and a 12k mod told me you're not allowed to ask "how to say x" type questions on this site. – Aequitas Feb 7 at 4:54
  • @Aequitas heh, welcome to interpersonal. There are rules and then there are the perceived rules. – Stian Yttervik Feb 9 at 15:09
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Its pretty normal for people to act differently around different people. But that doesn't seem like what is happening here. This is a delicate situation indeed. Your friend must get the point across, "I have to walk on egg shells around you", without offending or hurting the feelings of the person and making them feel like it is their fault (even though it kinda is).

The hardest part about having a conversation like this is making sure that the other person isn't put on the defensive, because then the exchange of meaning is completely shut down. Once a person feels backed into a position where they must defend themselves the chances of coming to a healthy agreement drop essentially to zero. Much of my advice from here on out comes from the book Crucial Conversations, which I would highly recommend for you friend to check out in-depth.

  1. Start with heart

Focus on the goal of the conversation. If, but probably when, things become heated stop and reassess your goals. When we get emotional we start to lose track of what we were in the conversation to accomplish in the first place.

Refuse the "fool's choice". You don't have to choose between peace and honesty, these can come hand-in-hand as long as the conversation stays rational. When they don't, focus on what you don't want -- You don't want an argument. You don't want to break up. You don't want to hurt them.

  1. Learn to Look

Keep monitoring the content and conditions of the conversation. Are we focusing on what is crucial, or are we arguing about irrelevant minutiae, keeping us off-track? Be mindful of signs that your partner is moving towards "silence or violence" -- are they shutting down or getting defensive? Are you moving towards an outburst? Its good to try to assess for symptoms of your own irrationality so that you can identify and realign when they occur in the conversation.

  1. Make it safe

When your partner is becoming emotional you start to lose the mutual ground that allows the conversation to happen. Is the tide of the conversation risking your mutual respect or mutual purpose? Contrast to fix misunderstandings -- start with what you didn't intend then explain what you did intend. Brainstorm together for solutions.

  1. Master your stories

Just as important as trying to keep your partner from moving away from rational discourse is making sure you stay on track as well. When angered or hurt, retrace your path. Notice your behavior, what emotions are at play, what "story" is creating those emotions in you? Is that story logically sound and derived from factual evidence? If not, you may be misinterpreting. Always analyze the evidence. Ask yourself questions, "am I pretending not to notice my role in this?", "why would a reasonable person do what I am doing?", "What would I do right now if I really wanted these results?

Share your facts. Tell your story (your point of view). Ask for other paths. Talk tentatively, be flexible. Encourage opposing views, let your partner air out their concerns.

  1. Explore your partners "path"

Restore conversational "safety" with curiosity. Ask for their views. Acknowledge their emotions. Paraphrase to show you understand and to demonstrate that they are safe to open up to you. When in doubt, take a best guess at their thoughts, but dont accuse. Make a point to express and recognize when you agree. Build from that agreement. Compare differing views.

  1. Move to action

Finish clearly. Determine who does what, and when. Make each others' expectations crystal clear. Hold yourself accountable to promises you make.

Your friend might also want to be open to the possibility that this just might not work out. This was a big enough deal for her to feel she had to change her personality around him to accommodate his sensitivities. What happens if the person isn't willing to deal with their "true", more playful personality? Going back to hiding that part of herself isn't a healthy and sustainable option. Just something to consider.

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    Are you sure "schema" is the right word? I looked it up on Wikipedia because I wasn't familiar with the term, but it sounds like that's more about how people remember things than how they behave. Either way, I'd be interested to read more about it if you have any links for that :) – Em C Jan 28 at 19:08
  • Its entirely possible I am wrong about that. It was something I remembered off the top of my head from a psychology course. I should probably just pull that from my answer. – NotTheBatman Jan 28 at 20:08
  • Hi there! Great answer! Could you edit your post to include the author's name, so that people who are interested in further reading might find it easily? I'm guessing "crucial conversations" might be a commonly used title. Thanks :) – avazula Feb 6 at 6:48
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There is several things I've learned from my past relationships and how they've became (or not) successful:

I've yet to meet anybody being one's true self in the first few months of a relationship, although few are willing to admit it. Even when no passion is involved, this is a part where seduction plays a great role, where both partners feel insecure about other's feelings and kind of "negociate" how they would want future relationship to establish.

However honnest and open communication become increasingly important as the relationship grows. Good communication enable each to understand the other well, build trust, and negociate compromises when the need arise.

I personnaly don't think your friend revealing she wasn't true herself is any big reveal, especially considering she haven't been in a relationship for a long time and might have personal obstacles to overcome. That said, her partner made an odd statement about her, and may be uneasy about the situation. And yet, there is no certainty that the two things connect exactly. I would say that clarifications are in order.

What do you mean by "different" ?

Starting conversation by gathering information about what part her partner is uneasy about might help her to build a more appropriate response. Digging information also shows care about her partner well being.

Then, she can unfold relevant parts.

I thought you disliked when I did X.

Or even better:

When I did X at event Y I remember that you did Z. So I thought I should stop doing X with you.

I'd avoid formulations such as "you were too sensitive" or even "I lied because I felt insecure", and remain instead completely factual to avoid any risk of misunderstanding. Sharing feelings is best when sure they are well accepted. This way, she could have a depassionate conversation about the relationship and could probably strengthen it by being open to talk about it in all honnesty.

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