…it’s about deal breakers in relationships, and why you may be going about them all wrong. Open and honest communication about all disagreements may not be a good idea, if you value the space between you and the other person.

What would get in the way of a relationship? Should some topics be avoided?

Sure, relationships where “everything is on the table and nothing is off limits” are great. I’m not suggesting banning certain topics, only that we practice some discretion… if we value the relationship.

After Prop 8 (and other times) I have noticed people getting de-friended on facebook and dismissed in real life. Intensely personal views and sensitive feelings are dismissed as “liberal political agendas” or of trying “politically correct.” Conservatives are demonized as “hateful.” As if that’s ALL they are (ZING!).

I’m sure I have many friends and family members that don’t see things the same way I do. If we really wanted to we could pick at scabs and start some fires. Some people hold views or beliefs that are hurtful. When does a hurt or even just a disagreement need to be discussed and when is it better left un-picked?

Where does one draw the line? Should there be a line? Is it in the same place with everyone? Some people value holding to principles more than they value relationships. Some feel safe in the boycott, and refuse to go certain places. Some feel hurt enough to toss out (or put up walls between) even good relationships. Some value debate and argumentation at any cost.

Take the value of stubbornly grasping one’s iron rod of choice (it doesn’t matter what it is: science, religion, political views, or the all-powerful “reason”) and add in the unfortunate belief that everything between two people should be shared (sometimes with a crowbar), and you have a recipe for ending a lot of relationships.

Sure, there is something to be said for openness and honesty. However, even in marriage, clear, open, honest communication is often NOT helpful. It almost always makes things worse. Couples in distressed marriages often communicate VERY clearly. They are often (not always) very honest. In couple therapy I give them about 2.1 seconds of this stuff before I interrupt.

The problem is most of their communication is negative, and these couples get into storms that become much bigger than the sum of the parts. The best intentions (resolving hurt, protecting oneself or the relationship, trying to be honest, etc.) often add fuel to the fire. John Gottman found that stable relationships (not just marriages, he says) consist of a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative “stuff” in a relationship. Really happy relationships are about 20:1. In family therapy the parent(s) and adolescent (or a just a couple) bring in all the content of who did what/said what/believes whatever, why it’s his/her/their fault, blah blah blah blah blah. I have learned quickly to tune out the content (the trees), and listen to the process and the patterns, the underlying emotion, and the intent. (the forest). Now, if you’re avoiding all kinds of things, that’s another story, for another day.

I often apply the same idea to relationships with people with different (sometimes wildly different, even “hurtful” or “threatening” or “ignorant”) views. These views may be problematic if that’s all we talk about. Is openness and so-called “honest” communication about areas of disagreement more important than compassion, patience, charity, or just having a good time playing Rock Band together?

Is it okay to value the process of my relationships more than making sure we all agree on everything significant? You don’t have to completely avoid certain topics. Just make sure you have 20x more positive stuff going on… If you DO, then perhaps those difficult conversations will be that much more productive.