Why Bare All?
Baring all will help you navigate through your relationship; it will prevent simply existing as a couple but never experiencing real true happiness. Through open communication over a wide variety of topics, you will be able to make wise and informed decisions about the future of your relationship, such as if this person is the one, or if you should run the other way as fast as you can.
One thing that may become apparent is that you will need to be proactive in asking and answering important questions, and intentional and informed about commitments we make in a relationship.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Well, I don’t want my partner to feel like I’m putting him (or her) through an inquisition. Isn’t this sort of over-thinking things? Can’t we just enjoy spending time together and let this relationship take us wherever it leads? Can’t love make a way through any obstacles we might encounter?”
While it may sound beautiful and romantic to let the relationship unfold on its own, it’s neither realistic nor healthy. And yes, it’s fun to be a bit serendipitous when starting a new romance, as long as we don’t get so caught up in the moment that we forget to consider how the consequences of decisions (or non-decisions) we make at this point will follow us for the rest of our lives.
If you wanted to climb Mount Everest, you wouldn’t just hop on the first plane to Kathmandu, throw on a backpack, and start clambering up the slope. That would be fatal! You would first research all that’s involved. How fit do you need to be? What sort of gear and equipment do you need, and are you experienced in handling them? When is the best time to climb? Do you have the mental strength to endure the hardship?
Before setting out on an adventure like this, you’d first need to know what questions to ask, and then determine if the answers to those questions make you a good candidate for tackling the summit! The same could be said for approaching the adventure of a lifetime commitment to marriage – have you asked the right questions, and do you have the right answers?
Today, the cultural norm for dating is a sort of casual slide from one stage to another – hanging out, initiating sexual relations, occasionally spending the night, making the relationship “Facebook official,” and eventually moving in together. It all just seems to happen, with little or no serious discussion. With minimal forethought, couples end up buying furniture and pets together, and some take on even greater commitments.
Planned or unplanned, forty percent of unmarried couples will have children together – almost as if, “Let’s raise a couple kids, so we’ll know if we’re compatible enough for marriage.” Should children really be the pawns in such uncertainty? About one-quarter of cohabiting couples will buy a home together. This state of “uncommitted commitment” may go on for years before it may (or most likely will not) end in marriage.
How is this working out? The good news is that the divorce rate is declining. But what is that really telling us? People must be married to get divorced, and that’s only happening with twenty-six percent of individuals in their twenties and thirties.
What about the couples who are simply living together without marriage – are those relationships happy and lasting? Sadly, according to Pew Research, over half of the children of cohabiting couples will see their parents break up before they are nine years old, compared to only one in five of children of married couples.
Compared to married couples, studies show cohabiting couples have more dissension and conflict resolution issues and are more insecure about their partners’ feelings, commitment, and future goals. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Don’t you have to live together first to confirm that you will be happily married?” No. Numerous studies indicate that couples who cohabit before marriage are about one-third more likely to get divorced than couples who did not live together prior to marriage.
A key reason many relationships don’t work out is most couples slide from one stage of their relationship to another while bypassing the all-important discussions that should go along with these commitments, such as defining the relationship and learning salient details about their partner. Once they get entangled in the commitments involved in living together, especially if they have children or go into debt together, it becomes harder to get out of the relationship.
The “inertia effect” kicks in, and they end up sort of stuck together and may feel like they have no choice but to get married. After all, they’ve already invested so much time and have multiple commitments together. But then they may begin to wonder whether they had consciously chosen their partners, or if they had just allowed fate to take its course. Regrettably, many feel like they have made a mistake and married the wrong person.
You might be considering it just a one-night stand. Or a little bit of fun with no strings attached. Or maybe the precursor to a potential long-term relationship. But sexual relations bring far more than erotic pleasure. The act of sex bonds the couple together, emotionally, and physically – through their hormones. This bond becomes stronger the more the couple have sex together.
The hormone oxytocin is released in the woman’s brain, which relieves stress, creates feelings of closeness with her partner and the desire to nurture him. Vasopressin is a hormone primarily released in the brain of men during intimate relations. It’s nicknamed the commitment hormone because it creates the desire to bond, be loyal and even jealous. Men and women also experience the release of endorphins – “happy hormones” – during sex, which can be addictive!
These hormones released through sexual intercourse help a married couple stick it out because of the bonding effect it creates between the couple – they get addicted to each other! However, these hormones can be problematic for two people who haven’t any sort of commitment to the other and may not know each other well. Your hormones will cause you to develop a bond to that person, even if you find out very quickly that he or she isn’t “the one.”
This is one reason why some people stay in unhealthy relationships – when they are advised to escape the situation, you will hear them say, “But I love him!” That’s the hormones (and perhaps an unhealthy dose of co-dependency) talking!
We will discuss sexuality in chapter ten, and specific topics that need to be candidly explored before engaging in sexual intimacy. It’s critical to have those important conversations first, and to know your partner well enough that you can commit with confidence. If you jump into bed together right off the bat, your hormones will talk louder than your brain, and you may find yourself enmeshed in a relationship that you wouldn’t have gotten involved in otherwise.
Swim against the tide
Baring all will help you swim against the tide of cultural norms. To safeguard against unhappy mistakes (and spending too much time on a mistake), be intentional about discussing your motivation and commitment level with your love interest – before you transition to that next stage of your relationship. You don’t want to end up drifting into marriage with someone you’re not completely sure about, so be proactive about knowing your partner well.
Perhaps you feel like it’s a good idea, hypothetically, to have these discussions before commitment, but you are immobilized by fear. Fear of rejection if you reveal all, fear of being judged unworthy, fear of being alone. When we make decisions out of fear, or fail to act out of fear, we ultimately make ourselves victims in one way or another.
Having the courage to begin dialogues about sensitive issues will empower you as you take charge of your life and your future, rather than just drifting along with the tide. Celebrate opening those doors, letting in the light on areas you need to know about, and dispelling the darkness of uncertainty.
The first conversation you need to have is with yourself. Know thyself! We tend to attract others based on what we feel we deserve. If you feel unlovable or undeserving of the best, you may want to consider counseling for low self-esteem and other issues before jumping into romance. Develop a healthy self-identity. Know who you really are, and what you really want from life, and what you want in the person you will spend your life with.
Then, be proactive about discussing the topics covered in this book with your significant other as you move through your relationship. Have the courage to have those conversations about your core values, your goals, your preferred lifestyle, your finances, your spirituality, your individual personalities and love languages, your sexuality, past mistakes and past relationships, having and raising children (including children you may already have), and your opinions about gender roles.
In addition, before things start getting serious, remember to ask questions of yourself about your partner. Are any red flags popping up? Finally, get feedback from your family and friends. Do they have any areas of concern about your love interest? Don’t commit to advancing to the next stage of your relationship before you know what you need to know. The best time to work on your marriage is before you have one!