Why Openness is Important in a Relationship and 4 Ways to Develop It
Though people interpret what openness means in a relationship in many different ways, there is a basic definition of what openness should be.
What is openness in a relationship?
Openness in a relationship is the ability of the individuals to comfortably express their feelings, thoughts, needs and fears. Openness gives partners a sense of security, strengthens emotional bonds between them, and ultimately increases individual satisfaction with the relationship. Some young Nigerians were asked about their understanding of openness and how they showed this behaviour in their relationships.
For me, openness means honesty in the relationship from the start – the good, the bad and the ugly. I admit that it is a costly endeavour, especially if you meet someone who takes advantage of it. But it helped me set a standard for myself on the kind of person I want to date
I see openness as a journey of continuous communication. Our lived experiences shape us into who we are, and each of us have a different lived experience. Too much details too soon may scare your love interest away. Getting someone to open up is usually the challenging part, but I have seen that once it is achieved, just make a continuous effort to nurture it – slowly but surely
My understanding of openness has evolved since the traumatic diagnosis with HIV, after my partner failed to be open with me. I believe openness should go beyond trusting your partner blindly. It is not enough to believe the words from their mouth; they must walk the talk. For instance, a partner could tell you they are free of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but until that partner is willing to go for STI tests with you, to confirm their status, then they have merely said it, not done it. That is not openness
Why should you choose openness in a relationship?
It allows both persons in the relationship to find mutual acceptance, which is a result of effective communication skills. Open conversations, talking regularly and listening, just as much as you talk, are ways to foster effective communication. This permeates all areas of life – casual, professional and intimate.
A research analysis of couples’ sexual communication, for instance, shows that sexual communication is positively associated with orgasms. Couples who openly communicate have better sex lives, over time, than those who lack openness.
Like many straight women my age, I had my first orgasm only after I was able to openly express how I like to be pleasured, to my partner. He was my fourth boyfriend at the time, and still is.
The absence of openness can breed many issues like resentment, suspicion, and cynicism, which steadily erode a relationship to nothing.
I wonder if I could have avoided the risk of contracting HIV, if my partner had been open about his status when we were dating. We both had an in-depth understanding of the infection rate and prevention methods – from abstinence to the use of condoms, including Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). A transmission could have been totally avoided, and we could still have had a healthy sex life.
4 Ways to develop openness with your partner
Keep the mood light – A relaxed atmosphere aids easy conversation and allows your partner feel safe to open up. Planned activities, like dates, game nights, jokes and laughter, etc. foster a sense of calm.
Let your partner know you want to talk – Clearly stating your intentions in a gentle way can allow for your partner to get into the frame of mind to listen, without feeling threatened or pressured.
Apply perspective in your talks – When your partner communicates their feelings about being hurt, focus on validating how your actions made them feel, rather than justifying your actions. Discussions may happen after an apology, to see the two sides of the story.
Do not make assumptions – To assume that you have all the information about your partner, their actions and inactions, is a flaw. Ask questions calmly and listen without judgement. Approaching the situation without assumptions will help you learn many new things about your partner.
My 5-year relationship enjoys the longevity it has because of the openness I established with my partner. Talking about everything wasn’t easy at first. We fought a lot, and she would accuse me of not trusting her, but I was trying to do just that by seeking to know more about her. Now, she understands, and we are the happiest we have ever been.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Does openness mean sharing all your past sexual experiences?
Sharing your past sexual experiences with your current partner is subject to your discretion and the relevance of the topic, including timing. It can be complex to broach the subject of your sexual prowess in the past, but if it is necessary, you can employ a non-judgemental approach to avoid giving your partner the vibes that you are comparing them to your past sexual partners.
Is there too much openness in relationships?
This is based on levels of understanding between you and your partner. It is important to consider the emotions, values and needs of your partner, including their safety over time. Integrity and intimacy will increase the free flow of information as your relationship matures. It is beneficial to assess your relationship and approach openness on a personal needs’ basis.
What if I have had a bad experience with openness in the past?
Bad experiences associated with openness in relationships happen when the information is used by a partner to mock, blackmail or manipulate the sharer. But great experiences also happen, and they can create stronger bonds. Keep in mind that it is people and their choices that make bad relationship experiences, not open communication. If you have been hurt, you should not hold back while you take your time to heal. Give room for openness. Your happiest relationship yet awaits when you meet the person you can be open with.
*Names are unchanged, with the permission of interviewees.
Mallory AB, Stanton AM, Handy AB. Couples’ Sexual Communication and Dimensions of Sexual Function: A Meta-Analysis. J Sex Res. 2019 Sep;56(7):882-898. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2019.1568375. Epub 2019 Feb 19. PMID: 30777780; PMCID: PMC6699928